HLL’s FoLLy: Mercury Spill In Kodaikanal
Presented By Team 1
Abhisekh Rai Apurv Sinha Nicky Shalini Ashwin Jayaram Divya Dinesh Rumana Hasan

INTRODUCTION  On March 2001. by Unilever’s Indian subsidiary. .4 ton of crushed mercury containing glass was spilled in a busy scrap yard located near a school  Such an exposure marked the beginning of an ongoing saga of dishonesty. the multinational Hindustan Lever Ltd ( HLL) was caught red-handed by the residents of Kodaikanal. Hindustan Lever Ltd. when they found a dumpsite with toxic mercury-laced waste from the company’s thermometer factory located in the heart of the town  7.

living in Kodaikanal  It let to the death of ten workers while it was functioning. a global NGO committed to environmental protection. claimed that the deaths were due to mercury poisoning  Symptoms reported by ex workers were fatigue. blurred vision. nausea. . headaches. It was estimated that 32. respiratory disorders. central nervous system problems such as loss of memory and the like.000 people were affected. and Greenpeace .

. which is Unilever’s 51 percent owned Indian subsidiary.HISTORY OF HLL FACTORY  The factory was originally located in New York but was shut down for environmental reasons  US-based Chesebrough Pond’s relocated its aging mercury thermometer factory from Watertown. New York to Kodaikanal in 1983  The factory was acquired by Unilever  It bought Chesebrough Pond’s owner of HLL.

Australia. imported all the glass and mercury for the thermometers from the US and exported all the finished thermometers to the US based Faichney Medical Co. the Anglo-Dutch FMCG giant. It was said to be the largest thermometer plant in the world  Unilever. which in turn exported them to markets in the US.UK. . Germany and Spain. Canada .

which is a stream which runs through the forests below the back wall of the factory. Investigations proved that the factory buried glass scrap on the site after appropriate regulatory approvals.  The slopes where the wastes are dumped are part of the Pambar Shola watershed. .

Stomach pain etc  Poisonous vapour carrying mercury travelled across the town .800 workers were exposed to mercury  Management Negligence played a key role  20 workers have died to poisoning in the factory  People in the vicinity of the Factory suffered from Skin diseases. Headaches.Damage to Workers and Environment  It was reported that 600.

3 tonnes of mercury waste to scrap yard  HLL’s response to the complaints was transparent and the persons responsible for breach were indentified & penalized  A new manager. After many denials & cover-ups the company agreed that it shipped out 5. R. John was appointed to defend the Factory administration  Manufacturing operations were suspended on March 2001 & glass scrap yard was shifted to a more secure place .

  An environmental audit was commissioned by HLL It appointed Well-known URS Dames & Moore of Aus to conduct a detailed environmental audit  The result showed that 300 kg of mercury was disposed to the Pambar Sholas Forest and another 700 kg of waste through air  Another notable International expert Dr P.N Vishwanath found no evidence to risks caused due to mercury .

detergents . Hindustan Lever Ltd also decided to exit from the thermometer business in January 2001 because it was not core company The company’s core business is the manufacture and marketing of soap . deodorants . skin care products . food and beverages etc The TNPCB ordered the factory to close down and clean up the toxic mess the company had created    The company sent back at least 300 tones of the toxic material to the United States in 2006 .

   . by using a variegated set of measures available to them. demanding compensation from HLL for loss of their jobs and health hazards the suffered The most laudable part of NGOs role is the novel and dramatic manner in which the kept they mercury waste spill issue alive throughout. The NGOs left no stones unturned to mobilize public opinion and to pressure TNPCB and the TN government to compel HLL to make amends for its acts of commission and omission in unlawful disposal of the hazardous toxic waste and in the exposure of workers to potentially dangerous work environment The NGOs were also responsible to form the TN alliance against mercury (TAAM). which tried to identify and contain contaminated soil The NGOs were also behind the former workers approaching the supreme court of India in 2005.

   High levels of mercury seen to as far as 20 kms Reports of atmospheric mercury outside HLL factory site Amounts of mercury found along the hills surrounding Kodaikanal lake   Mercury may be transferred into the wider eco-system HLL – denied the allegations .

3 tonnes of mercury containing glass wastes lying at the Munjikal scrap yard came from HLL factory   HLL promised to track. Admitted to 5. retrieve and clear such other waste NGOs demanded justice from HLL for the damage .

   Initiate legal action against HLL Take serious action against the factory inspectors Initiate long term studies to monitor the impact of mercury on the eco-system  Order HLL to make enquiry into the impact of mercury on the health of people and remedies   Compensate the families of dead workers Permanently destroy the mercury found in HLL’s waste .

 Hindustan Lever’s behavior violates the environmental principles of the UN Global Compact.  The Environment is badly effected.HLL Plant had adversely effected the entire Kodaikanal environment.  There are evidence that can prove that mercury emitted from the plant had far larger impact than revealed by the expert commissioned by HLL.  .  Mercury is still prevalent in the atmosphere through the discarded factory scraps.  HLL yet to have submit the complete clean-up protocols to TNPCB.

which is Unilever’s owned Indian subsidiary. Tamil Nadu in 1983. .  The factory was acquired by Unilever. New York to Kodaikanal.Trace the history of the establishment of Kodaikanal thermometer factory and how it came into the adverse view of the NGO’s.Question 1 .History of the factory is as follows: Originally a New York based company whish was shutdown there due to environmental reasons. after it bought Chesebourgh Pond’s owner of HLL.  It was then relocated from Watertown. the public and the TNPCB? Answer .

Reasons to come into the adverse view of the NGOs. .  More than 400 residents of Kodaikanal caught HLL redhanded dumping toxic mercury-laced waste . the public and the TNPCB are: Mercury is a toxic metal which can cause tremendous health problems to people living nearby and even far away.

Question 2 .  Records of any mercury waste leaving the factory were kept meticulously.Response of HLL regarding Initial Complaints :  HLL sought to dismiss the Complaints. Respond to the initial complaints of various stakeholders that the company had adopted a callous attitude towards the disposal of Hazardous mercury-laden waste? What type of strategy did the company adopt when it realized that the entire fault lay in the carelessness of the factory’s administration? Answer . Company responded that they were characterized by denials.How did Hindustan Lever Ltd. . cover-ups and lack of transparency.

R. the penalty depend on the severity of the offence committed.  The persons involved in the event were identified and penalized. Tamil was appointed. .  A new factory manager.Strategies adopted by the company after realizing the fault: HLL duly informed TNPCB of the details of the mercury disposals. John George who knew the local language.

What was the role of NGOs in bringing to light HLL’s dumping of mercury waste in various parts of Kodaikanal locality? To what extent were they able to get justice to the affected workers and the general public? Answer . concerned citizens.  NGOs galvanized worker.Question 3 . and environmental activists to force the factory to suspend their operations. .NGOs played an important role in avoiding the serious incident that could have taken place if proper action would not have been taken before by the NGOs: NGOs played active role in turning all the stones to mobilize the public opinion and to pressurize TNPCB and Tamil Nadu’s government to force HLL to stop the hazardous activities.

 NGOs also helped former workers approaching the Supreme Court of India in 2005  The NGOs with their continuous demand and incessant ensured the livelihoods of workers that are put to risk by HLL.  As a result the damages caused to the workers. the community and ecology of the Kodaikanal town was compensated adequately.  The NGOs kept the issue alive throughout. . NGOs are also responsible to form the Tamil Nadu Alliance Mercury(TAAM).  Help in the investigation regarding the atmospheric examinations.

Explain in your own words the HLL Kodaikanal mercury spill controversy.Question 4 . spilling onto the ground .  It was found near a school the 7. What is the present status of the controversy? Answer -The HLL situated in Kodaikanal was caught red handed by the residents of that place when it was found a dumpsite with toxic mercury-laced waste from the company’s thermometer factory of HLL.4 ton stock pile of crushed mercury containing glass in torn sacks.

 Even after 5 years of being caught the HLL has not submitted the complete clean up protocols to the TNPCB  It is also noted that the mercury is still prevalent in the atmosphere because the discarded factory scraps and contaminated vegetation re-emit absorbed mercury .

.What kind of roles have NGOs such as Greenpeace India. concerned citizens and environmental activist to force the factory to suspend its operations in march 2001  It also formed the TN alliance against mercury which tried to find out contaminated soils.Question 5 . played in bringing to the open the issue of HLL’s spill of toxic mercury waste in and around Kodaikanal hills? Did it have the desired impact in your view? Answer: the roles played by the NGO’s are:  Mobilized public opinions to pressurize the government for compelling hll to make amendments for its acts of commission and omission in the unlawful disposal of the toxic waste  It galvanized workers.

demanding compensation for the loss of job and health from HLL .  It helped the former workers to approach the Supreme Court of India in 2005. the NGO had played a very vital role in this issue because of it the HLL saw the reason and took some corrective measures. According to us.

Question 6 .The scientist appointed by hll admitted that the discharge of   mercury to the Pambar Shola forest was approximately 300 kg HLL appointed consultants who said that about 700 kg of mercury waste were released through air-bone emissions An expert of eco-toxicology of mercury appointed by hll could not find any evidence to risks caused by mercury either to human or to environment .How would you reconcile diametrically opposite views held by hll –assigned scientists and those appointed by the government and NGOs about the quantity and the toxic nature of the spilled mercury waste and its impact on the failure ecology of Kodaikanal hills? Was there any meeting point at all between these two viewpoints? Answer .

.32 µg/ m^3 which was about thousand times higher than in the areas that were not contaminated. The scientists appointed by the government and NGOs however found the concentrations of mercury up to 1.  So by the above mentioned findings it become very clear that the viewpoints of both the scientist one appointed by hll and other by the government was totally opposite to each other and did not had any meeting points.

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