Return of the Toxic Avenger in India

Cast your mind back to last October, when a tide of toxic sludge leaked into rivers (including the Danube) in Hungary from an alumina refinery’s ‘red mud pool’, causing massive environmental damage, displacing villagers and causing the deaths of ten people.

Cast it back further still to an Amnesty report in February last year on a FTSE 100 company called Vedanta, whose own alumina refinery in the Indian state of Orissa was, our researchers found, “causing air and water pollution that threatens the health of local people and their access to water”.

Now fast-forward to the future:  India’s monsoon season is soon to begin. The red mud pool at the Orissa refinery, in which Vedanta stores around 92 billion litres of toxic residue including radioactive elements from the process of refining bauxite, is situated next to the river on which local people depend for their water. There have already been leaks reported.

Local communities (and Amnesty International) are concerned at the potential for a Danube-style disaster at the Orissa site, if monsoon rains cause further leaks or cause the pool to overflow into the river.

The Orissa State Pollution Control Board has in the past pointed to concerns around the red mud pond’s design and maintenance, and last month visited Lanjigarh to study the situation at the red mud pond, but has not made its findings public.

Vedanta, as I understand it, are denying that any leaks have happened, “as a fool-proof system is in place to avoid toxic elements getting into water,” according to Vedanta Aluminium President Mukesh Kumar. They’ve also (ironically?) been trying to grab some green credentials marking world environment day by planting 35 saplings in the Lanjigarh site of the refinery. Not much given the amount of forest clearance that Vedanta has already done in preparation for the expansion of the refinery.

You can see video footage related to this story, and take action by writing to the Orissa authorities.

(A note on the title of this post. You can, if you must, cast your mind back further still to 1984 and the release of the Troma schlock horror film Return of the Toxic Avenger, from which I borrowed the title. “Nerdy janitor falls into toxic waste and becomes mutant who takes revenge on those who bullied him” would summarise the plot pretty well. I’ve watched it and I wouldn’t really recommend it.)

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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