The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Coke unit admits toxic presence in sludge

Calcutta, Aug. 10: At least one Coca-Cola bottling unit has admitted the presence of toxic metals, cadmium and lead, in its waste.

Two days ago, Bengal environment minister Manab Mukherjee had revealed that the metals had been found in the sludge from all four Coke and Pepsi plants in the state.

Diamond Beverages, which bottles soft drinks on behalf of Coke, said its “own tests also found lead and cadmium in the sludge”. .R. Goenka, managing director of the plant at Taratala, said: “We took the sample on July 30, immediately after the Kerala sludge findings were circulated, and got it tasted with a private laboratory.”

The laboratory report dated August 8 shows “the sludge contains 120.44 mg/kg lead and 9.67 mg/kg cadmium, apart from some other heavy metals in trace amount”.

If this confirms the state pollution control board’s finding of traces of these metals in the waste — their presence in itself a mystery — nothing else in the results of the two tests matches.

The board had concluded that the Taratala plant’s sludge contains 930 mg/kg lead — nearly eight times the amount found by the private lab — and 76 mg/kg cadmium — again, eight times. Either the board is wrong, or a private lab that is accredited to it is wrong.

“We are not undermining the board’s findings but we are completely baffled by this huge difference between the two sets of results. We have asked the lab to repeat the test,” Goenka said.

Whatever the quantitative difference between the two, plant officials are even more baffled by the presence of the toxins. How did they get there in the first place'

“We are still confused. But one thing is sure, our cold drinks are absolutely safe and these metals cannot come from the actual beverage production line in any circumstances.”

Pesticide residues — and not cadmium and lead — in higher than permissible quantities have been found in soft drinks in tests conducted by the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment.

Coke and Pepsi have denied the allegation.

Officials of the Taratala plant said they had the ground water as well as the treated water checked and both were certified safe. “We are only adding sugar, carbon dioxide and the soft drink concentrate which is supplied by (Coke’s) Pune plant,” they said.

Goenka dismisses as “impossible” the probability of the concentrate being contaminated. “The chemicals used for washing the used bottles coming from the market as well as the chemicals added to the effluent water may be the source,” he adds.

“We are adding certain chemicals like DAP (di-ammonium phosphate) and urea to the effluent water in the effluent treatment plant to bring it in line with anti-pollution specifications before release.”

He, however, admitted that the plant does not have a qualified environment expert.

Experts disagree. Dipak Chakrabarty, chief scientist at the board, said: “Chemicals used in effluent treatment are unlikely to be the source of toxic metals in sludge.”

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