Chennai: Nearly 99% of sulphuric acids, phosphoric acids and other chemicals have been evacuated in the last 27 days from Vedanta’s Sterlite Industries Ltd plant in Thoothukudi district, Tamil Nadu, district collector Sandeep Nanduri said on Monday, two months after the unit was shut down.

“Only certain chemicals that are at the bottom of the tank and, that cannot be sucked haven’t been cleared. These will be neutralized inside the Sterlite campus," he said.

Nanduri also dismissed rumours that the copper unit will be reopened.

The National Green Tribunal (NGT) on Monday refused to grant an interim stay to Vedanta on the Tamil Nadu government’s order on the closure of the Sterlite unit and fixed 9 August as the date for final hearing.

Last month, the state government had constituted a committee to remove acids and chemicals from the site, following reports of acid leak inside the factory.

A recent Central Ground Water Board (CGWB) study had also indicated high levels of groundwater contamination in and around the Sterlite plant.

“The study indicates that most of the groundwater samples are contaminated with high total dissolved solids (TDS) and heavy metals like cadmium, chromium, manganese, iron and arsenic, which are beyond (the) permissible limit," Arjun Ram Meghwal, the Union minister of state for water resources, said in a written reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha last week.

Sterlite, however, countered that the unit is equipped with sufficient effluent treatment plants as well as three reverse osmosis facilities that support 100% recycling. As such, there is no possibility of groundwater contamination due to the plant’s operations, it said.

The people of the port town, who have been protesting against Sterlite Industries for more than two decades, had intensified their agitation earlier this year, when the Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board (TNPCB) issued “consent to establish" licences to the copper smelting unit for its expansion plans that would double Sterlite’s production to 800,000 metric tonnes per annum.

On 22 May, as thousands marched towards the district collector’s office demanding the closure of the copper smelting unit, the protest turned violent and police opened fire. According to the state government, 13 people were killed and more than 100 injured.

A week later, the Tamil Nadu government sealed the Sterlite unit in Thoothukudi and cancelled the allotment of the 342.22 acres for the expansion of the copper smelting plant.

However, according to the company, the unit has remained shut for its annual maintenance since the last week of March.

TNPCB also disconnected the power supply to the unit on 24 May.

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