Bhopal authorities seek Army, NIDM help for toxic clean-up

Shashikant Trivedi & Sreelatha Menon, Business Standard, May 15, 2008
The Bhopal Gas Relief and Rehabilitation Department is talking to the Indian Army and the Delhi-based National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) to help remove the toxic waste lying in the premises of the closed Union Carbide for the last 24 years.
Last month, the department requested the Indian Army to help dispose of the waste. This includes 376 tonnes of waste lying in sacks in the premises as well as 8,000 tonnes of waste buried underground, which continues to pollute groundwater in the area. Department officials told Business Standard that this was done following a court instruction.
The Indian Army, however, advised the department to rope in the NIDM to remove the waste.
“A team from NIDM will visit the site probably next week. NIDM will not remove the toxic waste but if roped in, it will support the transporter in handling the toxic waste,” a senior official in the department said.
“We will have to submit updates on July 3 on the progress of removal of the toxic waste in the Madhya Pradesh High Court,” the officials further said.
The NIDM, which comes under the home ministry, however, said it had not been approached yet.
Professor Santosh Kumar of NIDM said while no one had written so far to the institute, it was willing to help.
Anil K Gupta, associate professor and programme director (industrial chemical and environmental risk management), NIDM, said clearing the toxic chemical waste would require a study of the condition of the chemicals lying there followed by remediation.
The state government had also written letters to eight hazardous waste transporters and had spelt out terms and conditions defined by central and state pollution control boards.
The department has not received any response from these firms.
The toxic waste of Union Carbide in Bhopal leaked from the factory on the intervening night of December 2 and 3, 1984, claiming thousands of lives.
Half of the solid waste (total of 376 tonnes) was to be land-filled and the rest was to be incinerated at Bharuch Enviro Infrastructure Ltd (BEIL) in Ankleshwar, Gujarat.
The Gujarat Pollution Control Board had recently refused to accept the toxic waste. A number of NGOs, which are fighting for the cause of gas victims, have demanded that Dow Chemicals (which has acquired Union Carbide) should remove the toxic waste.
The law ministry has also taken the same position that Dow Chemicals is liable for removal of the waste left behind by Union Carbide.
Dow Chemicals spokes-person Scot Wheeler said the company’s stand on legal liability for cleaning up the environmental mess remains the same as before.
“As Dow Chemicals never owned or operated the former Bhopal plant site, our position continues to be that this situation is not Dow’s responsibility, accountability, or liability to bear. Contrary to claims made by some, Dow did not inherit Union Carbide’s liabilities and does not have responsibility for them.”
“We do have sympathy for the plight of those who are victims of the tragedy and the fact that the site has not been cleaned up. The solution to this problem is in the hands of the Central and state governments as the site is under the control of the Madhya Pradesh government,” Wheeler said.
Read some public responses to Scot Wheeler’s statment on behalf of Dow.

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