Calcutta, Aug. 9: Nearly all restaurants on Park Street have taken soft drinks made by Pepsi and Coca-Cola off their menus from last evening. Not only are the drinks not being sold, they are not even being used to mix with cocktails.
Calcutta Municipal Corporation picked up drink samples from some eateries yesterday, following which restaurants stopped selling the 12 brands.
Some have even put up notices saying the sale of the drinks has been stopped on the corporation’s instruction. But there has been no such directive.
“We stopped selling the drinks because we do not want to pick a fight with the authorities,” said the Waldorf manager.
The restaurants panicked when some were made to understand by the corporation that their licences could be cancelled if the samples collected were found to contain high levels of cadmium and lead.
“What’s our fault' How could we know that these drinks were not safe'” said the manager of Mocambo. “We have stopped selling to avoid controversy, but what is remarkable is the fact that absolutely no one is asking for them, not even kids.”
The only eatery still serving the drinks to customers who wanted them was Moulin Rouge.
Pepsi has begun a public relations exercise with restaurants. An official of Magnolia said Pepsi had sent a test report showing the drinks were fit for consumption.
The West Bengal Pollution Control Board appears likely to bring units where brands owned by Coca-Cola and Pepsi are manufactured under the hazardous category of industries.
Senior officials said the units would eventually be moved into the “hazardous” category since cadmium and lead had been found in sludge generated by the four soft drinks factories in the state. Coca-Cola has factories at Taratala, Dankuni and Jalpaiguri, while Pepsi has a unit at Narendrapur.
Board officials said today the industry would have to come under the Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 1989, which has been subsequently amended. “Under this rule, any industry that generates chemicals and elements that are either toxic, corrosive or inflammable (at levels) above the permissible limits will have to have specialised handling, storage and disposal systems for the waste under these rules,” a senior official said.
“With the high levels of cadmium the units are generating, they will have to apply for no-objection certificates from the board,” the board official said.
Since neither Pepsi and Coca-Cola had informed that they had process inputs containing lead and cadmium, the multinationals will be handed letters on Monday asking them how these toxic elements were found in their plants’ effluents.
They have 10 days to reply.
Only after this will the pollution board and the environment department swing into action.
One of the Coke manufacturing units, Taratala’s Diamond Beverages Private Limited, has said tests conducted by an accredited testing laboratory have shown that cadmium and lead are present in the sludge. But it says the levels “are within the permissible norms” and much less than the figures mentioned by environment minister Manab Mukherjee after tests were conducted at the board laboratory.
In the test conducted by a private, board-accredited laboratory in Calcutta, the level of cadmium in the solid waste was found to be 9.67 mg per kg, whereas Mukherjee said the board’s laboratory tested a value of 76 mg per kg.
The private laboratory found the lead level to be 120.44 mg per kg, while the board lab arrived at a figure of 930 mg per kg.
“We are not undermining the pollution control board’s report, but we have again sent samples of the sludge for testing at the private laboratory and we are awaiting results,” said N. R. Goenka, managing director of Diamond Beverages.
Goenka said the first tests were conducted after he heard of last month’s BBC Radio 4 report saying the sludge produced at a Coca Cola factory in Kerala contained high levels of cadmium.