Kochi: Isro faces flak for toxic effluent

A top ISRO official told this newspaper that he was not authorised to give a clarification on behalf of the government agency.

Kochi: The Indian Space Research Organisation’s delay in setting up a permanent plant to dispose of toxic effluent, containing ammonium perchlorate, and leaving it to be dumped by the contractor in Kochi backwaters is allegedly in gross violation of the Pollution Control Board (PCB) directive.

The harmful practice stems from PCB’s temporary permission to ISRO to dump the hazardous waste in outer sea till the treatment plant is set up on the factor premises at Aluva.

However, the contractor employed by the agency has been allegedly dumping it in the Vembanad backwaters the past two years.

A top ISRO official told this newspaper that he was not authorised to give a clarification on behalf of the government agency, though the allegation was baseless.

A byproduct of rocket fuel produced at ISRO’s Ammonium Perchlorate Experimental Plant (APEP) at Aluva, it has been established that the compound has a direct correlation to hypothyroidism in humans.

The serious violation of environmental laws was exposed when the police arrested Shibu Manuel, the Eloor-based green activist on Tuesday.

“Though ISRO was directed to dump the chemical waste in the outer sea in a ship, 15 km away from the shoreline, it is being dumped in the backwaters. It was instructed to carry the waste to Cochin Port and carry the barge to outer sea to offload it. An RTI query revealed that the private agency, its barge or tankers, which transport the hazardous waste from the ISRO plant, have no licence to handle hazardous wastes,” said advocate K.K. Ashkar, the green group’s counsel.

Offshore dumping of toxic waste is a violation of MARPOL (Maritime Protocol) Annexure-II, International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and Basel Convention on the Control of Trans-boundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, he pointed out.

“Though ISRO claims the toxic waste is taken to the outer sea, the barge does not even leave the backwaters. The chemical is carelessly shifted from tankers to the barge at an inland jetty at Eloor, polluting the area. Nearly one lakh litres waste is dumped twice every month. Tanker lorry drivers admitted in private that the entire load is not shifted to the barge and they often empty other tankers directly into the backwaters,” alleged Mr Purushan Eloor, research coordinator of Periyar Malineekarana Virudha Samiti.

Samples taken by the PCB from the loading point near Eloor indicated a high level of toxic pollution with a PH value of 1.2. The PCB stipulation on periodic reporting about the disposal plot and details of guidelines followed while handling the chemical is not complied with, alleged the green activist.

In 2014, based on complaints about ISRO perchlorate unit polluting wells in Keezhmadu, where a high incidence of thyroid cases was reported, an expert study, led by Dr. N. Chandramohan Kumar of Department of Chemical Oceanography, Cochin University of Science and Technology, found a strong correlation between thyroid and ammonium perchlorate.

“The chemical can trigger TSH hormone in humans causing hypothyroidism,” said Dr. K. Sreekumar, Department of Applied Chemistry, CUSAT.

An earlier study in Keezhmadu by the Department of Environmental Technology, National Institute for Interdisciplinary Science and Technology (NIIST), Thiruvananthapuram, had detected high levels of perchlorate in drinking water sources.

Residents were advised not to use well water and Kerala Water Authority has been providing potable water in tankers. All families in the area were given free water connection. It was after this that the ISRO contractor stopped dumping it locally and started transporting it to the backwaters.

( Source : Deccan Chronicle. )
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