A large quantum of thick and dark oil washed ashore from Bharathiyar Nagar beach in Ernavur to Marina Light House in Chennai. Tonnes of tar-like thick black oil has polluted several square kilometres of sea in the Bay of Bengal.
According to fishermen, tar-like thick oil started to collect near the shore from Saturday evening. Fishermen around Marina complained that they found it difficult to navigate their boats in the sea because of the thick oil deposits. The fishermen are demanding compensation for loss of livelihood.
The Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board officials said the spill could be the result of the accidental collision of two ships, the inbound vessel MT Dawn Kanchipuram and the outbound vessel LPG/CBW Maple in the wee hours on Saturday at Ennore port’s anchorage.
“There was a collision between a LPG tanker vessel, BW Maple, Isle of Man flagship, and vessel MT Kancheepuram, an oil and chemicals tanker, on the outskirts of Ennore at 4 am (on Saturday). So, this could be a result of that. As it is so thick, we are not able to find out what type of oil it is. We are conducting an investigation,” said a senior official.
While a statement from Kamarajar Port claims that there was no damage to the environment, or casualty or injury, the Times of India reported that the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board, Darya Ship Management and Kamarajar Port have been held responsible for damage to the environment.
The New Indian Express reports:
“The biggest challenge was that both Kamarajar Port and the vessel that caused the disaster remained in denial, leaving the official machinery clueless about what they were dealing with. Minister of State (Shipping) Pon Radhakrishnan visited the port and observed that ‘there were no spills/sheens in the area’, claims a release from the port.”
By Sunday morning the dark thick stagnant oil spread southward about 25km from the outskirts of Ennore where the accident occurred polluting several beaches, including the iconic Marina Beach in Chennai and beyond.
Now, the oil has converted sandy beaches, including the Marina, into a slushy ground, making it inaccessible to the public. Oily sludge. coats the rocks on the coast.
The mild smell of salt and fish that wafted in the air in the neighbourhoods along the beach has been replaced with a heavy, pungent emanation of petroleum and tar.
Hordes of fish and many turtles and hatchlings covered with thick oil were found dead near Ernavour and some were found washed ashore at Marina Beach.
According to environmental experts, the spill could have a long-lasting adverse impact on marine life. The shoreline is known for Olive Ridley turtles which nest on local beaches between January and April every year.
Now, the ill-equipped pollution response teams of the Indian Coast Guard are carrying out an impossible mopping operation. As the Indian Coast Guard lacks the technical expertise, the authorities have invited private companies to bid for the cleanup work.
Ten years ago, I asked what that smell in the air was,
and I got no answer. Now I know. It’s the smell of money. – Chai Jing, journalist and documentary filmmaker
The Chinese documentary film “Under the Dome” was released online on Saturday, February 28, 2015, just before China’s annual “two meetings” period – the meetings of the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in the following week.
The film highlights the severe pollution problem in China.
Major internet platforms such as Youku Tudou and Tencent aired it without interference from film censors. On Tencent alone, it racked up more than 170 million views and sparked a huge amount of debates online.
Chen Jining, China’s environmental protection minister, praised the documentary as “worthy of admiration” and told reporters it should “encourage efforts by people to improve air quality”.
People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, re-posted the film and published an interview with Chai Jing.
Debates on environmental issues dominated the current session of the National People’s Congress, in Beijing. According to some correspondents, the popularity of the impassioned, independent film about environmental pollution appears to have brought jitters to the communist authorities.
Early this month the Chinese authorities banned the popular documentary just two days after Premier Li Keqiang called pollution a blight on people’s lives and had promised to fight it with all the government’s might. It was no longer aired on Youku Tudou, and Tencent from Friday March 6, 2015. The authorities instructed the media to stop writing about the documentary.
Chai Jing is a former investigative reporter and a celebrity TV anchor at the state broadcaster China Central Television. She has a good following among university students with a high-level of social consciousness.
Last year, she quit her job to look after her baby daughter born with a benign lung tumor.
For almost a year, Chai Jing conducted critical investigations of China’s massive air pollution problem. She used $160,000 of her own money and one year to produce the 104-minute documentary “Under the Dome”, a wake-up call for China.
Chai Jing confesses that, like many other Chinese citizens, it was only recently that she learned the difference between fog and smog. Here is a transcript of the introduction by her:
“This graph shows that the Beijing PM2.5 index during January 2013. In just one month, there were 25 days of smog.
I was in Beijing at that time and as I looked back on this curve over the course of that year, I tried to recall the senses and emotions. But I couldn’t. At that time, everyone said random weather patterns caused the haze. Hardly anyone took it seriously.
In that month, I made four business trips: to Shaanxi, Henan, Jiangxi and Zhejiang. Looking back at the sky of these trips, it seems like China at that time was immersed in smog blanketing 25 provinces and 600 million people. I was right in the middle of it, but I didn’t even realize it. But the sensation in my throat remained. When I was in Xian, I was coughing so badly that I couldn’t even sleep. I cut up a lemon and put it beside my pillow.
When I returned to Beijing, I discovered that I was pregnant … At that moment, I knew she must be a girl … When I heard her [baby’s] heartbeat for the first time, there was nothing I wanted more than for her to be healthy. But she was diagnosed with a benign tumor which would require surgery immediately after birth… Before I could even hold her, she was carried off to the operating room … When I saw my little angel after the surgery, she was still unconscious. The Doctor said,… When I saw my little angel after the surgery, she was still unconscious. The Doctor said,… At that moment, I knew she must be a girl … When I heard her [baby’s] heartbeat for the first time, there was nothing I wanted more than for her to be healthy. But she was diagnosed with a benign tumor which would require surgery immediately after birth… … When I saw my little angel after the surgery, she was still unconscious. The Doctor said,
“The operation was very successful. But there is one thing you have to forgive me for: She is so chubby that it took several attempts to find a vein for the anesthetic.”
I took her tiny hand full of needle marks, and I held it to my face. I called her name until she opened her eyes and looked at me.
I’m a very lucky person. After that, I quit my job so I could spend my time keeping her company and looking after her. As long as we are all together, safe and sound, nothing else matters.
But already on our way home from the hospital, I started to feel scared. The smell of the black smoke and burning fire was everywhere. I covered her nose with my handkerchief. I know how stupid that seems, since in her struggle to breathe through it, she would just breath in more smog.
Before that moment, I’d never been afraid of air pollution and I’d never worn a filter mask. But now, there is a little life in your arms, her breathing, eating and drinking are all on your shoulders. That’s when you begin to feel afraid.
That severe smog at the end of 2013 lasted about tw months. The continuing smog made me feel like it was more than just a random occurrence and that it couldn’t possibly be over quickly. It was the same sky that I saw ten years ago, when I was in Shanxi.”
In 2004, Chai Jing interviewed a six-year-old girl named Wang Huiqing.
Chai: “Have you ever seen a real star before?”
Wang Huiqing: “No, I haven’t.”
Chai: “What about blue sky?”
Wang Huiqing: “I’ve seen one that’s a little blue.”
Chai: “What about white clouds?”
Wang Huiqing: “No, I haven’t.”
Chai then says: “When I interviewed this six-year-old girl in 2004, it didn’t cross my mind at all that what she said could be the same experience my daughter would have.”
Later on in her presentation Chai describes how difficult it was to explain to her daughter why she shouldn’t go outdoors. She says:
“These photos show each day of 2014 in Beijing. Only when the air quality was good would I dare to take my daughter outside with me. But how many good days were there? 175 were polluted. That means that in one year, half of the time I had no choice but to keep her at home like a prisoner.
Sometimes, when I get up in the morning, I see my daughter standing in front of our balcony smacking the glass window. This is her method of telling me that she wants to go outside.
I think, one day, she will ask me ‘Mama, why do you keep me shut inside? What is really out there? Will anything hurt me?’
Everything I have done throughout this year is to answer the questions she will ask me in the future. What is smog? Where does it come from? What can we do about it? ‘
Rivers in Shanxi: 84% are polluted, 62% are no longer usable. Chai speaks to an official named Wang.
Chai: “Sir, do you think this is still a river?”
Wang: “It’s not river water, it’s wastewater. Tests show that the annual average Benzopyrene is a powerful carcinogen. As time goes on, it accumulates in one’s body. Once enough of it accumulates, it increases a person’s risk of getting cancer.”
Chai Jing mentions the number of polluted days in some cities in China in 2014: Tianjin – 197, Shenyang – 152, Chengdu – 125, Lanzhou – 112, and Shijiazhuang – 264.
Chai Jing interviews local officials who protect industries that create jobs and pay taxes, but pollute the environment. She poses some tough questions about the politics and economics behind the smog. In one scene she confronts an official about fake emission stickers.
Chai: “So after so many years your law enforcement powers are still completely toothless?”
Officer: “Nowadays I don’t dare open my mouth out of fear that people will see I have no teeth.”
Some scenes in the film are shocking. In one scene during a visit to a hospital operating room, viewers are shown the damage China’s polluted air can do to a person’s lungs.
Chai Jing’s documentary focuses more on pollution and its effects on the daily lives of millions of Chinese. She doesn’t explicitly criticize China’s model of economic development. She does not assign any blame or call for China’s leaders or the party to be held accountable for their policies. However, she explains that the environmental pollution is due to the rapid industrialization. She blames the fast-growth development policies of the past which are linked to corruption for creating environmental side-effects.
Chai Jing’s documentary could be summarized by her words:
“I once watched a TV series titled ‘Under the Dome‘. It was about a small town suddenly enclosed by a dome that appeared out of nowhere. Cut off from the world, no way out. But one day, I realized that we’re all living in the same reality.”
The National Green Tribunal (NGT) in its judgment upheld its interim order of May 31, 2013, and has allowed the Tuticorin Copper Smelter of Sterlite Industries to continue to operate.
Based in Mumbai, India, Sterlite Industries (India) Limited, a unit of London-listed resources conglomerate Vedanta Resources is a diversified and integrated metals and mining group operating in Tuticorin, India. It has the country’s largest copper smelter which produces 30,000 tonnes of refined copper a month – or more than half of India’s total production. The company produces copper cathodes and cast copper rods for use in the transformer and the wires and cables industries. It markets its copper products directly to original equipment manufacturers and traders.
The company has diverse operations. It mines bauxite, and produces aluminum conductors and various other aluminum products; mines zinc ore, and produces zinc ingots and lead ingots. In addition to these products the Sterlite Industries produces various chemical products, such as sulphuric acids, phosphoric acids, phospho gypsum, hydrofluosilicic acids, and granulated slag.
Further, the company is involved in paper business as well as in trading gold. It markets its copper products directly to original equipment manufacturers and traders.
The Sterlite Industries’ copper smelter was commissioned in 1996. From the beginning, the plant has been mired in controversy. Originally it was planned to erect the plant in Maharashtra and Goa, but it faced severe opposition from the people there. However, the AIADMK regime under Jayalalithaa welcomed the project by allotting land at Tuticorin. Since then, Mr. V.Gopalswamy (Vaiko), the general secretary of MDMK party has protested against the project.
On March 23, 2013, massive gas leak, suspected to be Sulphur dioxide or trioxide, caused suffocation and panic around the Sterlite Copper plant between 5 am and 8 am. One Sterlite contract worker, Shailesh Mahadev, 35, reportedly succumbed to exposure to the gas. Following the alleged leakage of noxious gas, residents of Tuticorin town, New Colony, market area, Perumalpuram and SIPCOT area said they experienced sneezing and a few complained of asphyxiation.
Following the incident, environmental activists blamed the Sterlite Industries. They staged a demonstration near Rajaji Park on Palayamkottai Road and sought the closure of the copper smelter. Officials from the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB), Joint Chief Inspector of Factories, Revenue Divisional Officer K. Latha, and Tuticorin Tahsildar Alwar reached the Sterlite company and inspected the copper smelter unit.
TNPCB officials said a sensor in the smelter’s smokestack showed sulphur dioxide levels were more than double the permitted concentration at the time emissions were reported and had “breached limits prescribed by the Board”. TNPCB ordered the shutdown of the smelter with immediate effect until further notice.
However, Sterlite Industries denied the smelter was the source a gas leak. The smelter’s general manager of projects said there were no emissions at the time because the plant shut down for maintenance from March 21st to March 23rd was starting up after two days of maintenance, not producing copper, and high readings in the smokestack were likely a result of workers recalibrating the sensors.
Ashish Kumar, Collector of Tuticorin, said that preliminary inquiries suggested that there was a leak of sulphur dioxide.
The TNPCB issued the order to shut down the plant with immediate effect and the power utility on Friday night disconnected the power supply to the plant. We are in the process of stopping operations
The process of shutting down the plant began on Friday (March 29) night with the disconnection of the power supply to the plant.
MDMK’s general secretary Vaiko, thanked Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa for ordering closure in the interests of the public and to protect the environment.
National Green Tribunal (NGT), a fast-track court hearing the case on allowing the plant to reopen, set up an expert committee to measure emissions and check the working condition of machinery, among other things.
On May 31st, the NGT had, in an interim order, allowed Sterlite to commence operations under the supervision of the expert committee set up by the tribunal.
The expert committee submitted its report on July 10, 2013. “The emissions from all the stacks were well within the permissible limit prescribed by the Central Pollution Control Board when the plant was in normal operation. … Upon stack sampling or ambient air quality monitoring, it is not being found that the industry was emitting sulphur dioxide gas or substances when the plant was in normal operation, which were in violation to the prescribed standards,” the report states,” said the report by P.S.T. Sai and Ligy Philip.
The apex environment court said further in its order that the expert committee had made certain recommendations to improve the working of the plant. It also noted that Sterlite Industries has agreed to comply with the recommendations within a time-bound schedule.
On August 8, 2013, the National Green Tribunal headed by Justice Swatanter Kumar suppressed the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board closure notice served to Sterlite Industries. It upheld its interim orders of May 31 and July 15, which permitted the Vedanta Group’s Sterlite copper smelter factory in Tuticorin to resume full operations on the basis of the report submitted by the expert committee appointed by the tribunal. The National Green Tribunal gave its final clean chit to the Sterlite Industries’ copper smelter plant in Tuticorin. At the same time, keeping in mind the issues raised by the state pollution control board, the tribunal has issued a host of conditions which the factory must comply with. It has also set up a committee to check the health of people around Tuticorin and Sipcot industrial area in the district.
The average human adult at rest inhales and exhales about 7 to 8 liters (about one-fourth of a cubic foot) of air per minute. That amounts to around 11,000 liters of air (388 cubic feet) in a day.
The air that we inhale is about 20-percent oxygen rich. The air that we exhale contains about 15-percent oxygen. So, we consume about 5-percent oxygen contained in the air in each breath. Therefore, we humans use about 550 liters of pure oxygen (19 cubic feet) per day.
A person who is exercising obviously uses a lot more oxygen than that.
Have you ever given thought to what produces this 550 liters of oxygen that each one of us need daily?
The oxygen we consume is exhaled as carbon dioxide.
Now, have you ever given thought to what assimilates that carbon dioxide and converts it back to the vitally needed oxygen?