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Pharmaceutical Manufacturing Pollution Threatens Hyderabad

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A new report commissioned by Nordea from the Changing Markets Foundation, highlights the serious environmental and human health impacts caused by uncontrolled manufacturing discharges from pharmaceutical factories in Hyderabad, India. These factories in Hyderabad constitute one of the world’s largest generic drug manufacturing hubs.

The centrepiece of the report are results from the testing of water samples collected adjacent to pharma factories and some of the city’s waterbodies in September 2017, which reveal the presence of a wide range of heavy metals and industrial solvents commonly used in pharmaceutical manufacturing. In some cases, these toxic chemicals were found to be present at extremely high concentrations, orders of magnitude higher than maximum regulatory limits or safe exposure levels. 

The report also documents numerous media reports from the past two years, which have exposed both the irresponsible practices of Hyderabad’s bulk drug manufacturers (such as the illegal dumping of hazardous waste at night using disguised vehicles) and the growing environmental crisis in the city – including the recent deaths of hundreds of thousands of fish, which contained traces of a solvent commonly used in pharmaceutical manufacturing.1

These findings are a follow-up to an earlier study commissioned by Nordea2 and come in the wake of a slew of reports throughout 2016 and 2017 highlighting the presence of extremely high levels of Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (APIs) and drug-resistant bacteria at and around pharmaceutical manufacturing sites and industrial areas in Hyderabad.3 By revealing the presence of industrial chemicals commonly associated with pharmaceutical manufacturing in local water sources, they complete the picture of a city drowning in pollution.

While pharmaceutical supply chains are notoriously opaque and complex, the global reach of Hyderabad’s drug industry is well-documented. Research shows that multinational companies have marketed drugs made in Hyderabad on the global market. A number of large Indian players have a long-established manufacturing presence in Hyderabad and sell pharmaceuticals around the world, including to the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), German healthcare providers and US drug distribution giants.

Sasja Beslik, Head of Group Sustainable Finance at Nordea said: “The pharmaceutical industry has to step up action to tackle pollution at Indian factories supplying medicines to the global market. As a sustainable financial institution we want to continue the engagement with the pharma industry in order to find constructive and concrete solutions for these significant challenges that are impacting millions of people and the environment.”

Natasha Hurley, Campaign Manager at the Changing Markets Foundation said: “Multinational pharmaceutical companies which outsource API production to India to cut costs and maximise profits have a responsibility to take rapid action to put a stop to pollution in their supply chains. Given the lack of transparency within the industry and the slow progress the global pharma giants have made on this to date, it is of paramount importance that regulators introduce environmental criteria that guard against such bad practices, both at national and international level.”

Anil Dayakar, Founder of Gamana, a Hyderabad-based environmental NGO said: “Life-saving drugs are being produced at the cost of lives and livelihoods of communities living in Hyderabad - the bulk drug capital of the world. Despite decades of environmental activism and community opposition, the pollution control authorities have failed to make the industry comply with the standards. The last hope to change the situation is pressure from Western governments and companies, which should demand that the Indian industry clean up its act.”

1 Samples collected by the Telangana State Pollution Control Board showed traces of chloromethane, a solvent used by the pharmaceutical industry which triggers neurological and reproductive ill-effects in humans, in the water and the dead fish. See: Nyoooz, 08.10.2017, Almost every fish dies in Hyderabad lake, locals accuse pharma companies, https://www.nyoooz.com/news/hyderabad/933113/almost-every-fish-dies-in-hyderabad-lakelocals-accuse-pharma-companies/

2 “Impacts of Pharmaceutical Pollution on Communities and Environment in India”, 2016, available at: https://www.nordea.com/en/responsibility/responsible-investments/responsible-investmentsnews/2016/New%20report%20on%20pharma%20industry%20in%20India.html

3 See for example: Superbugs in the Supply Chain: How pollution from antibiotics factories in India and China is fuelling the global rise of drug-resistant infections, 2016 – available here: https://epha.org/press-releaseantibiotic-factories-compounding-superbug-spread/and ARD Mediathek, 08.05.2017, The invisible enemy – deadly superbugs from pharma factories, http://www.ardmediathek.de/tv/ReportageDokumentation/Theinvisible-enemy-deadly-superbugs-/Das-Erste/Video?bcastId=799280&documentId=42690832(available until 08.05.2018)

This article has been republished from materials provided by the Changing Markets Foundation. Note: material may have been edited for length and content. For further information, please contact the cited source.

Hyderabad’s Pharmaceutical Pollution Crisis: Heavy metal and solvent contamination at factories in a major Indian drug manufacturing hub. http://changingmarkets.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/CM-HYDERABAD-s-PHARMACEUTICAL-POLLUTION-CRISIS-FINAL-WEB-SPREAD.pdf