Toxic industrial waste contaminates water, poisons lives in Kerala's Kollam district

With the groundwater in the area fully contaminated from the toxic industrial waste, the land has gone to waste and paddy fields have been deserted.

Kollam: Nearly 300 families living within a radius of 500 metres of a metals industry in Kerala's Kollam district have been suffering for almost a decade because of toxic waste from the plant contaminating their groundwater.

For residents like Anoop, a class 7 student with severe allergies on his feet, or Chellama, in her 70s, having sores on her back and burns marks on legs, living next to the Kerala Minerals and Metal Limited in Chittoor village has only brought suffering and diseases.

With the groundwater in the area fully contaminated from the toxic industrial waste, the land has gone to waste and paddy fields have been deserted.

"All of us here are suffering from some sickness or the other. There are people with breathing problems, skin problems, even cancer," Neetu, a medical student in the village, says.

Susamma, a mother of three, says, "There is no water to drink anywhere. We get water supply once a week in a limited quantity."

NDTV did a test by inserting litmus paper in the water accumulated in a paddy field. The blue litmus turned into light red, a clear indication of acidic presence.

MK Salim, an activist from Kollam, says, "People cannot live here. They don't know anything about the Public Insurance Act which is still in effect. Ministers come and go. They say they will take over the land but when?"

Dr Sahadullah, chairman of the Kerala Institute of Medical Sciences, says the contamination can cause erosion in the mouth and skin diseases. Acid coupled with other industrial pollutants like mercury and lead can also cause diseases affecting blood vessels and cancer, he says.

The latest pollution study in the area says the contamination is spreading, with the report urging the company to take remedial steps.

"The contamination is slowly spreading towards the surrounding areas through alluvial aquifers... The study reveals groundwater contamination in the wells behind the KMML upto 500 meters from the boundary is high... The company has to take remedial measures urgently to ensure acidic effluents are neutralised before discharge," the report states.

The company claims the contamination is only limited to 125 metres within the plant. "We have stored the slurry safely, according to the international norms prescribed. Of course there will be contamination of water. We have decided to acquire the severely affected land of nine acres," an official said.

Despite the residents struggling for a decade, the lack of a comprehensive study on their health is alarming. "The true cause has to be understood. There has to be an intensive study and only then can we comment about it," Kollam's Collector, Pranav Jyotinatha, says.

Meanwhile, the angry locals say they are forced to live with a fundamental right denied to them: the right to life.
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