Coca-Cola plant 'devastating' say villagers

Posted: 28 July 2003

Waste material, promoted by a Coca-Cola plant in India as a fertiliser, has been found to contain a known carcinogen, according to a BBC report.

An investigation by the Face The Facts programme revealed that high levels of toxic metals and the known carcinogen, cadmium, have been found in the 'product' used by local farmers from the Coca-Cola plant in Kerala, India.

Scientists are so concerned about the find that they have called on the plant to stop the practice immediately.

Presenter John Waite visited the plant in South West India following complaints from villagers that water was drying up in the area due to the massive quantities required by Coca-Cola. Villagers, politicians, environmentalists and scientists have accused Coca-Cola of robbing the community of the area's most precious resource.

In the process, they say the area's farming industry has been devastated and that jobs, as well as the health of the local people, has been put at risk.

Toxic metals

Face The Facts took water samples from the wells surrounding the company. The so-called fertiliser was also sent back to Britain.

Analysis of the black sludge-like material, conducted at the University of Exeter, reveals that not only was it useless as a fertiliser but it contained a number of toxic metals, including cadmium and lead.

The labs senior scientist, David Santillo, said it looks like a cynical attempt by the company to dispose of its waste at low cost by passing it off as a benefit to its neighbours.

He comments: "What is particularly disturbing is that the contamination has spread to the water supply - with levels of lead in a near-by well at levels well above those set by the World Health Organisation."

Polluted water

According to Britain's leading poisons expert, Professor John Henry, consultant at St Mary's Hospital, London, immediate steps should be taken by the authorities in India to ban the practice immediately. The levels of toxins found in the samples of waste taken by the BBC would, he said, cause serious problems - polluting the land, local water supplies and the food chain.

"The results have devastating consequences for those living near the areas where this waste has been dumped and for the thousands who depend on crops produced in these fields. Cadmium is a carcinogen and it accumulates in the kidneys. Repeated exposure can lead to kidney failure.

"Lead is particularly dangerous to children and the results of exposure can be fatal. Even at low levels it can cause mental retardation and severe anaemia. What most worries me about the levels found is how this might be affecting pregnant women in the area. You would expect to see an increase in miscarriages, still births and premature deliveries. There is a need to review medical data for that entire area in light of what has happened."

'No complaints'

Face The Facts interviewed Mr Sunil Gupta, the Vice President of Coca-Cola in India, for the programme. He said the local farmers were grateful for the 'fertiliser' because many could not afford proprietary brands of their own.

"It's good for crops," he claims. "It's good for the farmers because most of them are poor and they have been using this for the past three years. We have scientific evidence to prove it is absolutely safe and we have never had any complaints," he said.

Mr Gupta was invited to pass on his scientific evidence to the BBC. At the time of the BBC broadcast on July 25 he had yet to do so.

Related link: BBC