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Gasping & Drowning

Residents urge immediate action against the companies that are responsible for causing pollution in various areas such as Manali, Ennore and Tiruvottiyur.

CHENNAI: For over a decade, residents of North Chennai have been reporting intense odours emanating from nearby industries which cause water and air pollution. They have demanded an indefinite ban on the expansion of existing industries in the locality due to the increasing levels of pollution.

Residents urge immediate action against the companies that are responsible for causing pollution in various areas such as Manali, Ennore and Tiruvottiyur.

The Ennore power station, which caused several problems for the residents here, was closed permanently. But the north Chennai Thermal Power Station that commenced 30 years ago, discharges ammonia into the air. This has caused several health issues among the residents in the area.

After these industries came up, people from Kuruvimedu village near Minjur vacated five years ago due to the toxic air pollution and fly ash from the industries. Similarly, when a L&T port was constructed, residents from Kaatupalli Kuppam were rehabilitated and they’ve been working in the same port.

“After these industries were set up in the locality, residents faced several health issues. Many suffer from cancer, and children have varied forms of lung issues. We’re unable to bear the smell of toxic gases; it has led to suffocation and eye-burning. Several senior citizens suffer from low oxygen levels. We’re forced to keep the doors closed to protect ourselves from these gases,” K Harish, a resident of Manali, lamented.

Residents are unable to use groundwater or Metro Water for any purpose due to contamination. This adversely affects daily wagers, as they’re forced to spend at least Rs 50-100/day to buy water. Those who cannot afford it, use polluted ground water. And the result is skin-related issues, amongst others.

In the case of fishermen residing near Kosasthalaiyar river, the situation is worse. Liquid medical waste, oil discharge and hot water from the nearby industry has robbed their livelihood. Fish caught in the estuary has no takers, thanks to the pungent chemical smell in the day’s catch.

“We’ve facing these issues for decades. Already many small villages have shifted to other places in the city. If the situation continues, the fishing villages will be a ghost town with residents abandoning the area. For years, we’ve been filing complaints and petitions against the polluting companies in the area, but all in vain,” said S Kumaresan, a fisherman and resident of Ennore.

Environmental activists claim that if the same situation happened in Besant Nagar or Anna Nagar, stricter action would be taken. During the Open House Session by Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB held on Friday, Nityanand Jayaraman, an environmental activist asked about the report submitted by the expert committee team. “Officials said that their hands are tied as it’s a central government industry. And the State government is unable to use the law against the company. It has been more than 15 days since the expert committee submitted a report, but no action has been taken. There won’t be any action taken against the companies and residents in north Chennai keep paying the price with their lives,” he elaborated.

Commenting on the issue faced by the north Chennai residents, Tiruvottiyur MLA KP Shankar said, “Even on Friday night, there was a strong toxic gas smell, and residents were treated at nearby hospitals. Along with the Environmental Minister, we spoke to the company regarding the gas emissions, but no direction was followed by the industries.”

No monitoring station in Ennore, only in Manali Data from TNPCB revealed that Ennore-Manali industries either do not monitor and report the pollution level which shows that the pollutants did not exceed the permissible limit. Despite several complaints, protests, and campaigns to protect the people of North Chennai from the toxic environment.

When contacted, R Kannan, member secretary, TNPCB, told DT Next, “As per the government direction, a 5-member expert committee did a field inspection after the gas emission and submitted reports about it. Action will be taken based on the report.”

Residents often complain of breathing difficulty, headaches

Hospitals in the area have been getting a larger number of patients with asthma and other breathing difficulties more than usual, after the gas emission happened in July. Dr Vishvaja Sambath, environmental health researcher, Healthy Energy Initiative (India), explained that the industries have been releasing sulphur compound for the last two decades. “People are having several health complications such as giddiness, nausea, eye irritation, asthma, etc. After smelling the toxic gas, they get headaches, abdominal pain and suffer from other issues,” she points out. “In July alone, the number of cases has increased in the locality. On the other hand, the residents are also getting used to breathing in such toxic air, which is not good for public health.”

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