Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Tuesday, Sep 17, 2002
TCCL defends environment record To phase out mercury cell units
KOCHI, Sept. 16
TRAVANCORE-Cochin Chemicals Ltd (TCCL) is in the process of gradually phasing out its mercury cell units and it is totally incorrect to say that the company has taken no environment protection initiatives on account of a cash crunch, top officials of the company told Business Line.
The state-owned TCCL, one of the oldest chlorine and caustic soda plants in the country, was recently rated the worst performing company by the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) as it was found to be causing serious mercury pollution.
Responding to the study, top company sources said that the company's pollution control system adheres to the requirements of the State Pollution Control Board.
The technology for production of caustic soda is based on the membrane cell process, the sources pointed out. Until a few years ago it was the mercury cell process that was prevalent in the industry.
Power is a major input of this industry as the whole process is electrolytic dissociation of brine. The mercury cell technology besides having excessive power consumption also causes mercury pollution, they explained.
As per the Green Rating Project of the CSE, on an average, TCCL releases 396 grams of mercury into the environment while producing just one tonne caustic soda from the mercury cell process. Almost three times the average amount of mercury released by the caustic-chlorine sector.
Mercury poisoning can cause severe damage of the nervous system, leading to tremors and alterations in the personality and moods.
It was in this backdrop and in order to avail itself of the twin benefits of energy conservation and clean processing that the mercury cell technology is being replaced with membrane cell technology.
``Currently there is less than half capacity utilisation at our mercury cell plants. We are also in the process of increasing the existing capacity at our membrane cell plants by an additional 25 tonnes daily. The current plant capacity is 100 tonnes per day," sources said.
Top officials maintain that while the aforementioned increase in capacity should be in place by this December-end, TCCL was looking at a further expansion of 25 tonnes per day by which time the production of caustic soda by the mercury cell process would be phased out completely.
TCCL officials however were at a loss as to what were the pollution parameters that have been used to name them as "the worst-performing company." They are also unclear as to the period of study on which the report was based on.
"Over the years, TCCL has taken a lot of effort to tone down the pollution levels. In fact in the year 2000, a German expert had conducted a study of the TCCL's pollution levels and certified in favour of the company," a senior official said.
The company currently has a plant that streamlines waste from the chlorine and soda.
Caustic soda and chlorine, both products of the chlor alkali industry, are basic building blocks in the chemical processing industry. These chemicals find uses in a variety of industries that support our day-to-day life.
While caustic soda is used in paper and pulp, newsprint, textile, viscose, yarn, staple fibre, aluminium, petroleum processing soaps and detergents dyes and drugs and pharmaceuticals, chlorine finds extensive use in the manufacture of PVC, pulp and paper, a wide range of organic and inorganic chemicals, refrigerants, solvents, plastics pesticides and also for bleaching and water purification.
TCCL, located on the banks of the Periyar, was set up in 1951. It supplies chlorine to purify much of the piped water supplied in Kerala.
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