The Water That Kills in Gujarat

In Gujarat, India the farmers have plenty of water to irrigate their crops. The problem though is that water kills. The residents of this village say that Gujarat Fluorochemicals has poisoned their land.
The water that comes out of the well stinks. On the surface an oily film is visible.

That is the water for the villagers.

Years ago the barren land was filled with crops. Radha, the only female farmer in the village, grew spinach, potatoes and other crops. Now her plants are useless. Cotton fields produce nothing. For a widow with six children that means hunger.

The soil has a white crust. It smells like paint thinner.

The village is overlooking a plant that is owned by Gujarat Fluorochemicals (GFL). The plant makes refrigerant gases for air-conditioners and refrigerators.

The plant was built in 1989. Four years ago it was equipped with technology to reduce the greenhouse gases it produces as part of a worldwide carbon-trading scheme. It is supposed to help with global warming. It failed. Instead it is poisoning the lands that surround it.

That scheme may sound good on paper but the realities are an environment being poisoned as the push for greenhouse gases is emphasized.

Probe International reports:

Veteran anti-dam activist Himanshu Thakkar told a UN conference in Delhi last week that the Clean Development Mechanism – which aims to allow polluters in rich nations credit for emissions reductions they fund in poorer countries – is not reducing India’s greenhouse gas emissions. “We have seen no new technology being used in India and no benefit to anyone but big companies,” he is quoted saying.

India is one of the largest targets for the changes but there is not enough funding to do it properly.

The Centre for Science and Environment, an influential think tank based in Delhi, has also pointed out that “the stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere was built up over centuries in the process of creating nations’ wealth. This is the natural debt of nations, and they must pay up.”

The soil and water tested in the areas are filled with the very chemicals that the plant produces. The testing was conducted by The Daily Mail.

While the plant is working on changing their greenhouse gases it appears that they are not as concerned about the environmental changes that are taking place in the villages that surround it.

‘The carbon-credits business operates rather like the financial-services industry did,’ says Kevin Smith of campaigning watchdog Carbon Trade Watch.

‘Insufficient scrutiny and transparency, dodgy projects getting money when they shouldn’t be. And we all know the consequences of what happened in financial services. But this is potentially much more serious, because unlike the Government, nature doesn’t do bailouts.’

The factory produces a gas called HFC23. That gas is one of the most dangerous when it comes to global warming. One ton of HFC23 is equivalent to 11,700 tons of carbon. GFL installed new technology to capture and recycle HFC23. That technology has helped pad the pockets of GFL and Ineos.

The UN credit scheme is proving to be very profitable for those involved.

In the last quarter of 2006 GFL made €27 million.

It is being alleged though that those profits are coming with a very high human toll. Water is now caustic. Children are born with birth defects. People stay sick. Children die in their parents arms.

We didn’t have these illnesses before this factory came. When the wind blows the gas this way, mostly at night, it hurts our throats and eyes and burns our crops. We’ve lost six healthy children. They go giddy, they fall and die. We were carrying one child out the door to the hospital and she just died in her mother’s arms.’

Testing of the water shows high levels of fluoride and chloride. All water in the area that was tested was deemed unsafe to drink. The soil had high levels of the same chemicals.

‘High flouride levels cause skeletal fluorosis in which people complain about joint pain, backache and rigid bones,’ environmental specialist Hiral Mehta says. ‘The crop deterioration is another impact. Your tests confirm previous investigations.’

The recession may help slow down help for the villagers. There is less money for the major players to work with. The price of Clean Development Mechanism (CDMs) offsets has slumped by nearly 30% over the last couple of weeks.

Kevin Smith from Carbon Trade Watch says, ‘The carbon market is riddled with projects like GFL. It’s not like this project is the bad apple – the whole barrel is rotten. Time and again we’re seeing evidence of gross injustices being carried out – people being evicted to make way for dams and waste incinerators being built in residential areas. Carbon trading has been the subject of a very slick PR campaign portraying it as the answer to climate change, so investigations such as this are very important.’

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