Mystery behind changing hues of Sunnambu Odai

Residents of Erode district, Tamilnadu are enraged at the changing hues of the Sunnambu Odai, a major water channel of the region. The colour of the water channel was purple as seen on December 5 and turned blue only 3 days after on 8th December 2011. The water channel changing colours is all thanks to a multitude of textile processing and tannery units operating in the district who relentlessly discharge untreated effluents in the stream. The stream carrying toxic effluents meets Cauvery River which is a major source of irrigation and hydroelectric power in the South. The farmers of the region are livid and have raised the issue many a times in the last several years which fell on deaf ears of the authorities.

The textile and tanneries are one of the most water intensive industries resulting in high wastewater generation. The effluent from the textile and tanneries contain hazardous and toxic wastes which can cause irreversible damage to the environment if discharged untreated. The wastewater from textile industry is characterized by high BOD (Biological Oxygen Demand), high COD (Chemical Oxygen Demand), colour and pH. High BOD levels in the wastewater can cause rapid depletion of dissolved oxygen which adversely affects the aquatic life.

The unmindful dumping of effluents has resulted in the contamination of groundwater in the region which is utilized by most for uses other than drinking. Residents claim to have developed skin disorders due to the use of water from the stream which also bears an unbearable stench.

After a huge uproar from the residents and farmers the district administration shut around 100 defaulting and unauthorized units a few months back. However the drive didn’t persist for long and the polluters have thrived into action all over again. According to some reports the industries are also dumping the hazardous chemical wastes and sludge alongside the roads adjoining the residential colonies and agriculture fields. Such dumping of the effluents and wastes pose a great danger to the environment and health of the people living nearby. The contamination from hazardous waste would eventually turn the soil impoverished affecting agriculture in the region. Erode district is one of the largest producers of turmeric in the country. The district also produces major quantities of sugarcane, oil seeds, coconut, paddy, banana and other food crops.

Action initiated by Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board
“There were 44 tanneries in and around Erode out of which 23 have been closed down for non compliance and 16 have been given show cause notices” says P Asokan, District Environmental Engineer of Tamilnadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB).  Asokan further added that court cases are pending against the industries given show cause notices and they are being closely monitored by TNPCB. For textile industries he says that “160 industries were operating in the region out of which only 84 are running currently.” According to Asokan the illicit dumping of effluents is mainly done by small unauthorized dyeing units. When asked what PCB does to address the dumping of effluents from such units he replied that they demolish them. “In the past three months we have demolished around 70 unauthorized textile dyeing units.” He also informed that High Court issued a direction in 2007 for all the textile industries to have an adequate system in place for zero discharge.

Written by: Sadia Sohail