Frequently asked questions
- Does Sterlite run a legal operation?
No. The factory is wholly illegal and built on a bed of lies. In 2006-2007, Sterlite obtained its licenses to expand production from 900 tpd to its current capacity of 1200 by lying to TNPCB and the Union Environment Ministry that it had adequate land, i.e. 172.17 hectares (ha), to accommodate the extra environmental protection infrastructure associated with increased pollution. Such infrastructure includes taller chimney stacks, land for storage of solid waste, ETPs and larger rainwater storage tanks to enable Zero Liquid Discharge. See Environment Clearance dated 09 August, 2007. https://poromboke.files.wordpress.com/2018/06/ec-2007.pdf
Sterlite has only 102.31 ha, not 172.17 ha. After lying to TNPCB and MoEF, and “convinced” them to ignore the violation. Less land means inadequate space for greenbelt, and air and water pollution control equipment, and no Zero Liquid Discharge. Less land means more pollution. See TNPCB’s Inspection Report dated 22 February, 2018
- Does Sterlite have adequate Greenbelt?
Sterlite’s greenbelt is grossly inadequate to protect surrounding communities from the plant’s air pollution. Government of India guidelines require large hazardous industries like copper smelters to develop greenbelts that are between 500 metres and 1000 metres wide along the boundary of the industry. http://www.moef.gov.in/citizen/specinfo/enguin.html
On 1 August, 1994, TNPCB issued a No Objection Certificate stipulating a greenbelt of 250 metres around the battery limit of the industry. On 12 August, 1994, Sterlite requested TNPCB to relax this condition and permit the industry to develop a greenbelt of 10 to 15 metres around the plant as 150 acres of land would be required for the 250 metre wide greenbelt. On 18 August, 1994, TNPCB relented and allowed Sterlite to develop a 25 metre wide greenbelt instead of 250 metres. (See Pages 31 and 32 of NEERI 1998 report https://poromboke.files.wordpress.com/2018/06/neeri-nov-1998.pdf )
According to the Environmental Clearance dated 9 August, 2007, Sterlite is required to develop a greenbelt over 43 ha of the 172.17 ha project site. https://poromboke.files.wordpress.com/2018/06/ec-2007.pdf
The NEERI report of 2011 (Page 113) states: “Based on plantation assessment, the area of greenbelt developed and under development are 12.39 ha and 0.71 ha, respectively.” That is barely 30 percent of the legally required greenbelt area of 43 ha.
NEERI report 2011 (Page 104) contains a Greenbelt map that reveals that contrary to the requirement of a 25 metre greenbelt around the factory, most of the boundary has NO GREENBELT. This situation has not changed till date and can be verified using Google Earth.
NEERI 2011 report is at https://poromboke.files.wordpress.com/2018/06/neeri-2011.pdf
Ask Sterlite to reveal whether:
- it has 172.17 hectares.
- it has developed 43 hectares of that as greenbelt.
- it has developed a 25 metre greenbelt around the factory.
- Does Sterlite have a functional Zero Liquid Discharge system?
Reports by NEERI, CPCB and TNPCB establish that Sterlite’s Zero Liquid Discharge is dysfunctional and fatally flawed because of inadequate capacity, and intermittent operation.
A ZLD system involves collection and treatment of toxic effluents. Separately, for highly toxic mega industries like Sterlite, a separate system is also required to collect and treat contaminated rainwater runoff. In the absence of an adequate rainwater handling system, toxic rainwater will escape from the factory premises contaminating surround lands and water sources.
A ZLD system is only as good as its ability to handle peak rainfall events.
NEERI 2011 (Page 42, Fig. 8.3) presents a rainwater balance. Here, the peak 24-hourly rainfall is given as 70 mm. Based on this, the total rainwater runoff is calculated to be 50,225 m3, marginally more than its rainwater storage capacity of 50,000 m3 at the time. The storage capacity has reportedly been increased to 80,000 m3 since 2011.
However, peak 24-hourly rainfall in Thoothukudi town is frequently well above 70 mm. On March 14, 2018, Thoothukudi registered a 24-hourly rain fall of 200.8 mm. On December 19, 2015, it recorded 116 mm of rain in a day. On October 17, 2006, the rain gauges registered more than 123 mm in the city. See
At 200 mm rainfall, the runoff would be 143,500 m3, nearly twice the holding capacity of Sterlite’s rainwater storage tanks. The excess contaminated water totalling 63,500 m3 will find its way out of the factory.
NEERI’s 2011 report (Page 109) observes that “the holding capacity of the existing rain water catchment reservoirs are inadequate to accommodate the quantum of runoff from the area during peak precipitation [of a meagre 70 mm].”
NEERI further observes that “In November 2010, due to heavy rains, the entire ETP area was flooded with stormwater. The industry management, as an emergency measure, routed the flooded rainwater alongwith treated effluent for advanced treatment through UF and RO system for recovery of recyclable water. However, the capacity of the evaporation system was inadequate to handle the excess rejects generated treating the storm water hydraulic load. Thus, the quantity of reects generated from the handling of storm water runoff during the heavy rainfall are stored in temporary storage ponds constructed to meet the exigency at the site acquired for proposed expansion project of M/s SIIL.” At 63 mm for Vanchi Maniyachi and 31 mm for Tuticorin, the heavy rains of November 2010 were below the 70 mm peak rain handling capacity reportedly in place at Sterlite. This indicates that the system is incapable handling even the design rainfall load.
On 14.03.2017, TNPCB issued a Notice to Sterlite directing the company to show cause why the company must not be closed for violating the Water Act. Specifically, TNPCB said the company was not operating its Zero Liquid Discharge system, and that improper effluent handling was “resulting in the flow of storm water to the nearby lands alongwith chemical spillage like gypsum etc.”
- Sterlite claims its chimney stacks are of adequate height because the company operates at a SO2 emission factor of 1 kg/tonne of acid produced. Is this correct?
This is incorrect.
TNPCB has clarified via its RTI response dated 25 July 2018 that for plants constructed in 2005-2006 with more than one unit of sulphuric acid production in one location, stack height should be calculated using the combined capacity of all acid production plants in the location, and using a SO2 emission factor of 2 kg/tonne of acid produced. See RTI response at https://poromboke.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/tnpcb-rti-stack-height-2005-6.pdf
See CPCB standards for copper smelters and acid plants at https://poromboke.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/a10-3-cpcb-standards-2010-pages-423-424-553.pdf
The chimney has to be designed as per the above emission factor. Given Sterlite’s poor track record, TNPCB has further tightened its emissions by prescribing a more stringent emission level of 1 kg/tonne.
Dr. T. Swaminathan, a retired professor of Chemical Engineering from IIT Madras, has calculated the stack heights for the Sulphuric Acid plants and the smelter. According to his scientific opinion, the stack attached to the Sulphuric Acid plants should be of minimum 83.5 metre height. Even if an emission factor of 1 kg/tonne is taken, the stack height works out to 68 metres not 60 metres.
The smelter stack should be at least 102.5 metres tall. See Prof. Swaminathan’s scientific opinion at https://poromboke.files.wordpress.com/2018/08/report-glc-stack-height-2018.pdf
- Sterlite claims that power plants in Thoothukudi emit more SO2 than Sterlite. It states that higher sulphur dioxide levels in ambient air are a result of power plants and not Sterlite. Is this true?
It is true that thermal power plants emit more SO2 than Sterlite. However, that SO2 will cause harm to local populations only if chimney stacks are not properly designed and operated. The Central Pollution Control Board prescribes a minimum stack height of 220 metres for power plants with less than 500 MW capacity, and 275 metres for larger plants.
The 420 MW Tuticorin Thermal Power Station (Phase III) has a 220 metre stack. NTPL’s 1000 MW power plant has a 275 metre stack. In contrast, Sterlite operates with 60 metre stacks.
Moreover, neither power plant is located near the villages around Sterlite which are complaining of air pollution. Prof. T. Swaminathan verified calculations to estimate the maximum Ground Level Concentration (GLC) of SO2 caused by emissions from Sterlite’s acid plant and smelter stacks.
He found that: “SAP [Sulphuric Acid Plant] and furnace stacks will contribute to higher-than-permissible concentrations of SO2 at the Ground Level even if they perform strictly as per design parameters. . .Thus it is clear that with the present heights of the stacks the population near the plant are exposed to more than permissible concentrations of SO2 which will cause adverse short term and chronic health effects.”
Specifically, he reports that the acid plant stacks will contribute to a GLC of 125 micrograms/m3 of air at a distance of 1.6 km from the plant. The chimney stacks fitted to the smelter furnace will contribute 104 micrograms/m3 at a distance of 811 metres from the plant. Both levels are far higher than the National Ambient Air Quality Standard of 80 micrograms/m3.
- How true are Sterlite’s claims that it does not release any pollutants into the environment and runs a clean operation?
These claims are untrue, and Sterlite has consistently suppressed data that could allow us to properly verify this claim. We have already proved how Sterlite is a major contributor to dangerous levels of Sulphur Dioxide in the vicinity of the plant.
Just as Sterlite has cut costs by saving on land and compromising environmental protection measures, the company has also been cutting corners by importing poor quality copper ore concentrate. Sterlite’s import documents reveal that copper concentrate shipments imported by Sterlite between 2009 and 2010 contained arsenic concentrations of 0.12% to 0.64%. Sterlite earned a discount of $667,360 (Rs. 4.8 crores) from the supplier for purchasing the lower-grade ore concentrate. Arsenic is not the only toxic contaminant in Sterlite’s ore concentrate. Lead, antimony, bismuth, chromium, zinc and uranium are also commonly found.
Sterlite’s own data reveals that using such highly contaminated ore concentrate can result in the emission of between between 2 and 21 tonnes (average 7.8 tonnes) of cancer-causing arsenic into Thoothukudi’s environment every day. See Arsenic mass balance at
In 2005, TNPCB directed the company “to conduct every year a comprehensive Environmental Audit and submit the report to the Board.” The audit was to include a mass balance for all pollutants, including arsenic, zinc, fluoride. The unit was also required to conduct a comprehensive Environmental Impact Assessment study once in 5 years and furnish the report to the Board. Neither the annual audit with mass balance nor the 5-yearly study has been submitted by the company.
- Sterlite has dismissed complaints by local villagers of a higher incidence of cancers in recent years by pointing to Government of Tamil Nadu data that says cancer rate in Thoothukudi is normal. Does that mean local people are lying?
The 2014 Government health data records 1282 new cases of cancers from all of Thoothukudi district. At a district level, this may not be abnormal. However, if a disproportionate number of the 1282 cancer cases are from Tuticorin town or the villages surrounding Sterlite, that would certainly be abnormal. If Sterlite had complied with the Supreme Court’s direction, or if TNPCB had complied with the direction of the NGT, village level data would have been available. Also, Sterlite appears to have been emitting between 2 and 21 tonnes of carcinogenic arsenic daily into the environment.
Chennai Solidarity Group