Hydrocarbon Activities Have Harmed Delta Environment, Scientific Analysis Reveals

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FIELD CONTAMINATED BY ONGC’S OIL SPILL ON 30 JUNE 2017 

CHENNAI. 09 August, 2017 — Scientific analysis of soil, groundwater and surface water samples from Thanjavur, Thiruvarur and Nagapattinam confirm delta villagers’ fears that hydrocarbon operations by ONGC and CPCL are harming the environment. The study also concluded that ONGC had failed to observe international best practices in responding to the June 30 oil spill leading to spread of contamination to public water courses and the Velloor irrigation canal. All seven samples – including four soil, two surface water and one groundwater – are contaminated by hydrocarbons linked to oil extraction or refining. Releasing the results in Chennai, the Solidarity Group for Justice and Accountability, a state-wide alliance of individuals and people’s organisations, called for an independent third-party audit of the environmental impacts of ongoing hydrocarbon activities and remediation of contaminated sites at ONGC’s cost. They demanded for the release of jailed villagers, and prosecution of negligent ONGC, TNPCB and district officials.

The results also contradict claims made by the state government, and hydrocarbon majors like ONGC and CPCL.

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Samples were taken as per established scientific methodology 

ONGC’s claim: Oil leaks and spills are promptly attended to; contaminated lands are fully restored.

What the Results Say: Two soil samples were collected from a farm in Thirupunjai, Thiruvarur district, that was contaminated during an oil spill more than 10 years ago. The samples contained 1760 parts per million (or mg/kg) and 2983 mg/kg of Total Petroleum Hydrocarbon (TPH) respectively. The contaminated field had a perceptible odour of rancid petroleum. The soil was brittle, devoid of vegetation and had visible clumps of tar balls. Given that uncontaminated soils should have no trace of TPH, the levels found in the Thirupunjai field are exceedingly high and highlight the failure of ONGC to deploy remedial measures to restore the paddy lands. More than five acres in the vicinity of the contaminated field also lay fallow. Local farmers said rainwater flowing from the oil leak site had rendered surrounding fields also infertile. Crude oil pollution compromises the water holding capacity of soil, harms soil microbial population and reduces crop yields, particularly for paddy.

ONGC’s claim: People prevented ONGC from tending to the June 30 oil spill and resultant contamination in Kathiramangalam

What the Results Say: Two sets of water and soil samples were taken from the Mr. Sriram Ramamoorthy’s certified organic farm that bore the brunt of the June 30 oil leak from ONGC’s crude oil pipeline. One set of surface water and soil samples were taken 10 days after the incident from a location about 50 feet away from the epicentre of the spill. The other was taken from the epicentre of the leak 13 days (soil) and 15 days (water) after the leak.

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Sriram Ramamoorthy’s Certified Organic Farm contaminated by leaks from ONGC’s Pipeline Leak 
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Oil spilled in this field ten years ago, it is still heavily contaminated. 

Surface water sample taken from the epicentre of the pollution contained 33.9 mg/L of TPH. The sample from 50 feet away was mixed with rainwater and contained 2.4 mg/L of TPH. The soil taken 50 feet from the epicentre contained 438 mg/kg of TPH, while the soil in the epicentre contained 1118 mg/kg. Uncontaminated surface water of irrigation quality or uncontaminated farmland soil should not contain any TPH.

 Photographs taken by Kathiramangalam farmers reveal that contamination has been carried by rainwaters into the Velloor irrigation canal. ONGC has ignored repeated requests by the land-owner and farmers of surrounding lands to clean up the contamination.

Government Claims: Hydrocarbon extraction and processing does not harm the environment

What the Results Say: One sample of groundwater was taken from a handpump in Vellapakkam village, about 200 metres from CPCL’s petroleum Narimanam refinery in Nagapattinam. The sample contained 0.2 mg/L of mineral oil, iron levels more than 37 times above permissible limits. The water had a strong odour of rotten egg suggesting the presence of hydrogen sulphide. Mineral oil contamination of groundwater is a result of petroleum refining. From oil spills to underground leaks, hydrocarbon extraction and processing activities are seen to be harming the environment.

Coming as they do when the government has announced plans for a 250 square km Petrochemical investment region, the results raise the disturbing prospect of similar pollution in the areas proposed to be covered by PCPIR.

The spread of contamination into the Velloor Irrigation Canal is a criminal offence as a public water source is being poisoned. Rather than act against the offender, the district administration has jailed villagers.

For more information, contact: Nityanand Jayaraman – 9444082401

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Press Release: Scientific Body’s High Tide Line for TN Wrongly Drawn to Create Real Estate: Coastal Activists

Chennai: Nearly 900 acres of tidal wetlands in two locations have been wrongly identified as land by the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management (NCSCM) which got a multi-crore contract to demarcate the High Tide Line for Tamil Nadu under the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification, 2011. This and other inconsistencies were revealed during a ground truthing exercise conducted by the Coastal Resource Centre (CRC). The erroneous demarcation shortchanges fisherfolk by showing tidal waterbodies as developable real estate.

The inconsistencies cast a shadow on NCSCM’s demarcation exercise and the robustness of the verification process by the State and Central Coastal Zone Management Agencies, CRC said. NCSCM’s High Tide Line cannot be relied upon for preparing the State Coastal Zone Management Plans.

NCSCM had denied access to these maps under RTI claiming that disclosure would prejudicially affect their scientific and economic interests. The maps were later accessed through the State Coastal Zone Management Authority.

“Public scrutiny of such foundation data sets is critical as this forms the basis of the CZMP.   An inaccurate HTL can result in a flawed CZMP, and throw open ecologically sensitive areas for development,” said Pooja Kumar of the Coastal Resource Centre.

CRC ground-truthed the HTL data set by zeroing in on locations where prima facie discrepancies were evident.

  • In Karungali, Thiruvallur District, and Yedaiyanthittu Kazhuveli in Kanchipuram/Villupuram districts, the HTL is demarcated within the tidal waterbody thereby reducing the area of water protected by the CRZ Notification. By doing this, nearly 888 acres of new developable real estate has been created in these two locations.

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  • The HTL on one arm of the Adyar River was highlighted to show how man-made structures on the river were arbitrarily used to mark the extent of tidal influence. the CRZ limits of Adyar creek stops with the first causeway that the river’s backwaters pass on north of the river mouth.

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  • In Athipattu village on Ennore Creek, NCSCM effectively obliterates all evidence of CRZ violation by Hindustan Petroleum (HP). HP has illegally built on a mangrove-fringed tidal creek (CRZ IV and CRZ I under CRZ Notification). By failing to ground-truth or compare it against an earlier, more robust HTL demarcation by the Institute of Remote Sensing, NCSCM’s HTL wrongly uses HP’s violation as the baseline.

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Thousands of fisherfolk along the coast of India are facing threats to livelihood and living spaces from various sectors targeting the coast. A robust plan to manage such a contested space is needed to secure the lives and livelihoods of artisanal fishers and protect ecologically sensitive areas. To achieve this, three action points are suggested

  • Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate change must immediately call for a complete scientific revalidation of the HTL prepared by NCSCM by conducting extensive ground truthing and community consultations
  • HTL prepared by NCSCM in this form must be declared invalid and instructions be passed to all states to pause using this data for preparation of CZMP
  • No project be considered for CRZ Clearance at the state and/or central level until the finalization of a Coastal Zone Management Plan following the guidelines issued in the CRZ 2011 using an accurate, validated HTL.

For More Information Contact :

Saravanan K – 9176331717

Pooja Kumar – 9791122180

Erosion Accelerates upto 100 meteres to the North of Illegal Groynes at Kovalam

In April 2016, we reported that the TN Government is building structures that will destroy the Kovalam Beach  which will in turn put beaches towards the north of Kovalam at a high risk of erosion. These groynes were laid without any environmental impact assessment or prior clearances from any statutory bodies. Roads have been laid on ecologically fragile parts of the beach, with no regard to what regulatory laws stipulate.

The authorities have been watching this illegality, inspite of repeated representations about the dangers of building hard structures, the work has continued. Today, more than 100 m of pristine beach land has been lost to the sea. Yet, there seems to be no movement within the regulatory bodies to stop this madness. It has come to our knowledge that the  National Green Tribunal has ordered for the removal of the groynes, but as of 19th October 2016, no work has begun on the removal of the groynes. However, the question of who is responsible for the ongoing erosion and what measures will be taken for reversing the erosion still remains open.

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June 2016: Beach north of the groyne field in Kovalam
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August 2016 – Effects of Erosion is visible
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September 2016 – Accelerated erosion engulfs over 100 m of beach

It is clearly visible that the sea has reached the first row of coconut trees within a plantation in the area. Google Earth Imagery shows more than 100 metres of beach that does not exist in real life anymore.

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Ennore Air More Toxic Than Manali Industrial Hub’s Air

350A4036-2Chennai, 11 April 2016:

Ennore air quality is far worse than the air quality in Manali, an petrochemical industrial area that was notified as a critically polluted area. This finding was noted in a report released by Chennai-based Coastal Resource Centre based on scientific analysis of Ennore air samples for PM 2.5 (dust) and heavy metals. At between 105.7 and 141.5 micrograms per m3 of air, PM2.5 (dust less than 2.5 micrometres in size) levels in all four samples were 1.7 to 2.3 times higher than the 24-hour standard of 60 ug/m3 prescribed by the Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change (MoEFCC). Levels between 55.5 and 150 ug/m3 will trigger a public notification of “unhealthy” air if such levels are found in US cities.

All samples also had alarming levels of one or more toxic heavy metals such as manganese, lead, nickel and arsenic.

 Arsenic levels in the sample from Kattukuppam exceeds the Indian MoEF annual standard of 0.006 µg/m3 by 1.25 times. Arsenic causes cancer and skin sores.

 Manganese levels in all four samples were above the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) standards by 1.2 to 2.5 times.

 Lead levels in two samples [Kattukuppam and Athipattu] exceed US EPA National Ambient Air Quality Standards for long-term exposure.

 Nickel levels in one sample at Athipattu exceed the California OEHHA standards by 1.2 times.

Manganese, lead and nickel are neurotoxins that damage the brain. Children are particularly vulnerable to the effects of lead. Exposures to even low levels of lead early in life have been linked to effects on IQ, learning, memory and behavior.“The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board is unresponsive to our complaints. The power plants around Ennore have destroyed our environment and health, and more are planned with no regard for our ability to withstand pollution,” said a representative of the Coalition of All Ennore Fishing Villages (எண்ணூர் அனைத்து மீனவ கிராம கூட்டமைப்பு).

The 6-village coalition to save the Ennore Creek has called for a moratorium on expansion of thermal power plants and other industries in the region.“Ennore’s air quality is already harming people. The Government should take urgent steps to improve air quality, institute a health survey to identify damage and rehabilitate affected people,” said Dr. Rakhal Gaitonde, a public health specialist. All samples were taken from housetops in Kattukuppam, Mugathwara Kuppam, Athipattu and Ernavur. All locations are within 2-3 km radius of the nearest power plant or ash pond. The 24-hour samples were taken using filters fitted to a low volume air sampler and analysed for PM2.5 and heavy metals in Chester LabNet at Oregon, USA.

Illegal Roads eat into 5.8 km of coastline in Chennai

The Corporation of Chennai and suburban coastal local bodies have laid 5.8 km of illegal roads between Thiruvanmiyur and Muttukadu, according to a report released by the Coastal Resource Centre. The report documents 10 illegal sea side roads laid by the civic bodies. The report was released today at a press conference attended by fisherfolk representatives from Kottivakkam, Thiruvanmiyur, Urur Kuppam and Srinivasapuram along with members of citizen group ‘Save Chennai Beaches’.

Illegal Road between Palavakkam to Kottivakkam
Illegal Road between Palavakkam to Kottivakkam
Illegal Road at Nainar Kuppam
Illegal Road at Nainar Kuppam
Illegal Road outside Hare Rama Hare Krishna Compound, Thiruvanmiyur
Illegal Road outside Hare Rama Hare Krishna Compound,       Thiruvanmiyur
Illegal Road at Old Karikattu Kuppam
Illegal Road at Old Karikattu Kuppam

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14 Acres of Beach Lost to Chennai Corp’s CRZ Violations

Chennai, 26th November 2014

Activities undertaken or abetted by the Corporation of Chennai has resulted in encroachments on more than 14 acres of beach space between Marina and Neelankarai. Releasing a report documenting 20 prominent Coastal Regulation Zone violations by the civic body, members of Coastal Resource Centre said the encroachments harm local ecology and fisher livelihoods, and leave local communities more vulnerable to cyclones and long-term effects of climate change. The report was released even as the State Coastal Zone Management Authority was considering the Corporation’s application for post-facto clearance for a foiled beautification project in Marina.

The report was prompted by the Corporation’s insistence on pushing through with two “beautification” projects – one in Marina, and the other in Kottivakkam, Palavakkam and Neelankarai beaches — worth Rs. 100 crore despite strong opposition from residents and fisherfolk. Both projects have commenced illegally without the mandatory CRZ clearances from the State Coastal Zone Management Authority. Rather than take action against the Corporation and make it restore the beach to its natural state, the SCZMA is said to be favourably considering the application.

“The report exposes how the Corporation which is meant to regulate construction in the city is one of the most prominent violators of building rules in the CRZ region,” said K. Saravanan, a fisherman from Urur Kuppam and one of the report’s authors.

At least 15 of the 20 violations involve dumping of construction debris, or the use of debris to construct roads or other structures on the beach. Management of construction and demolition waste is the responsibility of the Corporation of Chennai. In November 2012, the National Green Tribunal came down heavily on the Government for dumping debris in Pattinapakkam and Srinivasapuram beaches, and forced the authorities to restore the beach by removing the debris and a debris-filled road.

“Identifying and acting on violations in the coastal region will free up large areas that can be kept as buffers against extreme weather events, and as space for long-term housing needs of fisherfolk and the poor,” said Nityanand Jayaraman, an advisor to the Coastal Resource Centre. “But identifying and acting against violations requires a bureaucracy with integrity and spine, and the SCZMA is not up to the task,” he added.

For more information, contact:

Saravanan – 9176331717

Nityanand Jayaraman – 9444082401

Coastal Resource Centre – a program of The Other Media

No. 92, Thiruvalluvar Nagar 3rd Cross,

Besant Nagar, Chennai 600 090