Current Status of soil remediation at former factory site
In the last few months, we approached various authorities to commence full-scale soil remediation (decontamination of soil) at the former thermometer factory at Kodaikanal. We have now received all permissions from the statutory authorities to take up full-scale soil remediation. Specialised agencies are on the site and have started work. Full-scale soil remediation will begin shortly, and we expect it to take about two years for completion.
Scientific studies confirmed that there has not been any damage caused to the environment outside the factory premises except a small quantity of soil at the factory boundary on the Levange path, which is already included in the remediation plan. All the work on soil remediation is being done in accordance with Court Orders and Regulatory approvals.
Our response to allegations of illegal tree-felling
Allegations of illegal felling of trees are incorrect. Prior to commencing full-scale remediation within the factory premises, trees were required to be cut down to execute the excavation of soil and ensure the safety of workers. This was also envisaged in the Soil Remediation Upscaling Plan submitted in Feb 2018, approved by the TNPCB. Trees were cut down only after HUL obtained the necessary permissions from the Dindigul District Hill Area (Preservation of Trees) Committee, which is the notified authority.
The utmost care was taken to ensure only a minimum number of trees required for removal, were cut. Furthermore, the trees were cut well above the ground level to ensure soil is not disturbed. The tree cutting was completed in January 2020. HUL has committed to replanting more trees than were initially cut once remediation is complete. We have already planted about 500 trees at the nearby Mother Teresa Women’s University campus. It’s pertinent to mention that there are well over 2000 trees on the premises.
On prevention of mercury run-off
Allegations of mercury-contaminated soil leaving factory premises because of rainfall and soil erosion are baseless. Reputed institutions like National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) have conducted in-depth studies to check the mercury levels in soil, water and sediment in Kodaikanal Lake and Pambar Shola. The study concluded that the concentration of mercury based on samples taken from outside locations such as Kodaikanal Lake, Pambar river, Kumpakari falls, Vaigai river, Varaganathi, Vaigai Dam etc., show levels that are safe and within the internationally accepted range. Findings of these studies have also been submitted to the National Green Tribunal (NGT).
Prior to commencing soil remediation, adequate precautions were taken to prevent soil run-off from the factory site. HUL had delineated the remediation area and constructed soil retaining walls, silt settling tanks, and silt traps to prevent soil release outside of the factory boundary. The silts accumulated in the silt settling tank and silt traps are collected and stored for further remediation. The site-specific measures for soil erosion control were designed and implemented under the guidance of the expert body – the Indian Institute of Soil and Water Conservation (IISWC).
In addition, HUL conducts monitoring of soil, water, and air in defined frequencies, following the monitoring protocol approved for soil remediation. This includes monitoring mercury levels in the water run-off from the site.