Carbide capable of "outstanding environmental quality"???

On April 18th 2000 the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) presented Union Carbide Corporation with it's highest award, the Environmental Quality Award (see EPA Administrator Jeanne Fox said "the award is presented to those companies… who have demonstrated an outstanding commitment to protecting and enhancing environmental quality in its region."

Clearly she hasn’t read the newspapers, because on 2nd December 1999 Greenpeace International declared the old Union Carbide factory site in Bhopal, India a "global toxic hotspot". Greenpeace came to this conclusion after testing groundwater and soil samples in and around the factory site*. They found heavy concentrations of carcinogenic chemicals and heavy metals like mercury. Mercury has been found at between 20,000 to 6 million times the expected levels. Twelve volatile organic compounds, most greatly exceeding EPA standard limits, were found to have seeped and continue to seep into the water supplies of an estimated 20, 000 people in local communities (see side bar). Municipal authorities have found water from over 100 tube wells to be unfit for drinking. Yet survivors of the Union Carbide Gas disaster, already suffering a range of illnesses, have no choice but to drink, wash and cook with this water every day.

Volatile organic chemicals were found in these exact quantities in a water well of the Atul Ayub Nagar community in Bhopal, just north of the Union Carbide factory.


Chemical compound

no. of times greater than EPA limits

Chief effects on health

1, 2-Dichlorobenzene


Reported to induce anaemia, leukemia, skin lesions, vomiting, headaches, weight loss, yellow atrophy of the liver, kidney damage and chromosomal aberrations.

1, 4-Dichlorobenzene




Shown to increase risk of leukemia, bladder cancer, oesophogal cancer, cervical cancer, skin cancer and liver and kidney tumours.



Drinking small amounts may cause liver and kidney damage, nervous system effects, impaired immune function and impaired foetal development in pregnant women.



Has a carcinogenic effect on the liver, kidneys and/or intestine. Causes miscarriages and lowers sperm counts.

Carbon Tetrachloride


According to the EPA (’97) can cause cancer. High exposure can cause liver, kidney and central nervous system damage, including the brain. Causes headaches, dizziness, nausea and vomiting. In severe cases coma and even death can occur.


How did so much contamination happen in the first place? We might imagine that chemical corporations, with vast wealth at their disposal, use sophisticated high technology to rid themselves of waste materials generated by production. Indeed in 1997, presidential candidate Al Gore, gave Carbide and the EPA his Hammer Award for their partnership role in the EPA's Environmental Technology Initiative for Chemicals. But the contamination in Union Carbide’s Bhopal factory happened because workers were told to dig a hole, dump the waste chemicals in the hole and then cover it over. So much for environmental technology, and so much for Mr. Gore’s award: basic research would have revealed that in 1990 the Citizens Environmental Laboratory, Boston reported on the toxic chemicals in the Bhopal site, as did the official State Research Laboratory of the Public Health Engineering Department in 1986 and 1991 and the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute in 1994.