Heavy Metal

Ameer Shahul

10 February 2023
416 pages


‘A powerful book’ Shashi Tharoor

‘A must-read’ Vandana Shiva

A terrifying investigative account of a global corporation’s role in perpetrating India’s greatest mercury poisoning catastrophe.

In 2001, a Hindustan Unilever-owned thermometer factory in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu, made national headlines when a massive dump of broken mercury thermometers was discovered at a local scrapyard. As the multinational corporation conducted one hasty internal assessment after another to save face, state authorities discovered that the company had violated all acceptable guidelines for toxic waste disposal measures, causing grievous harm to its workers’ health and the region’s fragile ecosystem.

As evidence of mercury poisoning among workers mounted, the local community – aided by environmental watchdog Greenpeace and various public-interest organizations – launched a battle against the multibillion-dollar conglomerate that would last fifteen years, culminating in an undisclosed settlement paid to 600 of its ex-employees. And despite the factory’s closure, scientific reports would reveal mercury levels to be 1,000 times higher than the safe limit, raising serious concerns about HUL’s toxic legacy in the hill station.

For years, Ameer Shahul, a former investigative reporter and Greenpeace campaigner, closely tracked the Kodaikanal mercury poisoning case. The result is Heavy Metal, a blistering account of a colossal industrial tragedy precipitated by corporate negligence and acts of omission and commission at the highest levels.