Calcutta, Aug. 8: No one seems to know why there is such a high concentration of cadmium and lead in the waste generated from Pepsi and Coca-Cola plants in Bengal.
Scientists and environmental engineers suspect the toxins were detected only because they were a part of the inputs used in the manufacture of the soft drinks.
A senior official of the state Pollution Control Board, who was present at a meeting with officials of Coke and Pepsi, said representatives of the multinationals had admitted they were “totally baffled” by the presence of the metals in sludge samples collected from their factories. They said tests they had conducted earlier on the water used in making the drinks had not revealed these metals.
“The actual source is still unknown to us,” said pollution board chairman Hirak Ghosh.
Experts said: “Possible sources could be either the groundwater from which the beverage is produced or the chemicals that are being used during the manufacture of the beverages.”
Siddhartha Dutta, environment expert from Jadavpur University, said: “The possibility of groundwater being responsible (for the high concentration) is relatively less as groundwater quality in all the areas where the plants are located could not be equally bad.
“On the other hand, we actually have no idea what chemicals are used or exactly what processes are followed by these companies as they keep these secret in the name of patent proprietorship. I have a hunch that the sweetening agent used for the production may be a source of lead, if not cadmium as well,” Dutta added.
“Groundwater could not be the primary source as there has been no report of significant amount of lead or cadmium in the groundwater of the state in general,” groundwater experts say. Pollution board sources say they have decided to test for heavy metals in both sludge and waste water from all beverage plants.
Sabuj Bhawal, former member of the pollution board’s appellate authority, added: “Either the water used for manufacturing could be the cause, though the colouring agents used are not beyond suspicion.”
Sudip Bandopadhyay, head of the environment department of Calcutta University said: “Universally, this problem of heavy metals came once beverage companies shifted from glass to PET bottles. Here also, I think that the possible source of the lead and cadmium in the sludge of manufacturing plants may be from all sorts of plastic materials and wares including the labels being used in these units.”
High court plea
A public interest litigation was filed before the green bench of the high court today saying the sale of soft drinks in Bengal should be stopped immediately following recent disclosures over the presence of pesticides in the drinks.
The petitioner, Subhas Dutta, of the Howrah Ganatantrik Nagarik Samity, told the bench comprising Chief Justice A.K. Mathur and Justice A. Bannerjee that there should be a method to test the quality of soft drinks regularly and that manufacturers should display information on the bottle and container labels. The judges did not pass any order, saying they would hear the matter when it was listed.