THE CONTAMINATION STORY

Risk-taking, cover-up and derogation of responsibility
   

Differences between Bhopal plant and Institute Plant :

Union Carbide has always publicly maintained that there were no essential differences between the standards, equipment and technology used in Bhopal and in Institute, West Virginia. But this was not true. Apart from revelations that "unproven" and "untried" technology had been used in the crucial carbon monoxide, phosgene and MIC units in Bhopal, the plant's waste disposal systems were not the same.

Company's Environmental Impact Assessment report states that the Bhopal plant is modeled on Union Carbide's plant at Institute, West Virginia but only "where suitable" (UCC 04204).


In fact, as an International Union group was to discover, soon after the 1984 gas disaster, the vent gas scrubber could never have coped with the volumes of toxins stored in Bhopal (but not in Institute).

As regards environmental safety, Carbide's Institute plant had high EIA ratings "based on water discharges into the Kanahwa River" whereas "process design for Bhopal is based on no discharges to surface waters. All wastewater streams from the Pesticide Unit at Bhopal will discharge into solar evaporation ponds. All wastewater will be contained in these in-plant ponds."

Groundwater contamination is not a foreseeable possibility in Institute, but clearly is a potential problem in Bhopal.

"Plans to construct the ponds are (a) with sufficient area to allow evaporation of the entire hydraulic load and (b) with impermeable linings to prevent contamination of groundwater." (UCC 04295).


"Institute has no solar pond" and consequently a higher environmental rating. (Ex. 2 at UCC 04296).


UCC Engineering Department Warns Of Danger Of Groundwater Contamination Even At The Design Stage (July 21, 1972): Proposed design risks "danger of polluting subsurface water supplies in the Bhopal area"and to avoid this "new ponds will have to be constructed at one to two-year intervals throughout the life of the project"in order to address this problem. (UCC 04129). They were not, of course.


UCC Approves Project With All These Design Problems And Environmental Risks:
Project approved for $20 million (UCC 04240).


ìImpermeableî Linings of Solar Evaporation Ponds Leaked In Bhopal During Plant Operations:
Telex dated March 25, 1982: ìPhase II evaporation pond almost emptied. Reps of KR Datey at site and investigation of the leakage in progress. Unfortunately, emergency pond has also shown some signs of leakage.î (UCC 01737).


Telex dated April 10, 1982: ìContinued leakage from evaporation pond causing great concern.î (UCC 01736).


Poor maintenance. Safety survey, May 1982

UCIL dependent on UCC for advice on what to do about contamination/clean-up. 15 May 1986, a desperate sounding telex sent to Carbide Hong Kong, and managers in Bombay. The problem, 15 tons of chlorosulfonic acid sludge. UCC01760

Eleven days later it was relayed onward to Danbury UCC01758

Four months later, the matter has still not been resolved. UCC has no further advice to offer in respect of the 15 tons of sludge UCC 01739/01740

Incredibly, two years later the sludge was still in the tanks, "fuming". 9 Oct 1987

In September 1988, they were still discussing how to dispose of Sevin tar and Napthol Tar. Methods suggested included incineration, burial and biological degradation, each of which would have created an environmental threat. In the end the problem remained unresolved. UCC 2069-70-71

On 27 and 28 June 1989, UCC convened a two-day think-tank at its South Charleston plant. The subject was the rehabilitation of the Bhopal plant.

The minutes of the meeting begin with a chronology of events at the Bhopal plant. It records such events as the banning of its products Sevithion and Sevidol in 1976. (The Sevidol facilities were recommissioned in 1981 and ithe following year began producing Sevimol.) It records problems like the de-bottlenecking of the 1-Napthol unit due to problems. (In 1982 this plant was be recommissioned, then shut down and mothballed due to high beta content.) The chronology records the starting of work in 1979 on the CO, Phosgene and MIC plants envisaged in the 1973 "unproven technology" proposal. It records the commissioning of the plants in 1980 -- they had been running less than four years before the fatal accident, not the 7 years that Warren Anderson claimed. The chronology ends in 1984 after recording that trial production of two new products had commenced, and that an industrial licence for 300 Mtons a year of one of these substances, BPMC had been granted by the Government of India. There is one event which is missing from the chronology. It simply does not appear, as if the company did not think it worth recording. Or as if they wished to banish all memory of it from their minds -- something those who experienced it were never able to do. There is not one word in the company's history of its Bhopal plant about the accident of 2/3 December 1984, that claimed thousands of lives. Products mattered, plant mattered. People didn't. UCC 03791/2

UCC did not see Bhopal as a city full of living people. This is how UCC saw Bhopal:

Creates Summary of Toxic Wastes at Bhopal Plant Site:
ì[a]ll of the process liquid wastes as described above can be pumped into any one of the three Solar Evaporation Ponds, Pond I, Pond II and Pond IIIî and that the ìtotal inflowî into these ponds was estimated at 5, 550 metric tons per year. (UCC 03798).


The ponds were constructed on top of natural watercourses, so if they leaked, the waste toxins would go straight into the underlying water system of Bhopal.
UCC03799

 

ìNote on Waste Pits & Land Fill Areasî describes at least 11 pits where toxic wastes were buried on-site at Bhopal. (UCC 03802-03803).


ìThe evaporation ponds are three in number and contain effluent collected over several years during operation of the plantÖ The polyfilm may have developed leaks resulting into [sic] permeation of the effluent into the soil.î (UCC 03808).

Chemical analysis of water from the three ponds (UCC03811-03816) concludes that it is not fit for discharge into inland surface water. Chemicals present include lead, cadmium, arsenic, cyanide, chlorides, phenols, carbaryl pesticides

There are three tables also provided with a breakdown in metric tons of the amount of "Liquid Waste" (UCC 03818) and a general, unquantified description of Solid Waste present at the site (UCC 03819).


UCC Develops And Implements Its ìBhopal Site Rehabilitation & Asset Recovery Projectî Meeting in ìSouth Charlestonî on July 27-29, 1989:

ìBhopal Site Rehabilitation And Assets Recovery Projectî states its ìprimary objectivesî as three-fold: (1) ìRehabilitation of plant site to a condition suitable for future use of land and building as light industrial siteî; (2) ìRehabilitation of evaporation pond site to a condition suitable for returning to State Govt for setting-up an industrial estateî; and (3) ìRealization of best value for sale of movable assets.î (UCC 02271).



UCC Decides To Hide Involvement of ìCarbide Nameî By Creating Subsidiary of UCIL To Do All The Site Rehabilitation Work:
ì[A]ll these activities are undertaken by a subsidiary of UCIL to be formed at a convenient time.î (UCC 02272).


UCC hoped to recover substantial part of the clean up cost by the sale of chamicals and plant, in one year of the projected four even making a profit from it. UCC02273/4/5

UCC Makes The Decision To Use Cheap, Easy Methods Instead of Proper Environmental Remediation At Bhopal Plant Because Cost Is Major Factor:
ì[I]ntent of the project should be to leave the site in a condition suitable for reasonable future use with a minimum of residual oversight responsibilities for the local companyî (UCC 03660).


ìSome examples of on-site and natural cleanup methods are
Mixing
Soil Flushing
Soil Aeration/Volatilization
Permanent Fixation
Biodegradation
Or combinations of the above.î (UCC 03660).

 


UCC Makes Decision To Appoint Arthur D. Little, Inc. As Primarily Responsible For All Aspects of Site Rehabilitation Efforts:
ìIn view of the above, it would be necessary to seek assistance and advice of an expert organization having first-hand experience in this field. Since no Indian organization has had similar exposure, it has been decided to appoint M/s A. D. Little & Co. of USA which has considerable experience in this fieldÖAt the instance of the M.P. State Govt, it is proposed to appoint National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) for carrying out above investigation under the overall guidance of M/s A. D. Little & Co.î (UCC 02271).

UCC makes initial contact and decisions re ADL, but when ADL in its proposal (to assess the by then commissioned NEERI report) assumes that it will be working with UCC as well as UCIL, UCC wants out. By this time the "settlement" had been agreed with Rajiv Gandhi's government and the company just wanted to get out as fast as possible. The name of UCC is scored out in the documents. UCC 01838/9

Letter from ADL to UCC complains that WHO AIC (acceptable intake, chronic) limit for carbaryl is "very conservative" (because it was a tenth of the US EPA standard)

Someone at UCC makes peevish notes all over a copy of a letter sent by ADL to UCIL UCC01840, and queries/vetoes suggested payment procedure UCC01841


In the event ADL's first invoice remained unpaid for several months after which Bose at UCIL desperately passed on the second reminder to Norm Gaines in Danbury asking plaintively "if you could use your good offices ot request ADL to bear with us for some time." GOI currency regulations were making the transfer of $40,000 impossible. UCC01834/5

 

NEERI however completed its report, which then had to be evaluated and plan of action formed. Keeping costs down was, as ever, a major consideration - and a desire to do the job as cheaply as possible by burning or burying the mess. Comment on NEERI report: "When evaluating alternative approaches which achieve the required environmental concentrations, consideration shall be given to cost, permanence and other appropriate factors. To minimize the risks of off-site transport and to take maximum advantage of natural conditions, consideration should be given to on-site and natural clean up methods.î (UCC 01830)

In response to newspaper reports appearing in Bhopal about contamination of soil and ground water, UCIL panics (May 16) and cites NEERI's 1990 report to M.P. Government:
NEERIís 1990 results according to UCC show ìno contamination of soil and ground waterî existed at UCIL site. (UCC 03485).



UCC ìBusiness Confidentialî Docs Show That UCC Knows NEERIís 1990 Data Does Not Show That: On May 22 Norman 'Norm' Gaines wrote a confidential memo to other senior UCC managers after allegations of environmental contamination were made at the AGM.
Newspaper cuttings published in the Patriot and Times of India May 15, reporting that dichlorobenzene had been found, and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) also pthalates. According to locals, the waste ponds overflowed each monsoon. Fears were expressed that the run-off would contaminate the groundwater.

Norm, himself head of Health, Safety & Environmental Research at Danbury, (had not yet received the full NEERI report, cf UCC1860 dated 31 May), but already knew that he dared not use the NEERI data:

ìWhile the ponds were clearly the focus of this [NEERI] study, the close proximity of the ponds to the plant, relative to the 10 km radius, seems to implicitly ëclearí the plant site itselfÖ However, I would advise caution in using the NEERI data, for two reasons: 1) the study was done for the state government, and I am not sure whether they are ready to publish it broadly, and 2) we do not know the exact sample and analytical protocols used by either group.î (UCC 02049/50).


Gaines goes on to suggest a convenient PR formula for evading the issue.

September 1990, UCIL is still writing to Norm at UCC for help with guidelines for investigating water contamination (within plant premises) UCC02378

September 1990 UCC decide that they must do their own study. UCIL's Dr Kanhare prepares the proposal. It is sent on 2 November, by UCIL's Bose for approval by Gaines at Danbury. They express concern about the monsoon washing chemicals into the soil and groundwater, particularly organic contaminants. 1871. UCC1871-6

UCC's Secret, Internal Study shows massive Soil And water contamination in plant site, completely contradicting NEERI's findings:
"Presence of Toxic Ingredients In Soil/Water Samples Inside Plant Premisesî
ìThe seriousness of the issue needs no elaboration. It is earnestly suggested that the subject be given due consideration and studies initiated without further delay."
"Samples drawn in June-July í89 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." (UCC 02268).

Internal memo from "Mike B" to "Norm" on 15 November 1991 (expressing no worries about discovery of mercury pollution at the site) shows that well after the settlement which UCC has always claimed quashed all charges against it, that UCC's people knew very well that criminal charges had been revived against the company were still pending. UCC 03604. The criminal charges were revived in October 1991. This memo was written a few weeks later. Union Carbide now concerned to dispose of the site as quickly as possible, because it knows it has no intention of attending the court hearings in Bhopal.

On 28 March 1992 the Houston Chronicle reported that the Bhopal court was seeking Anderson's extradition. They wanted to get shot of the factory and dispose of what assets they could anticipating that the court would react to their non-appearance. On 6 April Mike Buckingham of UCE wrote frantically to Norm Gaines in Danbury. Less than a month later, all Union Carbide's assets in India were attached by the court.

UCC Documents Show That Site Rehabilitation Was Required As Condition of Lease of Land From MP State:
"UCIL has leasehold occupancy of the two sites in Bhopal, the larger 65 acre site containing the initial formulation plant and chemical manufacturing operations, while the second 34 acre site consists of three solar evaporation ponds. Both sites remain essentially as they were in December 1984, though all working inventories have now been removed from the main plantÖ. The lease of these sites is conditional on continued chemical manufacture by UCIL, and these leases will be relinquished by UCIL as soon as feasible. Demolition of all process plant and cleanup of any soil contamination to risk evaluated standards is required as a precondition of this."(UCC 03506).


UCC Wanted To Relinquish Lease As Quickly As Possible To Avoid Entanglement In Major Clean-Up/ Remediation Work If Groundwater Contamination Was Discovered:
ìRehabilitate both of the main 65 acre plant site and 34 acre pond site to environmental standards established by NEERI/ADL and acceptable to GOI and MP State authorities. These standards will be based on risk related criteria related to projected future use patterns. The lease on both locations is intended to be surrendered as soon as feasibleÖî
(UCC 03507).


UCCís Site Rehabilitation Was Always Intended To Be Purely Cosmetic: With the inadequate options they were proposing, they wanted to get shot of the plant and the land, and were willing to have people work on it, and grow crops on it.
ìAs an end point UCIL will aim to have: secured all contaminated soil, process plant washings and pond soil residues within the main site subject to ongoing surveillance.î (UCC 03509).

They knew the methods they proposed to use were not good enough.

UCC Made Decision To Opt For Landfill Technique For Disposal of Waste In Solar Evaporation Ponds Even Though This Posed Risks To Groundwater: 26 August 1993, Mike Buckingham writes to Deenis Macauley (Norm had taken early retirement).
ìOne option is to pump to the burial in Pond 3 at the end of summer in mid 1994. I do not favor this approach as the hydraulic pressure developed as the site is subsequently covered over may lead to splitting of the liner.î (UCC 02011).


ìObjective is to return this leased land [for solar evaporation ponds] to MP State in mid 1994.î (id).
UCC Was Still Involved In Bhopal Site Work Even After Sale of Its Share of UCIL To McLeod Russell in 1994:
Memo dated April 6, 1995 memorializing a discussion which took place, with slide presentation of talking points, on March 20, 1995 at ìBPDO, Rainey Park.î (UCC 02909).


ìSB clarified that UCC wanted the Bhopal plant to be detoxified and the land and ground water components of the environment to be restored to standards as followed by the EPA-USA. Since ADL are quite experienced in this kind of work, they were selected to provide consultancy to UCIL.
AC explained that as per the terms of the lease of the land taken from the State Government it is to be surrendered, in usable and habitable condition. This required environmental investigation and remediation of site before handing over to GovernmentÖ
It was summarized [sic] that the site rehabilitation work in hand has to be brought to completion before handing over land to Government or any other agencyÖî (UCC 02909-10).

They were going to proceed with their inadequate plan and if the government of India didn't like it, they were going to wash their hands of it. (UCC 02910)


NEERIís 1997 Report Was Conducted Under The Guidance Of Arthur D. Little, Inc. And in late 1996 was in draft form and Was To Be Reviewed By ADL:
ìAt the outset of the project ADL were appointed Consultant to UCIL. Their scientists paid two visits to site and UCIL representatives along with that of NEERI also went to ADLís office at Cambridge Boston for discussions. Based on these consultations and ADLís operating practices for such projects, a ëStandard Operating Procedureí (SOP) was developed by NEERI for the project implementation. Since investigation and assessment of a closed Pesticide Plant site was being carried out for the first time in India, ADLís guidance was of great help. NEERI, although a premier organization, did not have this experience, and therefore was guided to investigate following laid down accepted work practices which could stand to test of time for such work.
During the investigation work there was on going interaction with ADL through Bhopal office for their guidance, comments on ëSOPsí and interim analytical results of various samples. ADL have continued their interest in the project, even after UCILís name having changed to EIILÖ and have provided technical inputs required by us.
Now that the Draft Report of NEERI has been received, the same needs to be reviewed by ADL and discussed with their experts.î (UCC 02961-62).

UCIL, by this time masquerading as Eveready Industries, found a great many faults in the NEERI report, which appears from the long list of criticisms to have been a somewhat slapdash affair (UCC 2971-4)




UCC Is Still Arguing To The Court That, Based On NEERIís Report eventually published in May 1997, There Is No Contamination In Or Around Bhopal Plant:
UCC states in its motion papers that ìthere was no groundwater contamination outside the plantî due to the ìrelative impermeability of the soil in and around the plant.î (Def. St. at 6; Ex. A to the Krohley Declaration.)
Even Though UCC Knows Full Well That Its Own Consultant, Arthur D. Little, Specifically Rejected The Conclusion In NEERIís 1997 Report:
ADLís comments on NEERIís 1997 Report were:
ì2. Ground Water Issues: There are two major issues we have identified concerning ground water at the site:
Statements concerning contaminant travel times to the aquifer below the site should be considered highly speculative. There is very little site-specific data that can be used to confidently predict infiltration rates. The information that does exist suggests that travel times could be significantly less than identified in the report. Refer to Tier II Comment No. 41 for details.
There does not appear to be sufficient information to discount a potential impact to groundwater from contaminated soils present on the facilityÖ
If remedial action is completed as quickly as possible, the potential for contaminant migration from soil to ground water will be diminished significantly.î (UCC 03032)(emphasis added).

ADL too finds much evidence of slapdash methods, or perhaps simply incompetence, in the NEERI study (UCC O3035)


Many more flaws in the methodology (UCC 03036)

Major errors in conclusions (UCC 03037) Lindane was reported as trace whereas it was far more. The whole methodology regarding Lindane is suspect. Napthalene wrongly recorded.

ìThe conclusions regarding travel time to the water table may significantly underestimate the potential for groundwater contamination... However, site-specific data from the report suggest that travel times could be significantly faster than assumed.î (UCC 03042).


ìAs an example, one can argue that the worst case scenario travel time would be 2 yearsÖî i.e. from 1997 (UCC 03043).


NEERI, as reported by UCC in court, had found no contamination in ground water. ADL agreed there had been none found, but questioned whether this meant that there was none to be found. In any case, it did not mean that the groundwater might not in future become polluted by chemicals presently in the soil. UCC 03043

ADL wanted NEERI/UCC/Eveready to make the risks clear


18.6.98 Madhya Pradesh Pradushan Niryatrana Board (Pollution Control Board) writes to Eveready (poorba mein Union Carbide India Ltd):

After Lease Was Surrendered to State, MP Authorities Wrote To UCIL Demanding That Union Carbide Clean Up Its Mess:
ìAs per rules M/s. Union Carbide are fully responsible for the environmental remediation of the problem created by them. It is also the responsibility of the administration to get the above land decontaminated. M.P. Pollution Control Boardís responsibility is limited to monitoring and to see that environmental rules are followed.
Therefore it is prayed for the Honíble Courtís direction to Industries Department to get the work of remediation of all of the above environmental contamination done by Union Carbide Bhopal because under the Hazardous Waste (Management & Handling) Rule 1989, 594(E) Section 3 Subsection (1) and Section 4(1) whoever has produced the contaminated waste it is his responsibility to decontaminate it. Therefore as per rules it is the responsibility of Union Carbide Bhopal to pay for all the expenses being incurred on all the above work.î (UCC 02237).


But UCIL, Now Eveready, and UCC Had Simply Washed Their Hands Of The Matter And Told MP State To Get Lost:
ìThe company ceased to be the occupier of the site on and from 9.7.98. The State Government as the rightful occupier of the premises and having full knowledge of the status of the site is expected to do whatever is required to be done in regard to the siteÖ The company is neither in a position nor is required to be further involved in the various activities which the State Government as the occupier may think it fit to undertake now by itself or through any of its agencies.î (UCC 02240).