A new study has found high levels of toxic mercury in vegetation and sediment collected from the vicinity of a thermometer factory which was shut 14 years ago in the hill station of Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu, an NGO claimed on Thursday.

"Lichen samples contained 53 mg/kg of mercury, a moss sample had 8.68 mg/kg," Advisor, Community Environmental Monitoring, Nityanand Jayaraman said here.

The NGO had the samples analysed at the Department of Atomic Energy’s National Centre for Compositional Characterisation of Materials in Hyderabad, he said.

"Samples were collected two months ago, and the results show high levels of mercury contamination indicating continuing environmental and health hazards in Kodaikanal," he said.

"Tamil Nadu Pollution Control Board shut down the Unilever’s thermometer factory in 2001 in Kodaikanal for violation of environmental laws. Unilever has neither cleaned up the environment nor compensated its affected workers," he claimed.

The samples were collected from near a stream emanating from the now shut thermometer factory and flowing through the Pambar Shola Reserve Forest.

A similar study in 2003 by the DAE too had reported mercury levels in ambient air near the factory, he said.

Such levels of mercury in the environment poses a serious threat to local people and for consumers of fish, he said.

Urging immediate action, he said Unilever should come forward to clean up the area from mercury waste on par with international standards in a transparent fashion.