Report Finds High Pollution Around Coca-Cola, Pepsico Plants
The Hindu
June 5, 2010

NEW DELHI: Your daily dose of cola could be poisoning the lives of communities living near soft drink manufacturing plants, according to a study by Hazards Centre.

The NGO found high levels of toxic chromium and other pollutants in the soil and water around five Coca Cola and Pepsico plants in northern India.

The study was released two months after a Kerala government panel ruled that Coca Cola must pay Rs.216 crore in compensation to villagers affected by pollution, and a depletion of groundwater resources, by its Plachimada bottling plant.

Now, five other communities — Mehdiganj and Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh, Kaladera and Chopanki in Rajasthan, and Panipat in Haryana — are also claiming that the soft drinks plants in their vicinity are responsible for their woes.

Could file PIL

“Our water is being contaminated...and the level of water has also dropped,” says Sharafat Ali, a Ghaziabad farmer who is also a member of the Azadi Bachao Andolan movement. “Our people are suffering from skin problems, stomach sickness,” he said, speaking at the release of the study in the capital on Friday.

Mr. Ali says villagers will first complain to local authorities, and could consider filing a PIL in the High Court later.

“We found that chromium was the most common pollutant,” said Dunu Roy, director of Hazards Centre. He said 59 of the 85 water samples showed chromium concentration above the permissible limit of 0.05 parts per million (ppm), with some samples going as high as 5.64 ppm.

“Chromium can cause skin rashes, upset stomachs and ulcers, respiratory problems and cancer,” said Mr. Roy.

Cadmium and lead were also detected in samples from Ghaziabad. Concentrations were high in samples collected from the drains where factory effluents were discharged, showing that it is finding its way out from the manufacturing process.

Interestingly, the Hazards Centre says that since these heavy metals are not supposed to be part of the process for manufacturing beverages, no standards are specified for them for this industry sector in the Environmental Protection Act, 1986. High Chemical Oxygen Demand (COD) levels also show that the effluent must contain a significant amount of chemicals other than the three heavy metals analysed, according to the study.

The Coca Cola rejected the study's findings, saying that their operations conform to Pollution Control Board (PCB) norms.

The company says that a comprehensive 2009 study carried out by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute and IL&FS Ecosmart at Kaladera and Mehandiganj found no adverse impacts on soil and groundwater quality.

“Water is the main ingredient in all of our products and we have a shared interest in protecting the quantity and quality of this precious resource. It would be unreasonable for anyone to think the company itself would contaminate its main raw material,” said a release from Hindustan Coca-Cola beverages Private Limited.

Declines to comment

The Pepsico insisted that its plants met PCB norms, but declined to comment on the specific charges, saying that the report had not been shared with them.

The study was conducted between 2006 and 2008, with samples being tested at the People's Science Institute, Dehra Dun.

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