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23 November 2002

Second deadly secret slides out of Carbide’s ‘poison papers’

Union Carbide has known for longer than a decade that its derelict factory was poisoning ground water and posed a threat to drinking wells of local communities
Company issued no warnings, took minimal action to prevent further contamination

Secret Carbide documents show company tried to hide danger, claimed water was safe
2002 Study finds lead, mercury and organochlorines in breast-milk of local women
Poisons damaging the same communities decimated by the 1984 gas massacre
Survivors' organisations: "Eighteen years later that terrible factory is still killing us"

A quick tour of the major discoveries

See also "People v Poison": Bhopal.Net comment

Press statement on contamination discoveries by survivors organisations,
issued in Bhopal on 22 November

Carbide papers: Carbide used unproven technology in Bhopal,
released 14 November

Bhopal, India, 23 November, 2002. Union Carbide, responsible for the 1984 gas disaster in which some 8,000 people were killed in three days, has known for more than a decade that chemicals from its abandoned and derelict Bhopal factory are poisoning the drinking water of local communities, where a study earlier this year found mercury, lead and organochlorines in the breast milk of nursing women. (Note 1)

Despite being aware of the danger – and despite the further damage being done to communities already suffering from the effects of its poison gases – the company issued no warnings and took the least possible action to stop the contamination, but continued to insist publicly that local drinking wells were safe. Meanwhile it was making strenuous behind-the-scenes efforts to rid itself of responsibility for the site.

The revelations are the second in a week to originate from internal documents Union Carbide was forced to disclose during the ongoing Class action filed by Bhopal survivors in the Federal Southern District court of New York, which alleges that the company demonstrated reckless and depraved indifference to human life through its Bhopal operations. Last week, survivors revealed that Union Carbide and its ex-CEO Warren Anderson had imposed ‘unproven technology’ in the most deadly part of the plant in order to cut costs and maintain absolute control of their Indian subsidiary.

“As early as 1972, Carbide’s American managers talked about the danger of ground-water pollution from that terrible factory”, said Rashida Bi, leader of a Bhopal survivors organisation which is a plaintiff in the case. “They made their own proposals to stop it happening – and then ignored them. Instead, knowing the dangers, they set about dumping thousands of tonnes of solid and liquid chemical wastes into and outside the factory. They knew it would poison our water and our daily lives and they did it anyway.”

In 1990, Union Carbide commissioned the Indian National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) to make a study of contamination arising from the abandoned and by-then derelict plant. The company has used this report to assert the absence of any danger. However, one of the confidential documents now available shows that Union Carbide itself placed no trust in the NEERI data. “This [NEERI] study… seems to implicitly ‘clear’ the plant site itself. However, I would advise caution in using the NEERI data… we do not know the exact sample and analytical protocols used.”

Alarmed by comment about contamination in the local press Carbide hastily conducted its own private investigation and found evidence of massive pollution. It did not make these findings public. They have been uncovered for the first time by the "discovery" process in the New York court action.


After publicly quoting NEERI's study, Carbide carried out its own emergency investigation and found severe poisoning of land and water. Samples taken near the factory wall adjacent to a nearby settlement caused 100% toxicity in fish. The company did not make these findings public and never warned local people that their drinking wells might be poisoned. Dow-Carbide continues to assert to this day that there is no danger to local drinking water.

“Union Carbide publicly cited a flawed study to mislead local residents and the [Madhya Pradesh State] government on the extent of the water and soil contamination”, Sathyu Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA) remarked today. “But they hid their own studies from public view, because their own studies show that by 1989 the local water was already deadly.”

The key document, an internal company study entitled the “Presence of Toxic Ingredients In Soil/Water Samples Inside Plant Premises”, gives a frightening insight into the cover-up perpetuated by Union Carbide. “The seriousness of the issue needs no elaboration. Samples drawn in June-July ’89 from land-fill areas and effluent treatment pits inside the plant were sent to R and D. They consisted nine soil/solid samples and eight liquid samples. The solid samples had organic contamination varying from 10% to 100% and contained known ingredients like napthol and naphthalene in substantial quantities. Majority of the liquid samples contained napthol and/or Sevin in quantities far more than permitted by ISI for onland disposal. All samples caused 100% mortality to fish in toxicity assessment studies and were to be diluted several fold to render them suitable for survival of fish.”

The documents further reveal that following the fatal gas leak in Bhopal, Union Carbide Corporation had decided to wash its hands of the factory and was anxious to off-load it onto the Madhya Pradesh State Government with the land still contaminated, in violation of the original lease. In order to facilitate the hand-over, the company undertook some cosmetic remediation work which has done nothing to diminish the danger of contamination. Plans to dispose of toxic wastes by burning them in the factory (thus sending toxic smoke drifting over local communities) show that Union Carbide was willing to impose even more risks on the very same communities its factory had decimated in 1984.

A study commissioned by Carbide from Arthur D Little warned that pollution of the underground aquifer (which feeds drinking water wells) could be happening at a rate far faster than imagined. In a worst case scenario, it could take as little as two years to contaminate the aquifer. That was in 1997.

A Greenpeace report published in 1999 found severe contamination of the factory site, surrounding land and ground-water. Levels of mercury in some places were six million times higher than expected. Drinking water wells near the factory used by local people were heavily polluted with chemicals known to produce cancers and genetic defects. (Note 2)

The 2002 study by the Fact Finding Mission on Bhopal found lead, mercury and organochlorines in the breast milk of nursing mothers.

"Carbide has never shown any interest in the condition of its victims," said Sunil Kumar, who lost his entire family during the original gas leak. "We've always known that. Now it seems they know that their factory is poisoning a whole new generation - and they are doing nothing to stop it. People are ill in the communities. Babies are sick. There are many deformed births. It's as if they really hate us. As if they are trying to punish us for protesting when they gassed us before and killed our families. What kind of people are they to do this?"
Survivors organisations stress the need for medical assessment, monitoring and treatment of those affected by contamination; and due redress for those whose health and livelihoods have been damaged by this second attack by the company on their lives.

Last month Greenpeace issued guidelines for cleaning up the Bhopal site to an internationally accepted standard. The proposals were presented to Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh, who has announced that his government will petition the Supreme Court to make an order forcing Dow Chemical (the new 100% owner of Union Carbide) to pay for the clean-up of the site.

According to independent experts, this could cost the company up to $500 million.

Please keep checking for latest news, information and Carbide documents



1. Source: Surviving Bhopal 2002: Toxic Present Toxic Future, report published January 2002 by the Fact-Finding Mission on Bhopal (FFMB). Found breast milk contaminated with organochlorines such as 1,3,5 Trichlorobenzene, dichloromethane, chloroform, lead and mercury.

"Bhopal did not just happen on December 3rd, 1984, it is continuing to happen to those who were unfortunate to live in its vicinity on that fateful day. Not only this generation but the next generations too stands to be contaminated and poisoned by the disaster. Not only is the soil, but also groundwater, vegetables as well as mother’s breast milk has found to be contaminated."

2. Source: The Bhopal Legacy, Greenpeace, 1999.

"Sample IT9012, collected from a drain directly beneath the plant, contained free mercury at 12% of the overall weight of the sample (between 20,000 and 6 million times higher than might be expected as background)."

Notes for Journalists