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Probe ordered into Coke plant 'toxic sludge'

George Iype in Kochi | July 29, 2003 17:07 IST

The Kerala government has ordered a probe into the operations of the Coca-Cola plant in the state's Palakkad district after a recent BBC study pointed out that the sludge produced by the Coke factory contains dangerous toxic chemicals polluting the land and water supplies, affecting the health of the local people.

Kerala's Health Minister P Sankaran said that the state government has asked the state Pollution Control Board secretary to investigate whether the sludge which the Cock plant supplies as fertilizer to farmers at Plachimada village in Palakkad has toxic materials or not.

"We have already collected the sludge from the Coca-Cola factory premises. We are getting it meticulously tested at the state government laboratories to find whether the sludge contains dangerous toxic chemicals," Sankaran told

The BBC investigative report has claimed that the sludge supplied to the local farmers contains 'high levels of known carcinogen cadmium.'

BBC, which got the sludge samples from the Plachimada plant tested at the University of Exeter in Britain, said that the fertilizer supplied by the Coca-Cola to the farmers, would have devastating consequences on the health of the local villagers.

The BBC study was done in the wake of an ongoing campaign by the local people who allege that the villages near the Coke factory are drying up because of the over-exploitation of water resources.

Early this year, the Pudussery panchayat in Palakkad district where the Plachimada plant is situated, refused to renew the Coca-Cola licence, saying that the plant was depleting the groundwater in the region.

The licence was, however, renewed after the court intervention.

According to Sankaran, the government is "duty-bound to look into the findings of the BBC study since it concerns the health of the people and the environment."

"BBC says the fertilizers that our farmers are using are dangerous, but the Coke plant has informed the government that the sludge does not contain any contaminants," the minister said.

"The government wants to get to the truth of the matter," Sankaran added.

Officials at the state Pollution Control Board said that the BBC findings cannot be said to be "accurate and final as it has not exactly mentioned the level and concentration of the heavy metals contained in the sludge."

The state PCB, however, never takes any examinations of the sludge produced by a factory before approving projects, like the Coca-Cola unit, a senior official told

"We do not generally give clearance to a project or a factory after examining the sludge. But now that there is a controversy, we will examine the nature of the sludge," the official added.

On its part, the Coke officials continued to maintain that the sludge is harmless to the environment and the health of the local people. It said the plant was supplying the sludge as fertilizer to only those local farmers who have requested for the waste materials in writing.

Coca-Cola officials have also released studies done by the National Geophysical Research Institute, Hyderabad that said that there is no field evidence of overexploitation of the groundwater reserves in the Coke plant area in Palakkad.

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