Communities around SIPCOT Industrial Estate are minutes away from a disaster like “Bhopal Gas Tragedy” happening. SIPCOT, a 200-hectare industrial estate in Cuddalore. Tamilnadu, houses 18 companies that manufactures pesticides, pharmaceuticals, chemicals, plastics, dyes and textiles. Ever since SIPCOT estate was set up, life for the people of Cuddalore, has been one of dealing with hazardous effluents, which have been damaging the environment and the health of more than 20,000 people in about 20 villages. (ASHA KRISHNAKUMAR, in Cuddalore, Frontline,The Hindu 04 June, 2005). The people complain of constant irritation in the eyes, nausea, acute dermatitis, muscle fatigue, and pink and frothy sputum, and have been diagnosed with changed reproductive health effects, narcosis and cyanosis. There has also been a substantial contamination of the water table, the air and the soil, leading to lowered farm production and dwindling fish catch.
Community Environmental Monitoring (CEM) is an initiative by “Other Media” in ensuring corporate accountability and justice in matters of environmental pollution. CEM sees political empowerment of the marginalized communities and their right to make informed decisions about development as a key to success in the struggle against environmental casteism and discrimination.
CEM project brings together pollution-affected communities and enables them to voice their concerns and demands by aiding them with technical and legal resources and expertise.
- Educate affected as well as unaffected communities in the importance of the environment and its potential impact on health and livelihood
- Work closely with youth and children to sensitize them on pertinent facts/ issues and encouraging active participation
- Research and documentation of impact of industries on rural economy
- Deploy simple and inexpensive tools in rural communities to monitor their own environment (For eg-bucket technique of monitoring pollution- a trained volunteer draws polluted air sample in a TEDLAR bag, seals and sends to laboratory for gas chromatographic analysis of toxic components)
- Equip community members with skills on documentation of pollution, air & water sampling
- Health survey of pollution impacted villages
- Intensify opposition to additional set-up of industries in the already highly polluted regions
- Pressurizing Govt. departments to bring compliance to existing laws
In Sept. 2004, the first ever scientific report `Gas Trouble: Air Quality in SIPCOT, Cuddalore’, by SIPCOT Area Community Environmental Monitors (SACEM), found 22 toxic gases, of which at least 13 were used as raw materials by one or more of the SIPCOT units. At least 14 out of 22 chemicals, violated the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) safety levels. A cancer-causing compound 1,2-dichloroethane, found in an air sample taken exceeded safety levels by a factor of 22,973.The report formed the basis for a Supreme Court order calling for the setting up of national standards for toxic gases in ambient air.
The current air and water pollution levels are considerably better compared to when the CEM project first started. In Cuddalore, water is now being supplied in SIPCOT due to efforts by the CEM team.
In Cheyyur, CEM group mobilized public opinion against ultra mega coal based thermal power plants and legally challenged the clearance granted to some of the plants in the region.
Indian govt. project PCPIR (Petro Chemical and Petroleum Investment Region) is proposed to be located on the fertile Cauvery delta region at the risk of converting this entire fertile stretch into a toxic wasteland. CEM initiated mapping of this region in order to document the baseline and current on-ground situation in terms of existing natural resources, coastal ecology and environmental conditions.
Achievements in other parts of India
Himachal Pradesh(HP) State Pollution Control Board has disconnected power supplies of eight erring industrial units in Baddi Barotiwala Nalagarh(BBN) industrial area based on series of complaints from the locals (awareness campaign by CEM). Board has conducted inspections in the BBN area and found various irregularities. BBN industrial complex in Himachal Pradesh is a hub for chemical and pharma units.
Working with groups in Chattisgarh to train communities in monitoring the environment around coal/limestone mines and cement plants. They recently assisted community groups in building arguments against the Parsa Coal Block Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), 70% of which is located in virgin forests.