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Women working in a chromium mine in Sukinda Women working in a chromium mine in Sukinda
Sewage and industrial sludge

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4. Sukinda, India

Country: India
Location: Sukinda, India

Pollutants

Chromite (VI), and other heavy metals are known to pollute the area. Hexavalent chromite has been deemed a human carcinogen by the World Health Organization.

Area Affected

The Sukinda Valley is densely populated, and some 2,600,000 are thought to be in danger. The whole valley is affected, because waste rock is spread over large regions.

About

Chromium is an element both harmful, and necessary for human beings. In its trivalent state (aka chromium III) the element is a supplement for the human body, as well as a naturally ocurring metal. However, hexavalent chromium is a human carcinogen, known to cause cancer along with other serious diseases. Still, the chromium (VI) is mined because people need it for leather tanning, chrome plating, wood preserving, and dyes.

The chrome mines in the Sukinda valley are some of the largest in the world, and they contain over 97% of India's natural chromite. The mines, which are huge, open pits, operate without any external supervision. In order to clear the way for more mining they have dumped 30 million tons of contaminated rock all throughout the region, and the mining companies flush water down the Brahmani river, which is the only source of water for residents in the area. There are treatment plants, but they are small and outdated. 

In addition to flushing waste into the river, the area is also prone to flooding which washes even more toxic waste down the river. 70% of the surface water and 60% of the drinking water have recorded high levels of hexavalent chromium, ranging anywhere from two to twenty times the levels deemed safe by international standards. 

People, Animals, Plants and Waterways Effected

As previously mentioned, the Brahmani river, the only water source in the area, is heavily affected by chromium pollution. This water is used not only as a drinking source, but also as irrigation water, further contaminating the food supply for the people. The mining industry has taken what was once described as a fertile valley, and decimated it.

For the people of Sukinda, chromium (VI) poisoning is a very real threat. According to a study done by the Norweigan run Orissa Voluntary Health Association (OVHA), 84.75% of mine worker's deaths, and 86.42% of nearby villager's deaths were related to chromium induced diseases. The villages that lay most closely to the mines were worst affected. In these villages up to 24.47% of the people had a chromium related disease.

Over time, it has been proven that chromium (VI) exposure will lead to cancer. In the short run, breathing chromium can cause nose irritation, such as bloody noses and ulcers in the nose. Over time, tuberculosis and asthma can ensue. When ingested, chromium (VI) can cause intestinal bleeding and stomach ulcers, as well as a host of other problems including infertility. Babies are often stillborn or deformed because of the poisoning. Still, the people of the valley are knowingly exposed to the toxins day after day.

Clean up Activities

Unfortunately there are still at least 13 mines being run in the area with no plans for long term environmental clean up. Due to increased competition from mines in South Africa and Australia the mining companies have put environmental concerns on the backburner to focus on keeping up with the competition. A suit has been filed with the Orissa High Court to take action against the poisoning of the area, but no resolution has been made. As of Aprl 25th of 2008 the government disputed some of the claims against the area, but the fact remains that chromium (VI) is an extremely dangerous element, and nothing has been done to safeguard the people of Sukinda against it.

How You Can Help

Visit http://www.blacksmithinstitute.org/ for more information on how you can help.

References

  • Blacksmith Institute's Tope Ten Most Polluted
  • http://www.worstpolluted.org/projects_reports/display/36
  • Toxic FAQ for Chromium
  • http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/tfacts7.html
  • Valley of despair - unrestrained chromite mining takes Sukinda valley to the edge of an abyss
  • http://www.geocities.com/envis_ism/news36_28.html
Submitted by cennywenny on Sep 2, 2008