The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has given the go-ahead for Hindustan Unilever Ltd (HUL) to carry out the mercury remediation at its Kodaikanal thermometer factory site, fixing the remediation level at 20mg/kg.
Environmental activists had opposed this level of remediation and were demanding a level of 6.6 mg/kg.
In its order dated November 1, the principal bench of the tribunal — comprising chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel, judicial member Justice S.P. Wangdi, and expert member Nagin Nanda — relied on the opinion of a committee of eight members constituted by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
The eight were experts from IIT-Bombay; IIT-Delhi; IIT-Madras; NEERI-CSIR, Nagpur; IITR-CSIR, Lucknow; AIIMS, Delhi; and the Indian Council of Medical Research, Delhi.
The experts held two meetings — on 12 and 24 September — and considered the guidance document ‘Development of Methodologies for National Programme for Rehabilitation of Polluted Sites in India’ and applied the guidelines to the situation at Kodaikanal.
“The experts unanimously reported that the screening level of 6.6 mg/kg could not be treated as a remediation standard,” the tribunal noted. CPCB submitted that it was found unnecessary to repeat the studies undertaken earlier for various reasons.
It said the recommended remediation value of 20 mg/kg for the site was far less than the Dutch intervention value of 36 mg/kg and “thus has large margin of safety”.
Repeating the process may delay the remediation that has been pending since 2006 and the recommended level of 25 mg/kg was reviewed by institutions like NEERI and IIT-Delhi.
“The recommended remediation value of 20 mg/kg is less than the remediation target value of 22.43 mg/kg for soil suggested in a study carried out by IIT-Delhi based on both human health and ecological risk assessment,” the CPCB noted.
“At this stage, execution of remediation work should be of primary focus rather than conducting further studies, since the subject site remains contaminated for more than 20 years, posing environmental and health risks,” it submitted.
Conflict of interest
Navroz Mody — a resident of Kodaikanal and member of the Local Area Environment Committee — who had moved the tribunal against the remediation standards proposed, had also moved the NGT in September after the expert committee was formed by the CPCB on the directions of the tribunal that four of them had conflict of interest.
HUL had opposed this subsequently.
In its order, the tribunal said it found no merit in these objections raised by Mr. Mody. “Mere fact that there was association of some of the experts as stated by the applicant will not vitiate the report and the opinion furnished by the CPCB.” The tribunal also noted that the other four experts who were also party to the opinion, had no objection to the recommendation. “Action may now be taken in terms of the above recommendation,” the tribunal said, allowing the remediation levels at 20mg/k