Saturday, March 29, 2008

Right to Live

contributed by Ravi Raja, a regular reader of the blog.

Every Monday and Friday while traveling to and from Chidambaram, just to the south of Cuddalore OT, one has to pass a 3 km stretch which stinks as bad, if not worse than the bad smell one has to experience while passing the Cooum River in Chennai. But this smell is different. A combination of chemical vapors and the smell emanating from the chemical disposals from a bunch of factories along the Cuddalore-Chidambaram highway is simply unbearable. It makes one feel giddy and pass out. The most disturbing factor was the situation never changed for years. I do hear from people that it has changed a bit and that it is better now. Whatever is is the air might have been cleared. But what lies beneath the surface is more alarming and worrisome.

A recent report from the Nagpur-based National Environmental Engineering Research Institute states that, “People living in and around a special economic zone in Cuddalore are “2,000 times more” likely to be affected by cancer than the normal population”. Now this is something that cannot be taken lightly. A few alarming statistics in the report are:
  • Levels of Benzene - a chemical that causes blood cancer among children - were 125 times higher than safe levels.
  • Carcinogens like chloroform, carbon tetrachloride, methylene chloride and trichloroethylene were 881, 553, 32.5 and 21.8 times respectively higher than acceptable levels.
These numbers are very disturbing not to mention the fact that the NEERI states that the results are a “conservative estimate” as “most of the industries are not operating to capacity on days of sampling”.

Just look at the level of benzene. Benzene is a harmful chemical to inhale. Prolonged exposure (more than 1 year) will result in a reduction in the number of Red Blood Cells, White Blood Cells and the clotting cells (Source:

Eating foods or drinking beverages containing high levels of benzene can cause the following symptoms within minutes to several hours: Vomiting, Irritation of the stomach, Dizziness, Sleepiness, Convulsions, Rapid or irregular heartbeat, Death (at very high levels) (Source: CDC).

Exposure to Chloroform may cause liver cancer. Carbon tetrachloride may cause liver and kidney malfunction and in some cases even death. Methylene chloride is known to cause lung, liver and pancreatic cancer. Trichloroethylene is carcinogenic as well.

What should be done?
  • The extent of damage done should be studied.
  • A water test on a number of samples from areas in and around the SIPCOT area should be done and people have to be educated on the results.
  • Testing should also be done on water samples drawn from different places in Cuddalore.
The authorities obviously should initiate legal action on the companies. Human Lives are not a price to pay for development and particularly in this case, when these diseases can be avoided, they should be avoided. As Gandhi once said, “There is a sufficiency in the world for man's need but not for man's greed”.

Please do not pay Cuddalore and its’ citizens as a price for flawed development.

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