21 years gone, no data on Bhopal waste yet

Vibha Sharma – Tribune News Service
New Delhi, April 19
Even after 21 years of the Bhopal gas tragedy, one of the worst industrial disasters in the world, there is no comprehensive or scientific assessment of the exact depth or spread of tonnes of toxic wastes lying at the ill-fated Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) factory.
The only solace so far is that the Prime Minister has conceded to the demand of 1984-gas tragedy survivors and their supporters regarding the cleaning up of toxic wastes.
The activists claim that in the absence of a comprehensive study on toxic wastes and the extent to which it has been contaminating the ground water, there is no way an estimate for their containment or disposal can be worked out.
“Keeping in mind the principle of ‘polluter pays’, if there is no scientific data on the chemical composition of the toxic waste, its depth and spread, how can one arrive at a figure as to how much money to be demanded from the Dow Chemical, the parent company of the UCC, to clean up the site,” activist Nityanand Jayaraman says.
The extent to which poisonous chemicals have seeped into the groundwater near the factory is said to be anywhere between 2.5 to 3.5 km north of the factory site.
In 1984, while the wind carried the deadly methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas towards the south, the contaminated groundwater is now heading north carrying with it poisons to those believed to be left untouched by the tragedy.
While the 1984 gas leak from the UCC plant has claimed close to 20,000 lives till date, the poison from the hazardous waste, still lying abandoned at the site, has been continuously seeping into the ground water, posing even more serious health problems for them.
Samples collected by environment groups from the soil, groundwater and vegetables have shown dangerously high levels of heavy metals, including nickel, chromium, mercury and lead, besides toxic materials like dichlorobenzines. All of these were used at the UCC plant.
Mercury and lead contamination have found their way into breast milk, creating a whole new generation of Bhopal Gas Disaster victims.
“Children are being born with congenital deformities. Last week a still-born baby in one of the colonies had a perfectly made body, but the back of her skull was missing,” says Jayaraman.
After years of legal wrangling for due compensation, survivors of the Bhopal gas tragedy have now graduated from talking about compensation to demanding clean water and environmental remediation.
While a high-level team, deputed by the Centre, is meeting in Bhopal to finalise details regarding provision of safe water in affected areas in Bhopal, there has been no data-based scientific documentation as yet of the chemical composition of the toxic wastes at the site.
“Some time back, Nagpur-based National Environment Engineering and Research Institute (NEERI) conducted a few patchy studies. About three years back, Greenpeace gave a rough estimate saying that $500 million would be required for environmental remeditation in Bhopal.

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