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In late 2009, our partners at Pro Public in Nepal won a tremendous victory: The Supreme Court ordered the government to clean up leaking containers of pesticides and send them back to the countries they came from. Some of the leaking containers were stored next to a schoolyard in Amlekhgunj, south of Kathmandu.  Every day, children had to cross a contaminated field to get to school. Many children suffered from skin rashes, vomiting, and fainting.

Now, Pro Public has won another victory and the pesticides are getting cleaned up. The Supreme Court ordered the government to clean up the pesticides within one year of the initial ruling, but the government dragged its heels.  When the government had done nothing nearly two years after the court handed down its ruling, our partners threatened to file a contempt case for failure to obey the court order. Finally, the government of Nepal arranged foreign assistance to help remove the pesticides. Over the next two months more than 75 tons of pesticides will be returned to Germany for safe disposal.

This victory will help protect children and strengthen the rule of law in Nepal.

Our partners at Pro Public remain committed to protecting citizens from pesticides and will continue working to enforce the court’s momentous 2009 ruling.

Congratulations to everyone at Pro Public!

Michele Kuhnle
Donor Liaison

ELAW partner Hemantha Withanage sent fabulous news this week:

Children in Sri Lanka will be protected from toxic lead.  Sri Lanka’s Consumer Affairs Authority has enacted new, stringent standards limiting the amount of lead in paint used in children’s toys.

“This regulation will save the lives of thousands of children yet to be born,” says Hemantha, Executive Director of the Center for Environmental Justice.  “We received technical information and guidance from ELAW’s Dr.  Mark Chernaik about the hazards of lead and the need for strict standards.  He also helped us find a U.S.  expert who provided an affidavit in support of our case in the Supreme Court.”

Under the old standards, paint sold in Sri Lanka can have as much as 130,000 parts per million of lead-containing additives – that’s more than 200 times the amount of lead allowed in U.S.  paint!  The new Sri Lankan standard matches the standards in the U.S., establishes a system for testing paints prior to sale to consumers, and includes safe standards for paint on toys and other children’s accessories.

Hemantha announced the victory to the ELAW network and congratulations arrived immediately from ELAW partners in Malaysia, England, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, and Tanzania.

See more information in CEJ’s press release.

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director


12th October 2011

The Consumer Affairs Authority has been published the standards for lead in Paints as a responding to the Fundamental Rights application filed by the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) in the Supreme Court , Sri Lanka, on 14th February 2011 seeking the Consumer Affairs Authority and others to formulate suitable regulations to compel the manufacturers and distributors to comply with the international standards relating to the presence of Lead in paints considering the serious health impacts caused by adding lead to decorative paints.

Secretary-Ministry of Co-operatives and Internal Trade, The Director General-Consumer Affairs Authority, Consumer Affairs Authority, Secretary-Ministry of Health, Secretary-Ministry of Science and Technology, Sri Lanka Standards Institution, Central Environmental Authority, and The Hon.  Attorney General have sited as the Respondents.

As pleaded, Consumer Affairs Authority has published a Government Gazette Extra Ordinary No 1725/30 on 30th of September 2011 regulating permissible maximum lead content on the following paints and accessories shall come into effect from 01st January, 2013.

The Gazette states that “no Manufacturer, Importer, Packer, Distributor or Trader shall manufacture, import and use or distribute, pack, store or sell or display for sale, expose for sale or offer for sale, wholesale or retail any paints unless such paints shall conform to the corresponding Total Lead Content given hereunder as specified by the Sri Lanka Standard Institution for such paints”.

Permissible maximum lead content

Paints for Toys and Accessories for Children (soluble in HCI acid) 90 mg/kg
Enamel Paints 600 mg/kg
Emulsion Paints for Exterior use 90 mg/kg
Emulsion Paints for Interior use 90 mg/kg
Floor Paints 600 mg/kg

Lead in paints is highly toxics to the human, especially to the children below 8 years.  It has impacts on over 40 million children worldwide, over 97 percent of who live in developing countries.  In 2002, the United Nations sponsored World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) committed to take actions to protect human health from exposure to lead.  Paragraph 57 of the Plan of Implementation of the WSSD states: “Phase out lead in lead-based paints and in other sources of human exposure, work to prevent, in particular, children’s exposure to lead and strengthen monitoring and surveillance efforts and the treatment of lead poisoning.”

The global scientific study “Lead in New Decorative Paints” carried out by CEJ and Toxics Link in collaboration with International POPs Elimination Network(IPEN) found that one Sri Lankan Enamel Paint sample contained 137,325 ppm lead which is 228 times greater than 600 ppm, the level indicated in the recent gazette.  Other tested enamel samples contained high levels such as 133463, 55237, 21116, 20904 ppm etc.

CEJ Executive Director, Hemantha Withanage said “this paint standards is a greater achievement of the consumers who gets contaminate every minute due to unknown toxics in the consumer products such as decorative paints at home, in the school or in the work place”.

Centre for Environmental Justice
20A, Kuruppu Road, Colombo 08, Sri Lanka.

For further details contact:-

Mr.  Hemantha Withanage
Executive Director

Ms.  Nilmal Wickramasinghe
Legal Officer

Ritwick Dutta

I am pleased to announce an enormous victory in India that will protect the public from excessive exposure to radiation!

Radiation in coal ash is a significant health hazard.  On Monday, India’s National Green Tribunal ordered the Ministry of the Environment to investigate the impacts of a coal-fired plant in Maharashtra District and put national standards in place within one year.  ELAW partner Ritwick Dutta argued the case on behalf of the local community and thanked ELAW for providing critical information.

Read more in our eBulletin.

Mara Hvistendahl at Scientific American reports that coal ash is more radioactive than nuclear waste.

She writes:  “At issue is coal’s content of uranium and thorium, both radioactive elements.  They occur in such trace amounts in natural, or “whole,” coal that they aren’t a problem.  But when coal is burned into fly ash, uranium and thorium are concentrated at up to 10 times their original levels.”

ELAW has collaborated with Ritwick and his Delhi-based organization, the EIA Response and Resource Centre, for many years.

Congratulations to Ritwick for this hard fought win for the people of India!

Maggie Keenan
Communications Director

Last month, the Supreme Court of India imposed a fine of $8.3 million on a polluter in the State of Rajasthan.

For me, the judgment recalled my beginnings as a public interest environmental scientist.

Nearly 20 years ago, in March 1992, I was a second year law student at the University of Oregon.  I had just begun working with the Western Environmental Law Center (WELC), then a part of the law school and run by Professors John Bonine and Mike Axline. John and Mike had also, a year earlier, co-founded a new organization called the Environmental Law Alliance Worldwide (ELAW).

That month, one of ELAW’s newest colleagues, a lawyer from India – M.C. Mehta – came to Eugene to deliver a keynote address at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC).  At that time, environmentalists outside of India were just learning of M.C.’s remarkable accomplishments in cases before the Supreme Court of India.

M.C. in front of India's Supreme Court in 1996

As a student member of WELC, I had the privilege of meeting M.C. Because I had recently completed a Ph.D. in biochemistry, John and Mike paired me with M.C. to see if I could help him with a case he was taking to India’s Supreme Court on behalf of residents of the village of Bichhri. The groundwater in Bichhri had been rendered undrinkable by industries that had just sprouted up in the area, including a company that was manufacturing H-acid (1 amino-8-naphthol-3,6 disulfonic acid), which is used in dyes.  M.C. wanted to know what health effects this ominous-sounding chemical could cause. So, I began my first task of assisting a public interest environmental lawyer with scientific information, which has been my career ever since.

In 1996, I traveled to India to work with M.C. and was with him soon after the Supreme Court of India issued its first judgment in the Bichhri groundwater case. The Court held the polluters liable for the contamination and required them to pay for remediation of the damage they had caused.

The ruling stated: “This writ petition filed by an environmentalist organisation brings to light the woes of people living in the vicinity of chemical industrial plants in India. It highlights the disregard, nay, contempt for law and lawful authorities on the part of some among the emerging breed of entrepreneurs, taking advantage, as they do, of the country`s need for industrialization and export earnings. Pursuits of profit has absolutely drained them of any feeling for fellow human beings for that matter, for anything else.”

The bottles of contaminated groundwater M.C. brought to court

To secure this remarkable judgment, M.C. first had to convince the Supreme Court of India to hear the case. In the first hearing in the Bichhri groundwater case, the lawyers for the government agency and the polluting industries demanded that the court dismiss the case. They claimed that the groundwater was perfectly fine and that their clients were bringing needed jobs to the area. What these lawyers didn’t know was that M.C. had a glass bottle of polluted groundwater from Bichhri in his briefcase. When it was M.C.’s turn to address the Supreme Court judges, he placed the bottle of dark brown water on the table in front of him, and announced that he’d be willing to withdraw his case if lawyers for the polluters would have a sip of the groundwater in the bottle.  The lawyers for the polluters, with noticeable alarm, declined the invitation. M.C. kept the bottle of groundwater on the table in front of him as a constant reminder to the judges of the severity of the situation in Bichhri.

For 15 years, the polluters have pursued legal tactics to delay enforcement of the court’s 1996 judgment.  The Court’s recent decision concludes, in part: “This is a very unusual and extraordinary litigation where even after fifteen years of the final judgment of this court the litigation has been deliberately kept alive by filing one interlocutory application or the other in order to avoid compliance of the judgment. The said judgment of this Court has not been permitted to acquire finality till date. This is a classic example how by abuse of the process of law even the final judgment of the apex court can be circumvented for more than a decade and a half.”

With the Court’s recent decision, the law has finally caught up with one of India’s worst polluters.

Mark Chernaik
ELAW Staff Scientist

In November 2010, a young family – husband, wife, son – showed up at the front door of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET).  They lived at 10 Mile in Bull Bay in St Andrew, and were concerned that their community was at risk from the nearby mining operation of Caribbean Cement/Jamaica Gypsum and Quarries.  They told us of a significant flooding event in 2002, when many homes in their community were badly damaged.  The residents of 10 Mile were still seeing build up of the mining waste and feared the same thing would happen again.  We went with them that same day and saw what appeared to us to be a very worrying pile of tailings that had been dumped in a river course.

JET contacted the Company and the regulators, obtained the various licenses and rehabilitation plans, and in May 2011, were taken on a tour of the mining operations by Caribbean Cement’s Acting Quarries Manager.
On this visit, we observed that there was some effort underway to remove the tailings, but the situation still appeared unsatisfactory.  We did not think we had the required technical expertise to assess the risks to the community and to the environment or to make suitable recommendations, however, so we called on ELAW for help.  And help ELAW did.

ELAW Director Glenn Miller (second from right) and JET Staff

Professor Glenn Miller, a Board member of ELAW who is also a mining industry expert and a professor in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Science at the University of Nevada, agreed to visit the quarries in July 2011.  Glenn flew to Jamaica during an unusually rainy week, and on July 13, 2011, Glenn, Danielle, and I toured the mining area, escorted by representatives from the Company.

Because it was raining, Glenn was able to see where the river flowed, where it was blocked, and also the amount of silt in the water – the mine is very near to the coast.  We climbed on top of the huge pile of tailings, criss crossed with large fissures.  There was one moment when I looked at Glenn and Danielle standing on this obviously unstable material at the edge of a cliff and thought: But we are risking our lives! This thing could collapse at any minute! And we could see the houses of the community far below in the valley.

Glenn was able to confirm our impression of the mine – this was a highly unsatisfactory and dangerous situation.  After the site visit, we met both with senior executives of the Company and convened a large meeting of the regulatory bodies and showed them the photographs we had taken. Glenn then drafted a report containing a series of recommendations to improve the operation of the mine and begin rehabilitation, and this has been sent to the Company and the regulatory agencies.  JET will continue to monitor the operation and hope for some early improvements.

By coincidence, while Glenn was in Jamaica, there was a cyanide spill at an abandoned gold mine and he was able to give technical advice to the regulators and consultants involved in cleaning it up.

JET is very grateful to ELAW and to Glenn for helping us with this – and we hope our intervention will avoid a catastrophic slope failure in 10 Mile, Bull Bay, with serious consequences for those who live there.  We also hope for improvements in the regulatory environment for mining generally – as this particular mine really highlighted those weaknesses as well.

Diana McCaulay
Chief Executive Officer
Jamaica Environment Trust (JET)

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