Spotlight on toxic chemical disaster unfolding in southern India triggered by increasing demand for generic drugs in West
By Robert Verkerk PhD
Founder, executive & scientific director
A crisis that has been over 20 years in the making continues to unfold in the Patancheru area of Andhra Pradesh, near Hyderabad, southern India. The Patancheru situation echoes elements of the tragedy, denial and corporate recklessness associated with the Union Carbide disaster of Bhopal, some 900 km to the north. But unlike Bhopal, where the acute exposures and deaths from the Union Carbide gas escape that killed and maimed thousands could not be concealed, the Patancheru situation, born out of long-term, chronic exposure to pharmaceutical effluents, has received much less public and international exposure.
High levels of cancer, respiratory and heart diseases along with farm animal and fish kills, polluted water supplies and agricultural lands have been attributed to pharmaceutical pollutants over more than two decades, wreaking havoc among a community of over 100,000 people in over 20 villages.
The crisis is being driven primarily by Western demand for cheap paracetamol (acetaminophen), ibuprofen, antibiotics and other drugs. The area is home to one of the largest concentrations of generic drug manufacturers in the world which includes over 250 manufacturers and formulators in the Patancheru-Bollaram industrial cluster. Between them, the generic pharma hub produces around 20% of the world’s share of generic drugs. But at what cost?
Since an exposé by Greenpeace India in 2004, following comprehensive study of the situation, it has been known that toxin-rich effluents, including active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) like antibiotics, were being released into the Patancheru environment and have extensively poisoned people, lakes, rivers, aquafers, air and farmland. The consequences for people’s health and community access to potable drinking water have been dire. As importantly, the polluted effluents have been rendering agricultural land unfit for crops or livestock, fish, buffalo and other animals have been poisoned and killed, and effective pollution controls have yet to be put in place despite assurances by the pharma companies to the contrary.
The companies involved have refused to accept responsibility for any pollution post-2002. And herein lies the significance of the Swedish connection.
In 2007, a team of Swedish researchers from Gothenburg University led by Joakim Larsson, published a study which revealed extremely high levels of pharmaceutical residues in effluents passing directly into rivers and lakes. Yes, polluted effluents were still very much present over 4 years after local authorities and businesses had claimed that adequate controls had been put in place.
Rishab Khanna, one of the leading activists drawing international attention to the current crisis with support from Swedish NGOs like Initiatives of Change in Sweden and Envirohealth Matters, told ANH-Intl in an interview earlier today, “The problem could signal something even more worrying than the local effects on people’s health and the environment. The sheer concentration and diversity of antibiotics going into the environment could generate hyperbugs with such high levels of antibiotic cross-resistance that they could pose an unimaginable threat to humanity, period”.
In admission of poisonings of fish, animals and farmlands, pharmaceutical companies in Patacheru were finally forced by the National Green Tribunal to pay out some 7 million rupees (approx. US$115,000) to affected farmers in November 2013. However this case covered only compensation for the period prior to 2002, after which the industry claims it got its house in order.
Rishab Khanna told ANH-Intl, “We’ve brought the case back to the green tribunal and included Larsson’s research because it proves that serious pollution has occurred since 2002 and can be assumed to continue today. You only have to go there to see the problems, but while many scientists and reporters have done this, nothing seems to change. We hope that the court will be able to exert some influence”.
Khanna indicated that the verdict from the National Green Tribunal in Chennai is likely to be handed down in approximately one month.
Rishab Khanna’s team, and others involved in the campaign, are working towards achieving several outcomes with the case. These include:
Putting the case into the international limelight to draw attention to the crisis, and trigger a greater sense of corporate responsibility and awareness among Western citizens, governments and corporations
Help to establish an institution to support and help remedy those poisoned and affected by the pollutants
Facilitate international support, including from Sweden, to help develop effective remediation approaches and pollutions controls
Develop a system of pollution taxation that forces companies to contribute towards environmental remediation, as well providing support for those facing health or agricultural productivity challenges caused by the pollution
Call to action
Reduce demand for generic drugs by employing natural health strategies to manage your health as far as possible.
To help this very important cause and raise more awareness of it, please forward, copy or reprint this article as far and wide as possible. We simply ask you to include the date (24 September 2014) and attribution (including link to original content) to the Alliance for Natural Health International (ANH-Intl). Thank you.