Threat of toxic residue leaks in Orissa, India in 2011 - Urgent action requested by Amnesty International

Over 4,000 families in India face serious risk from threats of leaks from Vedanta's red mud pond as the rainy season begins in June. Levels within the pond have already risen, amidst reports of two leaks in the last two months, threatening the communities' safety, health and livelihoods.

On 5 April and 16 May 2011, following heavy rain, local communities in Orissa state reported leakages from the 28-hectare red mud pond, owned and operated by Vedanta Aluminium, through its walls, polluting local streams and creating anxiety among the communities at the downstream villages of Lanjigarh, Bundel and Basantpada.

On both occasions, company employees reportedly repaired the breaches and washed down the leak, but the communities are not aware of any attempts by the company to assess and clean up any damage that may have been caused by these leaks or to assess any resulting pollution of land and water this may have caused. It has been reported that the company denied any overflow from the pond and claimed that the rain had caused loose earth to flow from the pond’s 30 metre tall wall which is sought to be raised. On 11 May, the Orissa State Pollution Control Board visited Lanjigarh to study the situation at the pond, but has not made its findings public. 

Eye-witnesses say the pond's waste levels have significantly risen. During 2007-2009, the Orissa State Pollution Control Board highlighted concerns about the pond's design and maintenance, including queries about construction, and evidence of seepage of alkaline waste water (pH of 11.06) from the pond. It is not clear how these risks are currently being managed. Amnesty International consulted an international environmental expert and this expert’s view was that the pond should be considered a high risk facility, both because of questions raised about its design and construction and experiences of periodic rainfall.

The local communities have been protesting that they were not being provided with information on steps that are being taken by the company and the state to prevent further breaches. They are also not being informed of the implications of increasing the red mud pond’s capacity or the height of its wall. They fear that they could face a grave situation in the event of a breach during the rain expected from the monsoon which begins in June.

Vedanta’s proposal for a five-fold expansion of this refinery is currently pending before the Orissa High Court after India's Ministry of Environment and Forests rejected it in October 2010 after finding that the project violated the country’s environmental laws.

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