PR Opening up Bhopal’s Death Factory is a Dangerous Publicity Stunt: Survivors

INTERNATIONAL CAMPAIGN FOR JUSTICE IN BHOPAL

Opening up Bhopal’s Death Factory is a Dangerous Publicity Stunt: Survivors

12 November, 2009. BHOPAL — Branding the Madhya Pradesh Government’s announcement to throw open Union Carbide’s death factory for public visits as a dangerous publicity stunt, the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal pointed to more than 10 governmental and non-Governmental studies that confirm the presence of highly toxic chemicals in the soil and environment of the factory site. A 1999 study by Greenpeace, which estimated that more than 20 percent of the factory site is contaminated, also found elevated levels of mercury, lead, nickel, copper, chromium, hexachlorocyclohexane, chlorobenzene and Sevin in soil samples taken from within the factory. Mercury levels at one sample location were more than 6 million times what is expected in uncontaminated areas. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that can enter the human body through inhalation, contact and ingestion.

Unlike certain other toxins, persistent organic pollutants like hexachlorocyclohexane, and heavy metals like mercury, lead, nickel and chromium persist in the environment and do not disappear over time. The potency and levels of these chemicals will remain largely unchanged over extended periods of time. “The site is completely unsafe and you can’t put your foot on the ground,” said Dr. P.M. Bhargava, an eminent scientist and founder director of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology.

On 29 October, 2005, the Madhya Pradesh High Court ordered that “the factory premises should be appropriately guarded by deputing armed guards so that no outside can enter into the factory premises, for in the factory premises toxic materials have been stored and it cannot be regarded as a garden, park or laboratory where children come to play.”

The move by the Government follows closely in the heels of a similar stunt by Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh who claims to have handled the toxic waste stored onsite and emerged unscathed. Mr. Ramesh pointed to his still being alive as proof that the obsolete pesticides and residue stored inside the factory are harmless. On the same day, Mr. Ramesh handled a rock python claiming that rock pythons were harmless.

“The Centre and the State Government hope to use the 25th anniversary as an occasion to bury the disaster along with all the pending liabilities. This is what Dow wants,” said Syed M. Irfan of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangarsh Morcha. “Rather than clean-up the site, they are now engaged in cleaning up their image through deceit and denial.”

Bhopal organisations have said that the contamination can be verified by scientific studies, and that as victims of one toxic disaster, they will do all that is in their capacity to discourage general public from entering the factory premises and harming themselves. “To say that all poisons kill you on contact is to ignore what science tells you about the subtler and longer-term effects of toxins. Do you die after smoking a cigarette?” asked Rashida Bee, a Goldman environmental award winner and leader of the Bhopal Gas Affected Women Stationery Workers Association.

In addition to the contamination and toxic wastes inside the factory, several thousand tons of contaminated soil and wastes are lying inside the solar evaporation ponds outside the factory.

“As victims of toxic contamination, we are interested in ensuring that members of the public do not harm themselves by unquestioningly buying the State Government’s assurance that the site is safe. Before the 1984 disaster, we were repeatedly told by the Government that the factory was safe,” Irfan said.

For more information, contact:
Rachna Dhingra. International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal
44 Sant Kanwar Ram Nagar, Berassia Road, Bhopal 462001
www.studentsforbhopal.org

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