Ducol Organics & Colours: The blue dogs of Mumbai

From ToxicLeaks

History of Ducol Organics & Colours[edit | edit source]

Ducol Organics & Colours Pvt Ltd is based in India with a head office and plant facilities in the Taloja industrial area of Mumbai. The company was launched in 1990 as a small R&D lab to research color processing and applications, and evolved to serve clients in 30 countries with paints, inks, plastics, textiles, detergent and paper manufactured at three different sites. The company website and promotional language say Ducol is passionate about “the soul of colour,” and boasts of its corporate stewardship with community commitments in health care, education and environmental issues.

While Ducol claims to be “green,” however, the color company’s record on environmental pollution appears to be more blue – which became obvious when animals around the plant changed in hue.

Blue dogs of Mumbai[edit | edit source]

In August 2017, local journalist Deepak Gharat of Sakai Media Group reported that five stray dogs turned blue after scavenging for food around the Tajola industrial area, and wading or swimming in the Kasadi River where a canal and water treatment plant serve some 300 small industrial plants. The plight of the blue dogs captured attention around the globe, after videos emerged and the Navi Mumbai Animal Protection Cell posted photos on Facebook. Group activist Arati Chauhan filed a complaint with the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB), demanding an investigation into the blue dogs.

That investigation – along with the suspicion that the dye was turning the dogs blue – led authorities to Ducol. The dogs were not expected to have long-term consequences once the dyes were washed off and they received veterinary care, but the same could not be said for Ducol as the firm’s troubles were just beginning. For one thing, dogs are now protected by law in India. In May 2017, the government passed comprehensive reforms that ended indiscriminate breeding and provided funding for animal care. That’s an important step in India, where an estimated 60 percent of all dogs are “community owned” strays.

The illegal dumping of dyes, though, triggered a full investigation into the guilty company’s activities, the potential risk to humans, complaints dating to 2016 about fish dying, and the wider toxic waste issue.

Response of Indian authorities[edit | edit source]

Upon receiving the new complaint, MPCB regional officer Anil Mohekar made clear that any discharge of dye into any water body is illegal, and firmly warned that his agency “will take action against the polluters as they are destroying the environment.” Mohekar ordered an August 11 investigation that included a physical inspection of the industrial park and river. The MPCB team determined that dyes manufactured by Ducol for a range of purposes, including detergents, were being discharged directly into the river. Environmental samples also found that in the absence of proper controls, powders went into the air. The company was in violation of India’s 1974 Water Prevention and Control of Pollution Act as well as the 1981 Air Prevention and Control of Pollution Act.

The MPCB initially gave Ducol seven days to stop discharging the dye and remove the pollutants from the site or face further action. The agency then suspended operations at Ducol on August 18, after discovering a failure to remedy the pollution problems in handling the chemicals used there. The Maharashtra Industrial Development Corporation (MIDC) was told to cut the water supply to the firm. There was no official response or public statement from the company as operations were shut down.

Blue dogs and the wider environmental context[edit | edit source]

The blue-dog mystery raised awareness of the wider damage caused by industrial pollution in Taloja. According to NGO Watchdog Foundation data, there are 977 chemical, pharmaceutical, engineering and food processing factories in the Taloja industrial area outside Mumbai. They employ 76,000 people, and spread across 2,157 acres with a common effluent treatment plant serving approximately 350 firms.

Chauhan and the local environmental group said it’s not the first time they’ve encountered animals and birds harmed by the chemicals, and their concern for human impacts is heightened by the dog exposure.

A water quality test performed by Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation found that untreated industrial waste has raised pollution levels in the Kasadi River up to 13 times the safe limit. The level of the river’s biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) was 80 milligrams per liter (mg/L). Levels above 3 mg/L make the water unfit for human consumption and fish begin to die at 6 mg/L, according to data from India’s Central Pollution Control Board. That’s alarming to environmental activists and a concern to community. Gharat, the local reporter who first discovered the dogs, said the toxic water is killing fish and damaging agricultural land and crops. Some 100,000 people live in the surrounding area where the industrial park is located, and community members have complained of respiratory problems and other health issues.

The activists intend to keep pressure on Indian officials to ensure that environmental protection laws are enforced. “Shutting down one industry, as MPCB has done, only results in daily wage laborers losing their bread and butter,” Chauhan said. “There are many other industries in the area that pose a threat to the flora, fauna and a threat of more such cases is a possibility.”