Union Carbide's
toxic legacy:
the dumped chemicals

There is a fuller report on toxins found at the factory site and in groundwater and drinking wells here.


Nothing new
As early as 1982, two years prior to the disaster, tubewells in the vicinity of the UCC factory had had to be abandoned. In April 1990, the Bhopal Group for Information & Action (BGIA) highlighted the presence of at least seven toxic chemicals, two of them carcinogens, in the soil and groundwater through sample analysis at the Citizens Environmental Laboratory (CEL), Boston. The report was presented at Union Carbide's annual shareholders meeting in the same year, after which the company retained Arthur D. Little (creator/propagator of the sabotage-by-disgruntled-worker fiction) to look into the matter.

In the same year the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), an Indian government research agency, published a report that said there was no significant contamination. However, the study was designed to miss potentially toxic organic chemicals and at least nine chemicals found were left unidentified. It did not take long for Arthur D. Little and NEERI to find each other and a new study was hatched. This study, that remains confidential to date, reports that 21% of the factory premises is seriously contaminated with chemicals such as lindane, sevin and temic. The study also found that concentration of contaminants increases with depth and recommended a detailed study to determine the extent of contamination. Nothing materialised.

One year later the State Research Laboratory of the Public Health Engineering Department reported serious chemical contamination in samples taken from 11 tubewells in the area. This laboratory repeated its exercise in 1996 and reported similar results. Municipal authorities declared water from over 100 tube wells to be unfit for drinking but did nothing towards provision of safe drinking water to the affected communities. Later, the state government, while publicly denying contamination by Carbide's chemicals sought a grant of Rs. 8 crores from the Union government to supply alternative drinking water to the affected communities.

"Global Toxic Hotspot"
In December 1999, Greenpeace published its report on the analysis of samples taken from in and around the Union Carbide factory. They reported heavy concentrations of carcinogenic chemicals and mercury (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 drinking water sources of the local communities. In its report Greenpeace labelled the factory site a "Global Toxic Hotspot" requiring immediate clean up by Union Carbide.

While the state government has maintained a long and deliberate silence over the Greenpeace report, it is actively courting the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) for funds to deal with the toxic waste problem. Most of the funds are however, expected to go to R. J. Burnside International Ltd., a Canadian environmental engineering firm that is being actively supported by the Chairman, M.P. Pollution Control Board, Mr. V.K. Jain.

For more on the motives and come-uppance of Mr Jain, read the Bhopal Central Chronicle reports for 23 February 2001 and 2 March 2001.

The more than 5000 families who are routinely forced to drink the contaminated water have little to rejoice about over the promised Canadian assistance. In all official communication with the CIDA, the toxic waste problem is mentioned only as the chemicals stored in tanks in the plant, godowns and drums. Well over 1000 metric tonnes of chemical waste that lie below the ground and is poisoning drinking water sources, are not mentioned.

In May 2000 the BGPMUS and BGIA denounced the Canadian venture as yet another example of obfuscating the magnitude of the environmental crime of Union Carbide, and actively colluding with the killer corporation in evading criminal and environmental liability. The organisations also called for prosecution of Mr. Jain for his wilful neglect of the environmental health of the communities adjascent to the Carbide factory.

Compounds found by Greenpeace
in one of the drinking water tubewells
in Atul Ayub Nagar just north of the Union Carbide factory

Chemical compound

No. of times greater than EPA limits /
chief effects on health


Tetrachloroethene


9

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


Trichloroethene


50

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

Chloroform

260

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

1, 2-Dichlorobenzene

5

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

1, 4-Dichlorobenzene

11

Carbon Tetrachloride

682

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.