Kochi: In a severe blow to the Hindustan Coca-Cola company, the Kerala State Pollution Control Board (KPCB) has confirmed the presence of cadmium at toxic levels in the sludge samples from the Coca-Cola plant at Plachimada in Palakkad district of Kerala
KPCB has instructed the company not to let the sludge out of the factory premises and not to use the sludge as manure even within the premises, as a matter of precaution.
KPCB chairman Paul Thachil says the sludge that contains cadmium at a very high concentration of 201.8 mg/kg as against the permissible rate of 50 mg/kg may now have to be classified as hazardous waste. Cadmium can cause cancer and can accumulate in the kidneys, with repeated exposure possibly leading to renal failure.
KPCB was directed by the state government to test the samples following a BBC report that alleged the presence of carcinogen in the sludge. Greenpeace, the international environment protection group, had backed the BBC allegations and demanded the immediate closure of the bottling plant.
Thachil says more analytical and background data is required to identify the source of heavy metals. "More investigation of the whole process of manufacture and especially the purification of water using activated carbon is required. Analysis of the sludge in January 2003 did not show any presence of cadmium. The deviation in the result also needs to be studied."
When asked about the reports on the pesticide residue found in soft drinks including Coca-Cola, Thachil says soft drinks come under the classification of food, and KPCB is not capable of giving advice on the issue.
Hindustan Coca-Cola had earlier denied allegations of sludge contamination, saying that no heavy metals were used in the process and hence there was no possibility of cadmium contamination. While the amount of cadmium in the effluent was found to be below the detection limit the amount of lead in the sludge as well as the effluent was found to be below the tolerance limit.
Even as KPCB confirmed the presence of cadmium at toxic levels in the sludge from the Coca-Cola plant at Plachimada, the state government has decided to study all aspects of the issue before taking a final decision on the plant.
Kerala Health Minister P Sankaran says he will look into the KPCB study, its recommendations and hold discussions with the Coca-Cola company before taking a final decision. "There are several aspects to the problem, including legal ones, and the government has to look into all the details of the issue, which will take time. We do not want to act hastily."
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