While Chinese copper exports are booming, their likely sympathizers TNM (The News Minute) and Co are hard at work trying to close Bharat’s capacity (Sterlite).
If the smelter complex is really polluting and not following the norms, it should be closed or appropriately regulated and then allowed to operate, but the data points being used in the lay press (#PimpMedia – “Sterlite – Here’s the Proof: How the Copper Plant Impacts Health of Thoothukudi People”) so far do not appear to support that call.
Moreover, the finer details appear to be sub-judice in National Green Tribunal (NGT) proceedings. And as Rajiv Malhotra pointed out in a video documentation how the NGT members openly asked for bribes, on record in writing, even that is suspect.
This article will focus on how The News Muzzler brokerage (aka TNM / The News Minute) twisted the findings of a public health study research sponsored and supported by Sterlite itself, and conducted by an apparently independent entity, the Tirunelveli Medical College.
The study cited by TNM has these conclusions and caveats (Elango 2008):
- There are 67 industries in the complex, not just Sterlite. Two of the other major chemical factories are SPIC (fertilisers and chemicals) and Tuticorin Alkaline Chemicals.
- Apart from this, the area has huge heavy automobile traffic, unrelated to the industrial area (coming from the service of a major large port nearby) with consequent air pollution and effects on the health and environment.
- The literacy rate in this area was 80 percent, compared to the then cited state average of 64.4 percent. This is important because there is a strong association between higher levels of education and stress / lifestyle related chronic diseases.
- There was higher than state-average alcoholism and smoking observed in the area.
- Just (2), (3) and (4) above alone on their own will increase the incidence of respiratory (ENT, sinusitis, bronchitis, etc.) and cardiovascular (high blood pressure [BP]) disorders. Add to that the presence of other industries too as noted by the study itself, see (1) above.
- Eye disorders are a major indicator of air pollution and that was paradoxically found to be less than the state-average and the control areas (non-industrialised).
- Dental caries (tooth decay) was found to be lower than the state-average. This could be due to higher dental hygiene, which supposedly goes with higher literacy.
- Malaria, intestinal parasitic infestations were all much lower in the areas around the industrial complex.
Clearly the website called TNM has gone hunting for dramatic lines in the 121 page report, and highlighted those alone for a suspect motive. In the above set of 8 points drawn from the report, some diseases occur less in the study area. So, should we conclude that the pollution (if any – there will always be some effect on the environment from an industrial economic model) is beneficial, then?
The absurdity of the lay press and some of their online mirrors are a pure reflection of scientific illiteracy. Even among the scientific degree holders, these kind of tasks can be challenging many a times – critiquing and analysing research studies, experimental design, and potential flaws and limitations in them is a specialist topic in itself. So the #PimpMedia and their online mirrors should stop exposing their ignorance shamelessly.
Instead, the effort should be to first educate themselves, then the public; to take expert opinions from assured neutral sources and then work on a constructive debate mode. Not on a pro-Chinese, anti-national mode.
Elango, S. 2008. “Health Status and Epidemiological Study around 5 Km Radius of Sterlite Industries (India) Limited, Thoothukudi.” Department of Community Medicine, Tirunelveli Medical College, Tirunelveli 627 001.
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