Union Carbide’s Factory in Bhopal:
Still a potential killer

 

The following report, written in May 2001, details the recent history of the extensive toxic contamination at Union Carbide’s Bhopal factory and its impact on local communities. For a fuller history of contamination going back to 1982, two years before the disaster, and for Carbide's early attempts to obfuscate the issue, see here.

In May 2002 - faced with a demand by a delegation of Bhopal activists that Dow assume responsibility for cleaning up Carbide’s deadly mess in Bhopal – Dow CEO Michael Parker suggested that a portion of the pitiful compensation Carbide paid to its Bhopal victims should be used to clean up the factory contamination.

No your eyes are not deceiving you. Dow-Carbide wants its victims to pay for cleaning up its mess.

Whatever happened to POLLUTER PAYS? Is this the future: that VICTIMS should
be made to pay for the clean up of lethal toxic wastes that kill their families and ruin their lives?

 

Over the last two years, several incidents of massive fire inside the premises of Union Carbide's derelict Bhopal factory have made the communities in the plant's vicinity as apprehensive of the risks upon their lives and health as they were in the years prior to the December 1984 disaster. The latest fire, which took place on March 21st 2001, swept over several acres of the site and damaged 32 houses in Atal Ayub Nagar. It so happens that there is more to dread than the possibility of these communities of closely built houses being razed to the ground: the factory site is severely contaminated with dumped chemicals, and it is possible that some of these combusted in the rising heat and fire.

The majority of people resident in the communities around the factory continue to live with the myriad health impacts caused by the Union Carbide gas disaster. In 1999, one fire in the North of the factory led to panicked residents fleeing for safety onto nearby rail tracks. The latest fire took hold in the eastern and southeastern sectors of the site. Flames and debris were blown by an easterly wind onto the Atal Ayub Nagar community, which curves around the east and north perimeter walls. In a horrible echo of the 1984 disaster, residents of nearby communities reported smelling burning chillies, which caused their eyes to stream; some claimed the odour was near identical to that of the original leak. Others, when panicked by the fire and smoke, said they were unable to scream because the fumes caused choking and coughing.


Brief history

The Union Carbide factory, Bhopal began manufacturing pesticides in 1969. Although built on the outskirts of the old city, the factory was positioned close to established working class settlements, taking advantage of the Bhopal-Ujain rail line for transportation. Despite the sizeable communities living around it’s periphery, between 1977 and 1984 the Carbide factory was licensed by the M.P. Government to manufacture phosgene, monomethlyamine, methyl isocyanate (MIC) and the pesticide Carbaryl, also known as Sevin.

Following the gas disaster of December 3rd 1984, the plant ceased normal operations. However, until 14th August 1998, Union Carbide India Ltd. had 40 operators on the site involved in management, disassembling and waste disposal. Subsequently, the site was abandoned by the company and came into possession of the Madhya Pradesh state government: remaining warehouses, management buildings, chemical units, chemical waste and all. Today more than 20,000 people live in close proximity to the factory site.

The Toxic Legacy above ground

From the opening of the factory in 1969, toxic wastes were routinely dumped inside the site, both above and below the surface of the ground. Though huge amounts of waste were simply buried, Union Carbide failed even to take these measures for the disposal of numerous materials generated on site for use in pesticide production. Consequently, residues and waste materials weighing hundreds of metric tonnes are today contained in five storage areas upon the surface of the site, including an open cycle shed, a soapstone shed, the formulation building and two godowns.

Waste materials categorised as hazardous (as per the Hazardous Waste - management and handling - Rules, 1989) and identified above the surface of the site are as follows:

i) Sevin (carbaryl) tar residue
ii) Napthol tar residue
iii) Hexachlorocyclohexane (HCH), also known as benzene hexachloride (BHC, Lindane) solids
iv) In process material obtained during dismantling of the formulation plant

Also, a very large quantity of Sevin has corroded the steel tank in which it sat and spilled onto open ground in front of the Sevin formulation plant.

Highly toxic Sevin lies spilled on the ground where the tank containing it has rusted away. In the event that this waste were to catch light in one of the fires that have periodically swept through the site, it would release methyl isocyanate, the gas which was chiefly responsible for the deaths and injuries sustained on the night of 2/3rd December 1984.



An expert committee set up by the Ministry of Environment and Forests of India has confirmed the hazardous nature of the stored chemicals and called for special precautions against fire. A former UC employee has asserted that Sevin tar is inflammable and is known to produce extremely toxic gases when heated. The danger from the other substances, including as yet unidentified sacks of waste (referred to by Greenpeace International as DDT, Dichlorobenzenes and Lindane) in the two godowns, can only be guessed at.

The March 21st fire came within 100 yards of the godowns, which were saved only by the direction of the wind, and was stopped only slightly further from the Sevin formulation plant and the heap of tar in front of it. And in addition to the identified stored chemicals, random sacks of waste, waste drums, chemical bottles and sundry hazardous items lie strewn in the open air around the surface of the three chief site disposal areas, where chemicals were routinely dumped into pits.

These areas are situated in the north (Disposal area - I); east (Disposal area - II); and southeast (Disposal area - III) of the factory premises: the fire heavily breached these areas.

The poisoning below ground

According to former workers of the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, from December 1969 to December 1984 a massive amount of chemical substances formulated in the factory - including pesticides, solvents used in production, catalysts, and other substances as well as by- products - were routinely dumped in and around the factory grounds. These were in the form of solid, liquid and gas and caused pollution in the soil, water and air.
The names of these chemical substances and their approximate weight are detailed in an affidavit, submitted to the New York District Court, by ex-UCIL employee Mr. T.R. Chauhan:

 

Chemicals dumped by Union Carbide management in and around the factory from 1969 to 1984
S.No
Chemical
Amount
Use in factory
Nature of original pollution
1
Methylene Chloride
100 MT
Solvent
Air
2
Methanol 50 MT Solvent Air
3
Ortho-idichlorobenzene 500 MT Solvent Air, Water, Soil
4
Carbon tetrachloride 500 MT Solvent Air
5
Chloroform 300 MT Solvent Air
6
Tri methylamine 50 MT Catalyst Air
7
Chloro benzyl chloride 10 MT Ingredient Air, Water, Soil
8
Mono chloro toluene
10 MT Ingredient Air, Water, Soil
9
Toluene 20 MT Ingredient Air, Water, Soil
10
Aldicarb 2 MT Product Air, Water, Soil
11
Carbaryl 50 MT Product Air, Water, Soil
12
Benzene Hexachloride 5 MT Ingredient Air, Water, Soil
13
Mercury 1 MT Water, Soil
14
Mono methyl amine 25 MT Ingredient Air
15
Chlorine 20 MT Ingredient Air
16
Phosgene 5 MT Ingredient Air
17
Hydro chloric acid 50 MT Ingredient Air, Soil
18
Chloro sulphonic acid 50 MT Ingredient Air, Soil
19
Alpha Naphthol * 50 MT Ingredient Air, Soil
20
Napthalin 50 MT Ingredient Air
21
Chemical waste Tar 50 MT Waste Water, Soil
22
Methyl Isocyanate 5 MT Ingredient Air, Water, Soil

* During the unsuccessful operation of the alpha-naphthol plant several chemical compounds weighing over 100 MT also caused pollution of soil, water and air.

In 1994, following protests by activist organizations, Arthur D. Little, acting on behalf of UCIL, retained the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), a government agency, to assess soil and water contamination within the factory premises. According to the executive summary of the NEERI report - which remains confidential to date - the span of the dumping area within the factory grounds was at least 6.4 hectares, or 21% of the total site area. Between 1969 and 1977, byproducts and wastes were dumped in waste areas situated in the north (Disposal area - I), east (Disposal area - II) and southeast (Disposal area - III) of the factory premises. In addition to these disposal areas, storage tanks and their transfer points, spill and target areas and underground wastewater drains and pipelines were and continue to be sites of contamination. The NEERI report concluded that some 17 sites within the factory have been heavily contaminated.

In all probability the dumping of toxic materials continued even after the factory ceased manufacturing. For example, it has been reported that in 1995 Ortho-dichlorobenzenes - likely used as a carrier for the pesticides manufactured at the plant - were poured by UCIL directly into the ground by the north perimeter wall. Residents of Atal Ayub Nagar attested that within a few weeks drinking water from the community tubewells became yellow and foul tasting.

Pollution outside the factory

In 1977, Union Carbide constructed Solar Evaporation Ponds - covering an area of 14 hectares - 400 metres north of it's factory. The land was acquired by the Department of Industries, Madhya Pradesh government, from five farmers who were paid no compensation. Chemical toxic wastes and by-products were henceforth also dumped at these sites. Every year during the rainy season the ponds overflowed and contaminated large areas of farmland surrounding them. Also, toxic effluents were routinely discharged into an open sewage drain flowing past Jai Prakash Nagar, a community on the South side of the factory that was badly affected by the 1984 tragedy.

In 1981 and 1982 several cattle died through exposure to poisonous water in the SEPs, prompting a formal police complaint. By 1982-83 farmers in the vicinity of the SEPs were experiencing drastic reduction in the fertility of their soil due to the overflowing water. Two tubewells dug in the neighborhood of the SEPs had to be abandoned because of the obnoxious smell and taste of the water.

According to security working at the factory site, for a period of 3-4 months in 1995 fountains of chemical wastewater were being pumped into these ponds. By 1996 management were attempting to cover up the environmental damage caused by the SEPs: the toxic sludge was all dumped into one pond and covered over with farm soil, layers of polythene, and finally a concrete cover. The two other ponds were levelled (during which their black polythene liners were ruptured). Now, soil has eroded around the concrete covers allowing the surrounding water to become contaminated with toxic material.

Scientific reports of contamination

In the years after the disaster, persistent complaints of foul smelling and tasting tube and well water in the communities around the factory prompted activist organisations to initiate investigations into the possible contamination of the area.

In early 1990 the Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA) contacted a government Research Centre, including the State Research Laboratory, Bhopal, regarding analysis of soil and groundwater samples from the vicinity of the factory site. The BGIA was told that anything connected with Union Carbide was highly sensitive and required clearance from top officials. Analysis by independent agencies was pursued instead.

1). In April 1990 the Bhopal Group for Information and Action sent sediment from the Solar Evaporation Ponds, soil samples taken from near the ponds and community well water from Jai Prakash Nagar to the Citizen’s Environmental Laboratory, Boston. The following toxic materials were found in the sediment sample:

Waste pond- parts per billion
Benzene, oxybis 7, 890
Dichlorobenzenes 87,500
Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons 2,340
Phthalates 9,940
Trichlorobenzenes 9,410
Trimethyl Trianzintrione 24,470
1-Napthalenol 59,090
Additionally, Dichlorobenzenes and Trichlorobenzenes were found in the soil and water samples. Phthalates were also found in the soil.

2). The same year the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Nagpur published a report on ‘Assessment of pollution damage due to Solar Evaporation Ponds at UCIL’. At least nine chemicals that showed their presence as characteristic peaks in the High Performance Liquid Chromotography used on samples taken from the SEPs were left unidentified by NEERI. The authors of the NEERI concluded that the SEPs had not contaminated soil and groundwater, despite the caveat expressed on page 142: “There are a few organic compounds which could not be identified and hence the sediment [in the SEPs] cannot be ruled out to be non-hazardous”.

3). Evidently encouraged by their work, in 1994 Arthur D. Little, promulgators of Carbide’s sabotage-by-disgruntled-worker theory, retained NEERI, on behalf of UCIL, to study contamination inside the factory premises. The executive summary of the confidential report found that over one-fifth of the site had been used for dumping.

The report noted "high concentration of temik, sevin and lindane". "In the entire Disposal Area - I" and in "55% of Disposal Area - II". It found that the concentration of semivolatiles, including sevin, temik and alpha napthol, was very high at seven sites and moderately high at ten others. Tellingly, “the concentration of semivolatiles was observed to be higher at 60cm samples than 30cms in a few locations indicating the possibility of contamination even at higher depths”. Remedial measures were recommended for the highly contaminated areas and the need for soil samples from over one metre of depth was highlighted.

4). In 1991 and 1996 tests on local groundwater taken from 11 tubewells were carried out by the M.P. Public Health Engineering Department’s State Research Laboratory. Both studies reported heavy contamination, though the tests were not concerned with finding specific contaminants. In 1999, the report from November 1996, which comes under the official secrets act, was accidentally leaked:

‘On 26 . 11 . ’96 , ten samples were collected from J P Nagar, Atal Ayub Nagar, Arif Nagar, Chhola and Kainchi Chhola all situated close to the Union Carbide factory…

"All samples were subjected to both bacteriological and chemical analysis. The results show that the ground water is contaminated with bacteria and there is a heavy presence of chemicals. Normally the C O D ( Chemical Oxygen Demand ) value in ground water is zero but the samples tested here had C O D values between 45 mg/l and 98 mg/l whereas, the WHO has fixed the standard value of C O D for natural water at 6 mg/l. The high values of C O D found in the ground water establishes that large amounts of chemicals are dissolved in it.

Usually C O D can not be brought down by commonly used techniques. When river water is contaminated with chemicals one has to wait for it to come down and this problem is controlled in a few days by dilution. With ground water such a solution is not possible hence, it will be proper to stop these sources.

Water from tubewells in other parts of Bhopal were examined at this laboratory. However, chemical contamination was found only in these areas. The tubewells in these areas were tested five years back and at that time too the results showed chemical contamination. Hence, it is established that this pollution is due to chemicals used in the Union Carbide factory that have proven to be extremely harmful for health. Therefore the use of this water for drinking must be stopped immediately."

Sd. Chief Chemist
State Research Laboratory
Shyamla Hills
Bhopal


High levels of CODs point to contamination with oxidisable material, probably organic chemical contamination. Shortly after the 1996 study the Bhopal Municipal Corporation declared over 100 wells in the vicinity of the plant to be ‘unfit for drinking’. No alternative provision was made.

5). In October 1994 the chairman of the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board (MPPCB) wrote to the Director of the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT), Hyderabad, requesting him to take up the study for disposal of Sevin and Napthol tar residues, “about 27 MT” of which were lying at the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal. An application made in September 1995 by the MPPCB before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Bhopal, mentions that “the following residues and chemicals, some of which may be hazardous, are lying for final disposal” at the Carbide factory:

1. Sevin tar residue 44.558 MT
2. Napthol tar residue 2.54 MT
3. Inprocess material obtained during 18.386 MT
dismantling of Formulation plant
4. Material from dumping site (illegible)

The application does not mention the HCH lying in the godowns. In April 1996, an analysis of hazardous materials carried out by NEERI and the IICT - insisted upon by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) - was presented before the sessions judge, Bhopal:

Metals
Sevin waste
AlphaNapthol waste
 
(mg/kg)
(mg/kg)
Chromium
26.8
42.3
Copper
40.64
7.35
Lead
22.26
4.88
Zinc
28.73
17.05
Manganese
487.25
67.66
Nickel
20.85
31.44
Cadmium
1.247
BDL
Organic chemicals
Sevin tar
Napthol tar
 
(mg/kg)
(mg/kg)
Volatile matter
3.07
2.85
Napthol content
12.1
23.18
 
Carbyl content ---
-
49.38
     

6). In 1999 Greenpeace International undertook the collection of 33 samples of soil and 22 samples of groundwater from in and around the factory site. After analysis of the samples, Greenpeace declared the site a “global toxic hotspot” (The Bhopal Legacy, Greenpeace Research Laboratories, University of Exeter, Nov. ’99). They found heavy concentrations of carcinogenic chemicals and heavy metals like mercury. Mercury was found at between 20,000 to 6 million times the expected levels: and elemental mercury was discovered to be widely distributed across the plant premises (Mercury was originally used in the Sevin plant as a sealant in the pan filters, but this doesn’t explain it’s dispersal over such a large area).

Twelve volatile organic compounds, most greatly exceeding EPA standard limits, were found to have seeped and continue to seep into the water supplies of an estimated 20, 000 people in the local area. VOCs were registered in the following quantities in a water well of the Atal Ayub Nagar community in Bhopal, just north of the Union Carbide factory:

Chemical compound
No. of times greater than EPA limits
Chief effects on health
1, 2-Dichlorobenzene
5
Reported to induce anaemia, leukemia, skin lesions, vomiting, headaches, weight loss, yellow atrophy of the liver, kidney damage and chromosomal aberrations.
1, 4-Dichlorobenzene

11
Tetrachloroethene

9
Shown to increase risk of leukemia, bladder cancer, oesophogal cancer, cervical cancer, skin cancer and liver and kidney tumours.
Trichloroethene

50
Drinking small amounts may cause liver and kidney damage, nervous system effects, impaired immune function and impaired foetal development in pregnant women.
Chloroform

260
Has a carcinogenic effect on the liver, kidneys and/or intestine. Causes miscarriages and lowers sperm counts.
Carbon Tetrachloride

682
According to the EPA (’97) can cause cancer. High exposure can cause liver, kidney and central nervous system damage, including the brain. Causes headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. In severe cases coma and even death can occur.

Three water wells in this community, northeast of the factory, were discovered to have the most severe contamination. This can partly be explained by the movement of groundwater being in a northeasterly direction (NEERI, 1990). Other wells, though not as severely contaminated, also showed elevated levels of toxic chemicals.
Greenpeace concluded that their investigation demonstrated “extensive and, in some cases, severe chemical contamination of the environment surrounding the former Union Carbide plant. As a result of the ubiquitous presence of contaminants, the exposure of the communities surrounding the plants to complex mixtures of hazardous chemicals continues on a daily basis… long-term chronic exposure to mixtures of toxic synthetic chemicals and heavy metals is also likely to have serious consequences for the health and survival of the local population.” They emphasised the need for an internationally verified survey and decontamination programme for the factory and the surrounding area.

The executive summary of the report is at: http://www.bhopal.net/gpexecsummary.html

Petitioning of official agencies

Since 1990 successive Prime Ministers, State Chief Ministers, Ministries of Environment and Chemicals and Fertilizers and the M.P. Pollution Control Board have been contacted about the issue of serious contamination around the Union Carbide factory. By late 1991 survivors’ organisations had taken up the issue and repeated demands are still being made by them for a proper investigation of the contaminated site and for clean up costs to be provided by Union Carbide.

Official 'actions'

In the Annual shareholders meeting of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) USA in April 1990, Marco Kaloften of the Citizen’s Environmental Laboratory, Boston raised the issue of contamination of soil and community wells. He asked for a schedule for the clean up of toxic materials by Union Carbide. Mr. Robert Kennedy, CEO UCC requested Mr. Kaloften to pass on the information to Mr. C.C. Smith, Vice President of Health, Safety and Environment. In February 1991 New Scientist, while reporting the issue of contamination around the Union Carbide factory, mentioned that UCC hoped to commission Arthur D. Little to evaluate ways of decontaminating and reclaiming land affected. Eventually, in 1994, NEERI were commissioned by Arthur D. Little to conduct the confidential analysis reported above. No concrete action resulted.

In September 1994 the MPPCB set up a Committee for safe disposal of tar residues of M/S. UCIL, Bhopal. The meeting concluded that the two options to be investigated for disposal would be I. Incineration II. Biodegradation. The committee noted that “extremely toxic dioxines can get formed by low temperature incineration”. The MPPCB wanted to entrust the IICT and NEERI with the work of evolving a methodology for the safe disposal of the tar residues. But in November 1995, after two applications were moved before the CJM, permission to take samples or shift the residues was denied the MPPCB.

In 1996 the Department of Gas Relief and Rehabilitation, Govt. M.P., clearly mentioned in the Action Plan - II (1996-2001) that alternate supply of drinking water was required for the communities adjacent to the factory in view of groundwater pollution. A grant of 8.5 crores was requested from the central govt. for this. In 1997, 250 tube wells in the area were declared to be "unfit for drinking" by the Bhopal Municipal Corporation, though the wells were not capped and no alternative supply was made available. In January 1998 Dr. Bhagirath Prasad, Secretary, Dept. of Gas Relief along with other officials, visited three of the contaminated communities. Dr Prasad recommended that samples of water from the hand pumps be sent for laboratory testing. No such testing has been undertaken.
In June 1999 two members of the Gas Relief State Level Advisory Committee (including the former Mayor of Bhopal Dr R.K. Bisariya), a senior journalist and a member of the CPI visited the factory site for a report on the chemicals to be found around the site. A letter was sent to the Chief Minister making the following recommendations:

1. The polluted water supplied to the gas-affected bastis of the region should be stopped and arrangements be made to supply safe and pure drinking water immediately.

2. All explorations be made about the legal possibilities of framing criminal charges against UCIL on the issue of environmental damages and actions be taken accordingly.

3. Action be taken against those officials in the MPPCB and Dept of Gas Relief and Rehabilitation who have been functioning with informed negligence in the past.

4. The government immediately take over the work of disposal of stored and buried chemicals to safeguard human life, health and environment.


The Chief Minister, Chairman of the Gas Relief State Level Advisory Committee, as so often in the past, did not respond.

While the M.P. State government has maintained a long and deliberate official silence over all reports of contamination, including the 1999 Greenpeace report, around 2000 they began actively courting the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) for funds to deal with the toxic waste problem. However, in all official communication with the CIDA, the toxic waste problem was mentioned only as the chemicals stored in tanks in the plant, godowns and drums – there was no acknowledgement of the enormous amounts of waste deposited under the ground, from 1969 onwards, that have been shown to have poisoned soil and groundwater over a large area.
Recently, sources leaked to the press claim that On March 19th 2001 three private companies - Paramount Limited Engineers and Consultants (Baroda), Allied Furnaces (Mumbai) and AIREFF de Tox Incineration, a Thane-based company - were approached by the M.P. State government to decontaminate the hazardous waste inside the factory. The sources said that the IICT had recommended the names of these three companies to the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board in mid February 2001. At least one of the companies employ incineration as their method of decontamination…

Some good news


On August 11, 2000, the Sambhavna Clinic's four community health workers started an intensive health education campaign in Atal Ayub Nagar, the community most affected by the contamination. The symptoms that people in this, and other communities, associate with drinking contaminated water are: abdominal pain, skin lesions, dizziness, vomiting, constipation, indigestion, and burning sensations in the chest and stomach. The majority of children in this community are born seriously underweight, weak, with discolored skin, as well as suffering from other multi-systemic health problems. Women complain of suppression of lactation and some stop lactating within one month of giving birth.

Armed with a comprehensive range of 12 posters, the health workers initiated discussions on the genesis of the problem, the nature of the chemicals and their known health effects, the role of corporate and government agencies, and the ways in which communities can protect themselves from this routine poisoning. The health education meetings that were held twice a week drew larger and larger numbers of people. During these meetings people expressed much concern regarding the bio-accumulative and carcinogenic nature of the chemicals involved. The elders in the community took the initiative in organising people to pressure the local elected public official on an almost daily basis.

As a result of this community initiative, on September 9, 2000, six tanks of 10,000 litres capacity each were provided by the Municipal Corporation (from their budget of 3.5 crores, given by central govt. in 1999). Since then six to eight tankers bring relatively safer drinking water every day and fill the tanks installed in the community. The quantity is far from sufficient and about 20 % of the population still do not have access to tanker water. Meanwhile, the community's efforts to get a permanent piped water supply - specified in the money budgeted by the central govt. - continue.

Update:

Nityanand Jayaraman, Greenpeace's toxics campaigner in India, commented in December 1999: "The contaminated condition of the Union Carbide site is a prime example of corporate irresponsibility. The fact that Union Carbide has escaped without cleaning up the site exposes the gaping loophole in the legal and administrative infrastructure.”
Replying to Greenpeace's allegations in 1999, Union Carbide said it has had no information regarding the Bhopal plant site since it sold its stock in Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) more than five years ago - neatly avoiding the fact that it had plenty of information up until 1994. A Union Carbide statement received by edie says that a 1990 analysis of 100 off-site wells carried out by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) found no contamination associated with UCIL operations (see above concerning the 1990 NEERI report – 100 wells were not examined). Furthermore, the statement says, UCIL conducted tests in 1992 to determine whether contamination had migrated off-site into drinking water wells and this data confirmed the NEERI results (we must assume that the report of these tests is business confidential because they are not publicly available). Such selective and deceitful referencing further reveals that Carbide’s drive to evade responsibility for any of its acts in Bhopal continues without the merest pity for its growing list of victims.

The govt: In May 2001 we visited the head of the Madhya Pradesh State Research laboratory in Shyamla Hills to confirm her knowledge since 1991 of serious water contamination in surrounding communities. She confirmed that all information contained in the report of 1996 (see above) was correct to the best of her knowledge. She then questioned where we had obtained the report from: “this is confidential!”

The next day David Turecamo of ABC Nightline presented the same 1996 report to MP Chief Minister Digvijay Singh. Surprised at seeing his own govt’s confidential report he denied the veracity of it, claiming casually that “this report has been disproved”. Mr Turecamo was then ushered out of the interview.

V.K. Jain, state Pollution Control Board chairman, widely held responsible for much of the official circumlocution and denial concerning the contamination issue (having been pressured at several meeting of MPPCB about it) - and also thought to be the main agent behind the secret courting of foreign companies for the clean up of the site - was arrested in Feb 2001. Police were said to have found around $4.5 million of wealth disproportionate to his known source of income.

In June 2001, there was confirmation in the Indian press of the Canadian International Development Agency and World Bank’s involvement in plans to clean up the site. Hindu Business Line reported, “According to indications, the total cost involved will be in excess of Rs 200 crore which may be partly funded by the World Bank, Asian Development Bank and other international financial institutions along with the Madhya Pradesh Government and the Central Government. The actual cleaning operation, once it takes off, may take two to three years. The company will take up the job through its subsidiary, R. J. Burnside International Ltd., through which it provides services in Asian countries.”

According to survivor’s organisations “this deal appears to be helping the Bhopal survivors but it goes against the very principles that they have fought for for the last 17 years. As we see it, it is Union Carbide and now the Dow chemical company [following the merger of the two in february 2001] that is responsible for the contamination of groundwater and soil in and around the Bhopal factory. The cost of decontamination must be borne by Carbide/Dow and they are also liable to pay damages for health injuries caused due to ingestion of contaminated water by over 5000 neighbourhood residents.”