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Prohibited in Norway: Hydro uses cadmium in plastic production in India

NorWatch has revealed that the Norwegian company Norsk Hydro makes use of the hazardous cadmium in its plastic production in India. Cadmium, according to SFT (the governmental pollution control board in Norway) is prohibited as a dye in polypropane plastics in Norway. In Sweden, since 1982, the dye has generally been prohibited in plastics. And in the entire EEA it is strictly regulated. In Norway, no plastic producer uses cadmium. Nevertheless, Norsk Hydro will not promise to stop the use of cadmium at its partly owned factory, Hydro S&S, located in Pudukottai in India. They promise only to 'discuss case'.

-Cadmium in plastics belongs to the stone age, says Mr. Jon Øyvind Selmer, PVC-elected Representative of Norsk Hydro the Workers Union at Herøya. .

Artikkelen er mer enn to år gammel. Ting kan ha endret seg.

NorWatch has revealed that the Norwegian company Norsk Hydro makes use of the hazardous cadmium in its plastic production in India. Cadmium, according to SFT (the governmental pollution control board in Norway) is prohibited as a dye in polypropane plastics in Norway. In Sweden, since 1982, the dye has generally been prohibited in plastics. And in the entire EEA it is strictly regulated. In Norway, no plastic producer uses cadmium. Nevertheless, Norsk Hydro will not promise to stop the use of cadmium at its partly owned factory, Hydro S&S, located in Pudukottai in India. They promise only to 'discuss case'.

-Cadmium in plastics belongs to the stone age, says Mr. Jon Øyvind Selmer, PVC-elected Representative of Norsk Hydro the Workers Union at Herøya. .


By Tarjei Leer-Salvesen,
Norwatch

NorWatch has recently visited two plants, situated in the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, that compounds ( see box below) polypropane plastics. Both are owned and managed by Hydro S&S, a joint venture company between Norsk Hydro and the Indian S&S. Norsk Hydro owns 38% of the shares and has board representation.

The management at the oldest of the factories in Pudukottai, admits the use of cadmium compounds in their production.

According to Hydro in Norway the substance is used as a pigment dye. This is precisely the area of usage which is forbidden in Norway. .

Dangerous Cadmium
Cadmium is an extremely poisonous heavy metal which accumulates in animals because it takes an extremely long time to separate it from the body.

The Swedish firm Toxinfo AB, which has published a major reference work about different substances, describes cadmium as such: "Inhaling of a lot of smoke or vapour can cause coughing, breast pains, breathing difficulties, vomiting, headaches, diarrhoea, and in serious circumstances, lung inflammation and water in the lung." They also mention lung emphysema, blood poisoning and kidney damage as sufferings caused by long term effect of cadmium. The metal accumulates in the food chain, and in Sweden the health authorities have advised caution regarding certain types of mushrooms, for fear of cadmium content.

In Bellona's fact-sheet on cadmium, it is written, among other things: "Animal exper-iments with chronicle exposure have shown reduced growth, damage to the liver and kidney, cerebral haemorrhage and de-calcification, besides related de-formation of the skeleton. The last mentioned suffering affec-ted many people in the 60s in Japan, where it was defined as a distinctive sickness called itai-itai ('it hurts - it hurts).

Besides, Bellona recommends that cadmium is prohibited in paint and plastics, and points out that for most uses, exist good alternatives.

Prohibited
According to SFT, Cadmium as a dye in polypropane is prohibited in Norway for environmental reasons. Norway has only one polypropane compounding plant, which is Borealis located in Bamble. Borealis informs that they do not use any form of cadmium in their production.

In Norway, cadmium is prohibited as pigment in plastic and as stabiliser in PVC, but otherwise it is unregulated.

-We in the Plastics Industry Union have, together with the Norwegian authorities, worked actively to phase out cadmium. Toay cadmium in plastic is no more a problem in Norway, says director Carla Botten Verboven from the Plastic Industry Union.

Meanwhile she does not see it as her task to comment on what Norwegian firms should be doing abroad.

No guarantee
Lise Sollerud from Hydro's Petrochemical division, says in a written commentary to NorWatch that: "NorWatch has focused on several matters which we wish to investigate closer, and we will make sure that this is discussed at the next board meeting".

Hydro clearly says that they have phased out Cadmium at their plants in Scandinavia. And in England, several years ago, Hydro stopped the use of cadmium as pigment in their production, while cadmium as a stabiliser in PVC will be phased out by 1997.

No one in Norsk Hydro, however, will guarantee to stop the use of cadmium in India.

"Cadmium in plastics belongs to the stone-age. And this, the Norwegian Industry should understand."
Jon Øyvind Selmer, PVC Elected-Representative, Norsk Hydro Workers Union at Herøya.

Stone-age
Håkon Langballe, Head of the Petrochemical division in Hydro, promises to "follow up the case with the aim of phasing out cadmium". However, he will not give any guarantees. He points out that it is natural for Hydro to have a common environmental policy for all its plants globally. He points out that the phasing out of cadmium will need to be sorted out with the customers.

-Cadmium in plastics belongs to the stone-age. And this the Norwegian Industry should understand, says PVC Elected Representative Jon Øyvind Selmer of Norsk Hydro's Workers Union at Herøya. He adds that: -Besides, Norsk Hydro's environmental profile in India should be as far as possible the same as what it is in Scandinavia.

Poor equipment
Both production halls at the plant in Pudukottai, i.e., Hall I, and II, of which only Hall I op-erating while NorWatch was there, was found to be very dirty and dusty. Just a few of the workers used helmets and masks. In spite of the loud noise from the machine, none of them had any kind of hearing protection.

A factory number III is under installation. The main mac-hine here is equipped with a shield which is supposed pro-tect workers, who are also wor-king without gloves, from dust and parts of the machine which have temperatures that are above 200 degrees Celsius.

When asked why the other two plants are not protecting the workers in the same way, Mr. Jeevanadam, who is re-sponsible for technical aspects answers:

-This is a new plant. The others are old. The workers there are used to it.

A worker that NorWatch met, who works in a noisy store room for their product's test bricks, speaks unnaturally loud, as if he has hearing problems. When asked why the worker did not have hearing protectors, the management answers:

-He will get used to it, they get used to nearly everything.

The dust, according to the management, is harmless calcium carbonate, but Lise Sollerud at Norsk Hydro writes in a letter to NorWatch the representatives of Hydro has earlier complained to their Indian partner S&S about the dirt and dust at the plant. The conditions have later been after that notably improved and the plant has now been certified ISO 9002.

In spite of that, the dust problem is still striking.

- The experiences from Norwegian compounding plants are that, poisonous additives are found in the plant's dust, says Bård Bergfald, staff in charge of chemistry at Bellona.

Translator refused entry
The workers at the Hydro S&S plant in Pudukottai are organised through a communist Trade Union. Their salary are ranging from a minimum of 1750 rupees (350 NOK) per month, which is normal for unskilled industry workers. For skilled workers the salary is 3000 rupees. The other plant, situated in the former French colony Pondicherry, has no Trade Union. Here the salary is between 1 000 and 1 200 rupees (200-240 NOK) for unskilled workers and 2 000 rupees for skilled workers. According to a factory manager in another Indian industrial company, for thiskind of work, the above mentioned salary is very low. NorWatch did not get to talk with the workers. It was only possible to meet with the management at the factories, because the tamil translator was refused entry.

-What do they want with a Trade Union here in Pondi-cherry? wonders the Factory Chief, Mr. V. Ganesan.

-Well, they have us, he concludes. However he adds that a trade union might be established at the factory in a few years.

Mr. Håkon Langballe at the petrochemical division in Norsk Hydro points out that the company does not have an equal-pay policy.

-We pay market regulated salary, he says.

No waste control
Norsk Hydro writes readily in their environmental reports that they "take responsibility for their products from cradle to cradle", indicating that they have come a long way with their waste management. Recycling and reuse are important key words.

But at the plants in India no statistics excisted to show what happened to the waste. No one had data showing how much was recycled, what was burnt and what possibly ended at different garbage dumps.

-We sell it to different agents. They collect the waste and we do not see it anymore, answers Pudukottai Factory Chief Sub-ramaniam upon on our inquiry.

-We have good soil here. No pollution, he assures, while again declining to answer the question about where the waste really ends.
 
Hydro in India
Hydro S&S Industries Limited is a joint venture between Norsk Hydro (38%) and the Indian company S&S (62%). The company is listed in the Indian stock exchange, and manages three compounding plants for plastics in the South of India. Com-pounding is a process where different substances are added to raw plastics to specialise its use, for colour, hardness, flame resistance, etc. The PVC factory is located in Bangalore, while the two polypropane plants are at Pudukottai and Pondicherry in Tamil Nadu. The Company has a staff off about 130 and Hydro has one person represented in the company's board.

Norwatch Newsletter 3/97

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