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Nirma told to publicly declare it's 'not using' carcinogenic chemical in detergents

By Rajiv Shah
An influential Delhi NGO has told the powerful Gujarat-based industrial house Nirma that it should come up with a public statement stating it is not using nonylphenol, a “disrupting chemical” commonly used to manufacture detergents, which the NGO claims is “a persistent, toxic, bioaccumulative chemical” that acts as a “hormone disruptor” and can be responsible for a number of "adverse human health effects”, including cancer.
The tough Toxic Links talk came after a senior Nirma representative at a roundtable in Ahmedabad declared that the detergents produced by Nirma do not contain nonylphenol and that they were harmless. “Tests carried out by us on the detergents produced by Nirma suggest that they do contain this chemical. You must verify this through laboratory tests and make your report public”, said Satish Sinha, associate director, Toxics Link.
Sinha warned: “So far, we have not made public results of the tests we have carried out of the detergents produced by Nirma and others. Nirma has the option to put up a message on the detergents it sells in the market stating they do not contain nonylphenol. However, if they don’t do it, we will be left with no other option to make public chemical analysis of the detergents. It would make big headlines, which would be embarrassing for Nirma.”
Organized by Ahmedabad-based environmental NGO Paryavaran Mitra, the tough Toxics Link stance at the seminar came following the release of the study “Dirty Trail: Detergent to Water Bodies”, which assesses the presence of the chemical in Indian water bodies and detergents commonly used in the country. Toxics Link contends, it is the “first-of-its-kind study” to brings out “the presence of nonylphenol in detergents and water bodies and its subsequent health hazards.” Toxics Link published the study in September 2019.
They have been making strange claims. But we have checked. The Patanjali detergents also contain the harmful chemical
Answering a question on whether Toxics Link has analysed Patanjali detergents, which Baba Ramdev claims do not contain any harmful chemicals, Sinha said, “It’s a serious issue. They are powerful people. So, we generally avoid naming them, because they can harm us.” However, he hastened to add, “They have been making strange claims. But we have checked. The Patanjali detergents also contain the harmful chemical...”
Providing details of the study, “Dirty Trail”, the seminar was told, adverse reproductive and hormonal effects in human beings has already caused considerable global concern, which research studies have “confirmed”. Already, N P has been banned in several western countries, though not in India. “China is coming up with very stringent rules regulating it”, the participants, which included environmentalists and industry representatives, were told.
Satish Sinha
Suggesting that nonylphenol is one of the several harmful chemicals which should not be used in products, Sinha regretted, “India does not have any data base on the type of chemicals being used by its industry. There is no institute which deals with this.” He added, “Though India does have Department of Chemicals and Petrochemicals, all that it does is to promote chemical industries instead of identifying the products which use harmful chemicals.”
Sinha said, "We as NGO are very small. We do not have enough funds for creating such a data base. Even for small tests we have to approach institutes like Indian Institute of Technology." Answering a question, he suggested, industrial houses like Nirma, if they are really serious about not using harmful chemicals, could fund for the creation of such data house. The Nirma representative, however, said, it was difficult to say whether the industrial house could provide money.
According to him, while there are “less toxic chemicals” which could be used as an alternative, “Industry resists their usage under one pretext or the other... They look at things only from the angle of profit and loss, and insist that they cannot shift, not realising the human cost borne by the citizens.” He added, “What is most worrisome, however, is neither the industry nor the government knows even the ABC of chemicals being used, as a result of which, at international fora, when concerns are raised, we cut a sorry figure.”
Participating in the roundtable, Paryavaran Mitra’s Mahesh Pandya insisted that while the Central Pollution Control Board and their state counterparts do analyse the presence of chemical oxygen demand (COD) and biological oxygen demand (BOD) in water bodies, “It is time the analysis also includes nonylphenol.” Toxics Link’s analysis of six water bodies – Garh Ganga and Hindon in Uttar Pradesh, Krishnan in Andhra Pradesh, Tapti in Gujarat, Bandi in Rajasthan, Mahanadi in Odisha and Ambazari lake in Nagpur – suggests high presence of nonylphenol in each of them.

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