Massive Fire at Gujarat Facility Destined to Receive Bhopal Toxic Wastes

Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh
Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangarsh Morcha
Bhopal Group for Information & Action

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Watch NDTV’s coverage of the fire
NEW DELHI, 8 APRIL, 2008 — A massive fire consumed 120 tons of unknown toxic wastes on 3 April at BEIL’s toxic waste treatment, storage, disposal facility in Ankleshwar, Gujarat. The incident vindicates the stance of local residents, Bhopal survivors, and Dr. P.M. Bhargava – a member of the High Court appointed Technical Committee — who had advised the Madhya Pradesh High Court against sending Union Carbide’s waste from Bhopal for incineration at this facility.
Speaking at a press conference with Bhopal survivors in dharna at Jantar Mantar, Rohit Prajapati of Gujarat-based Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti said: “The fire disaster in Ankleshwar was handled very poorly. Till date no information has been made available to the public regarding what was burnt in the fire, what is stored on site, and what to do in the event of a disaster.” According to Prajapati, this is both against the law and counter to the lessons learnt from the Bhopal disaster. Prajapati was part of a 4-person team that visited Ankleshwar to ascertain the situation after the fire disaster. The Environmental Protection Act and the Factories Act mandate disclosure of information relating to hazards posed by chemicals to workers and public. However, Gujarat Pollution Control Board refused to divulge this information even under Right to Information, Prajapati said.
The pollution was so intense that three villages were to be evacuated, according to news reports. However, no evacuation happened as the District Administration neither had an evacuation plan nor a disaster management plan. Such a plan is mandatory.
A Task Force set up by the Madhya Pradesh High Court to recommend action on toxic wastes lying in and around the Union Carbide factory site in Bhopal, concluded that 345 tons of chlorinated wastes should be sent to BEIL, Ankleshwar, for incineration. According to Dr. Bhargava, a prominent scientist and founder chairman of Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, “The Task Force had omitted parts of the Technical Subcomittee report that strongly suggested that the waste be shipped back to Dow Chemical for disposal in the US.”
The High Court too disregarded a plea by Ziya Pathan, an Ankleshwar resident, stating that his protest came too late. However, evidence presented by Pathan contained excerpts from a study by a German consultant that found that BEIL’s facility was not equipped to deal with highly toxic wastes. The consultant’s report found that the Ankleshwar facility’s emissions of total organic carbon and nitrogen oxides may exceed German standards by a factor of 2, and that emissions of dust and acidic gases could exceed German standards by factors of 4 and 5. Further, contrary to state-of-the-art practice, the Ankleshwar facility disposed heavy-metal laden residual ash in the landfill. Such practices increase the likelihood of severe groundwater contamination.
“As victims of a major tragedy, we find the Government’s proposal to transport the deadly Bhopal waste to Ankleshwar – which itself is a toxic hotspot – offensive and simple minded, especially when Ankleshwar itself is begging for a clean-up,” said Hazra Bee, a gas victim. She was one of 50 Bhopalis that have walked 800km from Bhopal to New Delhi, and are camped out at Jantar Mantar awaiting a meeting with the Prime Minister. Gujarat Pollution Control Board’s Vision 2010/2015 document lists Ankleshwar as one of 24 toxic hotspots in the country.
On October 10, 2007, the Gujarat Government succumbed to popular pressure and withdrew the NOC given to the Government of India to incinerate Bhopal wastes at Ankleshwar. The court has refused to acknowledge the withdrawal, and has said that wastes will be transported to Ankleshwar as per original plan. Despite the challenge to its order withdrawing permission, the Gujarat Government has failed to contest the High Court’s position, leading environmentalists to doubt the Government’s sincerity in withdrawing permission for incineration.
“The High Court has been misled. First, the 345 tons that is sought to be incinerated are not the priority wastes. The more than 8000 tons that is buried is the waste that is causing groundwater contamination and requires immediate attention. Second, the Court has been told that there are facilities in India that can adequately handle this waste,” said Satinath Sarangi of Bhopal Group for Information and Action.
A chronology of the transportation of the waste in and around the UCIL factory in Bhopal (Word doc)
A press pack on the fire at BEIL, Ankleshwar (large zip file)
For more information, contact:
Nityanand Jayaraman. Cell: 9717516003 or 09444082401.
International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal
B5/136, FF, Safdarjung Encl., New Delhi 110 039

Rohit Prajapati. Cell: 09427933046
Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti
c/o 37 Patrakar Colony, Tandalja, Vadodara 390 020, Phone: 0265-2320399

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