Govt approaches three firms to de-contaminate Carbide plant
Hindustan Times, 29th March 2001


After years of wait and hundreds of demonstrations by the survivors of the Bhopal gas tragedy, the State Government has approached three private companies to decontaminate the huge hazardous waste dump inside the former Union Carbide (UC) factory.

Highly placed sources said that Paramount Limited Engineers and Consultants (Baroda), Allied Furnaces (Mumbai) and AIREFF de Tox Incineration, a Thane-based company, were approached by the State Government on March 19. Their response is awaited, the sources said.

Former workers of the UC factory have reported dumping over 500 tons of ortho-dichlorobenzene, carbon tetrachloride, alpha naphthol, mercury, carbaryl and other toxic substances at different sites within the factory premises.

In addition, there is a shed containing about 21 tons of Sevin tar - which is inflammable and produces extremely toxic gases when heated. An expert committee set up by the Ministry of Environment and Forests had earlier confirmed the hazardous nature of the stored  chemicals and called for special precautions against fire.

A few years back, the State Government had contacted the Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT), Hyderabad. Some scientists from the Institute had come to the former UC factory.

The sources said that from 1996 to 2001, the scientists had analysed the situation and conducted several tests. After conducting tests and analysing the dumped sevin tar and naphthol tar, the IICT had recommended the names of these three private companies to the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board in mid February this year, the sources said.

The three companies would actually implement the operation to de-contaminate the former UC plant.

"Three major fire incidents had taken place inside the plant since 1999. In fact, major accidents have been averted, god knows how. Nobody knows what would have been the fate of the people living in the vicinity of the plant had the fire reached these chemical dumps", wondered Satinath Sarangi, an activist working among the gas victims. "Indeed the recent fires have highlighted yet another disaster waiting to occur".

The site is severely contaminated with dumped chemicals. it is possible that some of these spontaneously combusted in the rising heat and caught fire.

However, the principal secretary of gas relief, D S Mathur, told the Hindustan Times, "The March 21st fire was far away from the chemicals."

The devastation in Atal Ayub Nagar caused by a fire on March 21st on the east side of the former Union Carbide (UCC) factory. Atal Ayub Nagar is located along the outside of the eastern wall of the plant. There are two rows of houses, then a sealed road with a water pipe running along one side. The settlement is enclosed by train tracks on its east side and the factory wall to the west.

Residents of Atal Ayub Nagar say fire broke out within the former factory at about 3.30pm on Wednesday. There was widespread panic as the flames and debris were blown by an easterly wind onto the settlement (immediately adjacent to the UCC wall). Some residents reported smelling burning chilly.

The sources said that in 1994, the National Environment Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) had also submitted a report that still remains confidential. It noted "high concentration of temic, sevin and lindane". "In the entire Disposal Area - I" in the north-eastern corner and in the "55% of Disposal Area - II" in the eastern side. Toxic chemicals are dumped both in pits and on the surface at these two Disposal sites and the possibility of formation of potent toxic gases due to thermal degradation is very real and frightening. While the fire in March 1999 was over Disposal Area - II, the April 26th fire in the same year was close to Disposal Area - I.