Tag Archives: 25th Anniversary

Dec 1: New Report Shows High Levels of Toxic Chemicals Still Found in Bhopal Drinking Water

New Report Released Today Shows High Levels of Toxic Chemicals Still Found in Bhopal Drinking Water

25th Anniversary of Bhopal Chemical Disaster Prompts Over 150 Actions Around the World

Amnesty International, Yes Men and Students Groups Globally Call on Dow Chemical and Indian Government to Clean Up Toxic Groundwater  As Thousands Still Face Birth Defects, Cancer and Other Illnesses

Download executive summary [PDF]
Download Full Report [PDF]

CONTACT: Shayna Samuels, 718-541-4785 or Glenn Turner, 917-817-3396

    (London, UK, December 1, 2009) – A new report was released today by the Bhopal Medical Appeal (BMA) and the Sambhavna Trust Clinic, proving that there are still high levels of toxic chemicals in the drinking water supply in 15 communities near the former Union Carbide pesticide factory. This release comes just two days before the 25th Anniversary of the Bhopal chemical disaster, when twenty-seven tons of lethal gases leaked from the factory, immediately killing 8,000 people and poisoning thousands of others.  The area was never cleaned up, and over 150,000 people, including children of survivors, are suffering tremendously as a result.

    The full report: “Analysis of Chemical Contaminants in Groundwater of Communities Surrounding UCIL Plant Site in Bhopal” can be found at www.bhopal.org and www.studentsforbhopal.org. This analysis, which includes testing results from as recently as June 2009, demonstrates that the water in and around Bhopal still contains unsafe levels of carbon tetrachloride and other persistent organic pollutants, solvents, nickel and other heavy metals. Not surprisingly, the populations in the areas surveyed have high rates of birth defects, rapidly rising cancer rates, neurological damage, chaotic menstrual cycles and mental illness.

The report was sponsored by the Bhopal Medical Appeal, a UK-based nonprofit; and the Sambhavna Trust Clinic in Bhopal, the only site that offers free treatment to those suffering from both the 1984 chemical gas disaster and the present day water poisoning.

“This new report is further proof that the area in Bhopal has not been cleaned up 25 years later, despite Dow Chemical’s claims to the contrary” said Shana Ortman, US Coordinator for the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.  “Dow prides itself on a commitment to the ‘Human Element’ yet they are ignoring the people who are suffering the most due to the company’s own in-action.”

To commemorate the 25th Anniversary, thousands of supporters around the world will be participating in an International Day of Action on Thursday, December 3 to pressure Dow Chemical (the current owner of Union Carbide) to clean up the water in Bhopal and face criminal charges in India. The Day of Action will include mass rallies, symbolic “die-ins”, candle-lit vigils, concerts, protests and more.  Over 150 actions are being planned around the globe, from Bhopal to London, and San Francisco to Tel Aviv.

Highlights of the International Day of Action include:

  • The Yes Men will be leading an action in NYC with hundreds of students. The students will spell out “DOW” while others will hold signs saying “Clean up Bhopal”.
  • Steven Volan, a member of the Bloomington, IN City Council, will propose a Resolution that is poised to become the strongest U.S. city resolution about Bhopal ever passed.
  • At exactly 12:05pm on December 3, 25 people will “Die-In” in Union Square in San Francisco, holding visuals from Bhopal. The 25 people will each represent 1,000 people who died in Bhopal on December 3, 1984 and in the subsequent years.
  • Amnesty International and Students for Bhopal in Toronto will hold a peaceful rally and vigil with speakers outside the Indian Consulate.
  • Boston 4 Bhopal will host a “Fast for Bhopal” rally in Copley Square at 12:00pm on December 3. Participants will fast, sign petitions, exhibit photos and stage a “die-in”.
  • In Berlin there will be a 9 hour vigil at the Brandenburg Gate and the Indian Embassy with information, performances, and petitioning.
  • There will be a gathering led by the Bhopal Medical Appeal at Trafalgar Square in London at 3pm on December 2, which equates, in Indian time, the point at which the disastrous chain of events began.
  • Amnesty International will lead two online actions on December 2 – sending emails to the Dow Chemical Corporation and to the Prime Minister of India.
  • On December 3, thousands of supporters will be asked to call members of the Dow Board of Directors, calling on them to face their responsibilities in Bhopal.
  • Over 100 actions will take place across India, including a massive rally from Bhopal’s Bharat Talkies to the Union Carbide factory.

All of these groups, including the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, are demanding that:

  • The Indian government clean up Bhopal now to prevent further spread of the toxins, and use the courts to get reimbursed by Dow.
  • Dow’s subsidiary, Union Carbide, show up in court to face trial in the ongoing criminal proceedings against them in India.
  • The Indian Government establish the “empowered commission” that they promised in August 2008 to address the health, environmental, social, and economic issues in Bhopal.
  • The Indian Government finish building pipelines to bring clean water to the people in and around Bhopal immediately.

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“Bhopal: 25 Years of poison” – The Guardian

Original url: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2009/dec/04/bhopal-25-years-indra-sinha

Bhopal: 25 years of poison

Indra Sinha, who was Booker-nominated for his book on the Bhopal disaster, explains why the gas leak that killed 20,000 people 25 years ago – and continues to create health problems for countless more – is still a national scandal
The Guardian
Bhopal: Tasleen and Zubin

Tasleen, 26, who was poisoned by the Bhopal gas leak, cares for her disabled daughter. All photographs by Alex Masi, all rights reserved

Under the volcano

“Wake up people of Bhopal, you are on the edge of a volcano!” In September 1982, Bhopali journalist Raj Keswani wrote a terrifying story, the first of a series of articles, for the city’s Jansatta daily.Bhopal was about to be annihilated. “It will take just an hour, at most an hour-and-a-half, for every one of us to die.” Keswani’s information came from worried staff at the Union Carbide factory, where a worker, Ashraf Khan, had just been killed in a phosgene spill. The first world war gas was used in the production of MIC (methyl-isocyanate), a substance 500 times deadlier than hydrogen cyanide, and so volatile that unless kept in spotless conditions, refrigerated to 0C, it can even react explosively with itself. Cooling it slows reactions, buys time, but MIC is so dangerous that chemical engineers recommend not storing it at all unless absolutely necessary and then only in the tiniest quantities. In Bhopal it was kept in a huge tank, the size of a steam locomotive. Far from the shining cathedral of science depicted in Union Carbide adverts, the Bhopal factory more closely resembled a farmyard. Built in the 70s to make pesticides for India‘s “green revolution”, a series of bad monsoons and crop failures had left it haemorrhaging money. Union Carbide bosses hoped to dismantle and ship the plant to Indonesia or Brazil, but finding no buyers, went instead on a cost-cutting spree. Between 1980 and 1984 the workforce was halved. The crew of the MIC unit was cut from 12 to six, its maintenance staff from six to two. In the control room a single operator had to monitor 70-odd panels, indicators and controls, all old and faulty. Safety training was reduced from six months to two weeks – reduced in effect to slogans – but as the slogans were in English, the workers couldn’t understand them. By the time Keswani began his articles, the huge, highly dangerous plant was being operated by men who had next to no training, who spoke no English, but were expected to use English manuals. Morale was low but safety fears were ignored by management. Minor accidents happened routinely but were covered up. There were so many small leaks that the alarm siren was turned off to avoid inconveniencing the neighbours. A Union Carbide memo boasted of having saved $1.25m, but said that “future savings would not be so easy”. There was nothing left to cut. Then bosses remembered the huge tank of MIC. They turned off its refrigeration to save freon gas worth $37 a day. A 1982 safety audit by US engineers had noted the filthy, neglected condition of the plant, identified 61 hazards, 30 critical, of which 11 were in the dangerous MIC/phosgene units. The audit warned of the danger of a major toxic release. Safety was duly improved at Union Carbide’s other MIC plant in West Virginia. In Bhopal, where six serious accidents had occurred – one fatal, and three involving gas leaks – nothing was done. If safety was ignored inside the plant, Union Carbide had no plan at all for the surrounding densely packed neighbourhoods. As the situation worsened, factory staff, fearing for their own lives and those living nearby, put up posters warning of a terrible danger. Keswani wrote begging the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh to investigate the factory before Bhopal “turns into Hitler’s gas chamber”. His sensational style, perhaps, caused him to be ignored. His final article, “We are all about to be annihilated”, appeared just weeks before the gas disaster. As night fell on 2 December 1984, none of the factory’s safety systems was working. The vent gas scrubber lay in pieces. The flare tower was undersized. The siren stayed silent. Years later – too late for the thousands who would now die in unimaginably hideous ways – a prosecuting attorney would say that Union Carbide had demonstrated a “depraved indifference to human life”.

‘That night’

Safety slogans at the Union Carbide factory BhopalSafety slogans at the Union Carbide factory were in English – not a language all the workers spoke3 December 1984, just after midnight. Death came out of a clear sky. From Union Carbide’s factory, a thin plume of white vapour began streaming from a high structure. Caught by the wind, it became a haze and blew downwards to mingle with smoke coming from somewhere nearer the ground. A dense fog formed. Nudged by the wind, it rolled across the road and into the alleys on the other side. Here houses were packed close, shoddily built, with ill-fitting doors and windows. Those within woke coughing, their eyes and mouths on fire. Across the city countless women were saying, “Hush darling, it’s only someone burning chillies. Go back to sleep.” Survivors’ leader Champa Devi Shukla says, “We woke with eyes crying, noses watering. The pain was unbearable. We were writhing, coughing and slobbering froth. People just got up and ran in whatever clothes they were wearing. Some were in their underclothes, others wore nothing at all. It was complete panic. Among the crowd of people, dogs, and even cows were running and trying to save their lives and crushing people as they ran. All climbed and scrambled over each other to save their lives.” In the stampedes through narrow alleys many were trampled to death. Some went into convulsions and dropped dead. Most, struggling to breathe as the gas ripped their lungs apart, drowned in their own body fluids. Aziza Sultan had two young children and was pregnant with her third. When the panic began, her entire family ran out of their house. They were in night clothes and it was bitterly cold, but nothing mattered except to run. Outside in the lane, it appeared that a large number of people had passed that way. Shoes, slippers and shawls were strewn about. A thick gas cloud enveloped everything, reducing the streetlights to brown pinpoints. “In the panic,” Aziza recalls, “lots and lots of people were running, screaming for help, vomiting, falling down unconscious. Children were wrenched from their parents’ grasp. Their cries were heartbreaking. I was terrified of losing my children. I was carrying my baby son Mohsin. My daughter Ruby was holding on to my kurta, she did not once let go. We had gone about 500 metres when my father-in law spotted a truck and told us to climb aboard. We couldn’t, but he was tall and strong so he got in. In the confusion, instead of lifting up his grandson, he grabbed another little boy who was running around on his own. My mother-in-law was vomiting. She was a heart patient and Hamidia hospital was still two kilometres away, much of it uphill. Soon Mohsin was being sick on me. Ruby was also vomiting. We all fell on the ground. I had a miscarriage right there in the middle of the street, my body was covered with blood.” At least 8,000 people died on “that night”. Half a million were injured. In the years since, as more people died of their injuries and illnesses caused by inhaling the gas, the death toll has risen above 20,000. The long-predicted gas leak at Union Carbide was, and remains, the worst industrial disaster in history.

The aftermath

Thirteen-year-old Salman who lives near the Union Carbide factory in BhopalThirteen-year-old Salman, who lives near the Union Carbide factory, is blind, and has other serious health problemsLight came to city streets full of corpses sprawled in the agonised poses in which death had found them. They lay in heaps, limbs twisted, faces contorted. In some places the dead were so many that it was impossible to walk without stepping on them. These were scenes from an apocalypse. The sun came up on choking, blinded people making their way to the hospitals. Some, desperate to relieve the agony in their eyes, were washing them in sewage water from the open drains. The hospitals were full of the dying and doctors did not know how to treat them because they did not know which gas or gases had leaked, and Union Carbide would not release the information, claiming it was a “trade secret”. A quarter of a century later, Union Carbide and its owner, the Dow Chemical Company, which acquired it in 2001, still refuse to publish the results of studies into the effects of MIC. With or without these studies, 25 years of suffering prove that mass exposure to MIC destroys bodies, minds, families and a whole society. Abdul Mansuri speaks for thousands. “My breathing problems started after the gas and got worse and worse. I can truthfully say that I have never had a day’s health, or a day without pain, since ‘that night’.” For some the pain, physical, mental, emotional, has been too much. Kailash Pawar was a young man. “My body is the support of my life,” he said. “When my breathing is normal I feel like living. But when it becomes heavy, thinking stops and absolute pain takes over. I have become worthless.” He was still in his 20s when he doused himself in kerosene and struck a match. Today in Bhopal, more than 100,000 people remain chronically ill. The compensation paid by Union Carbide, meant to last the rest of their lives, averaged some £300 a head: taken over 25 years that works out at around 7p a day, enough perhaps for a cup of tea. Over the years the survivors have received little medical help. Being mostly very poor, they were often treated rudely. Government doctors would refuse to touch them. They were theoretically entitled to free treatment but were prescribed expensive drugs they did not need and which in some cases actually harmed them. In 1994 the Indian government, eager to put the gas leak behind it, shut down all research studies into the effects of the gas, just as new epidemics of cancers, diabetes, eye defects and crippling menstrual disorders were beginning to appear. Abandoned by all who had a duty of care, the survivors decided to open their own clinic. In 1994, an advertisement appeared in the Guardian, launching the Bhopal Medical Appeal. The generous response of this newspaper’s readers and others enabled the survivors to buy a building, hire medical staff and begin training. In 1996 the Sambhavna Clinic opened its doors, offering survivors a combination of modern medicine, ayurvedic herbal treatments, yoga and massage. Consultations, treatments, therapies, medicines and post-treatment monitoring are all absolutely free.

The water poisoning

A young girl in the monsoon rains of BhopalWhen the monsoon rain falls in Bhopal, it seeps through buried waste before filling up and polluting the underground resevoirsAfter the night of horror, the factory was locked up. Thousands of tonnes of pesticides and waste remained inside. Union Carbide never bothered to clean it. The chemicals were abandoned in warehouses open to wind and rain. Twenty-four monsoons have rusted and rotted the death factory. The rains wash the poisons deep into the soil. They enter the groundwater and seep into wells and bore pipes. They gush from taps and enter people’s bodies. They burn stomachs, corrode skin, damage organs and flow into wombs where they go to work on the unborn. If babies make it into the world alive, the poisons are waiting in their mothers’ milk. Atal Ayub Nagar is a slim strip of housing sandwiched between Union Carbide’s factory wall and the railway line. It used to have no handpumps and fetching water meant a trek to a well in Shakti Nagar, half a mile to the south. People clubbed together to install two handpumps. At first the water seemed OK, but then oily globules began appearing. The water acquired a chemical smell, which grew gradually worse. A private Union Carbide memo, obtained via a US court case, reveals that as far back as 1989 the company had tested soil and water inside the factory. Fish introduced to the samples died instantly. The danger to drinking water supplies was obvious, but Carbide issued no warnings. Its bosses in India and the US watched silently as families already ruined by their gases drank, and bathed their kids in poisoned water. In Atal Ayub Nagar, many damaged babies were being born. The situation did not improve after the state government took possession of the site in 1998. The following year, when Greenpeace was testing soil and water around the factory, it visited this place and found carbon tetrachloride in one of the handpumps at levels 682 times higher than US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) limits. People drank this water, washed their clothes and bathed in it. In August 2009, a sample of water from the same handpump was analysed by a Greenpeace laboratory in the UK. Carbon tetrachloride was found at 4,880 times the EPA limit. In the last decade, the water has become seven times more poisonous. Rehana is a nine-year-old from Atal Ayub Nagar. She was born without a left thumb, her growth is retarded, her mind is weak and she hasn’t the strength to go to school. Rehana’s vision is not good, she’s plagued by rashes and is constantly breathless. Her father sadly asks, “Why was fate so cruel to our poor child?”

Why was fate so cruel?

A boy sits on the wall of the former Union Carbide industrial complexThe factory was abandoned by Union Carbide, who did not clean it out after the accidentLong before “that night” there had been troubling rumours, mysterious deaths of cattle grazing near the factory. Babulal Gaur, a Bhopal lawyer, mediated a settlement between Union Carbide and the aggrieved farmers. In 2004, Gaur became a minister in the local BJP government and to him fell the duty of caring for the city’s gas survivors. He told the Christian Science Monitor that the Union Carbide factory had contaminated the groundwater, and complained that the previous Congress government had tried to hush the matter up. In May 2004, India’s Supreme Court ordered the state to supply clean water to the poisoned communities. Gaur’s government ignored this order. A year passed and a group of women and children went to the government offices to ask why nothing had been done. They were savagely beaten, punched and kicked by police. Weeks later Gaur, by now promoted to chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, announced an ambitious £120m plan to beautify the city with ornamental fountains and badminton courts. To mark the 25th anniversary of the gas leak, Gaur, demoted to Bhopal gas tragedy relief and rehabilitation minister, announced that he would open the derelict factory site to the public. There was no water contamination, he said, echoing Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh, who, with curious naivety, told journalists that he had handled some waste and not become ill. A cynic remarked that this was like touching a cigarette and saying, “Look, I haven’t got lung cancer.” Denying that contamination exists clearly serves the company’s interests. No doubt it is mere coincidence that the Dow Chemical Company, has made at least one donation to Gaur’s party, the BJP. This sordid little tale is itself an echo of the bigger machinations at the centre, where Dow has been trying to twist the arm of Manmohan Singh’s Congress government into letting it off the Bhopal hook in return for a billion-dollar investment in India. When people ask, “Why is the disaster continuing? Why has the factory not been cleaned? Why have Union Carbide and Dow not faced justice?”, the answer is this: Union Carbide’s victims are still dying in Bhopal because India itself is dying under the corrupt and self-serving rule of rotten leaders. Indra Sinha is the author of Animal’s People, a novel based on the Bhopal disaster. For more on the Bhopal Medical Appeal: bhopal.org

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Lapierre calls for Empowered Commission on Bhopal tragedy

Bhopal: Internationally acclaimed writer Dominique Lapierre, who co-authored the book “Five Past Midnight in Bhopal” about the deadly gas tragedy, Tuesday expressed hope that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will soon set up the Empowered Commission to look into the matter.

Addressing a press conference on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal gas Tragedy, Lapierre said: “I hope that Manmohan Singh would facilitate setting up the commission and the state chief minister will stop his opposition to this commission and will provide all help to ushering in a sustained and positive change for the people who have been suffering for the last 25 years.”

Lapierre, who was awarded the Padma Bhushan last year, stated that he was pleased to know that the proposal for the Empowered Commission has been approved by several ministries of the union government. “I think that as an autonomous and publicly accountable body with adequate funds and authority, the commission on Bhopal will do the very urgent work of rebuilding the lives of the poisoned people of Bhopal.”

He said he was sure that the international community will support such a commission with funds and expertise and himself volunteered to raise international assistance for the work of the commission. Lapierre also spoke on his long association with the Sambhavna Trust of which he is a regular supporter. The trust runs a clinic to provide medical treatment to the victims of the gas tragedy.

He said that while Sambhavna takes care of a fraction of the affected population, he was sure that many of the therapies and techniques developed at Sambhavna could be used to provide effective medical care to the entire affected population.

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NYTimes: Poisoned Water Haunts Bhopal 25 Years After Deadly Accident — Report

NY Times: Poisoned Water Haunts Bhopal 25 Years After Deadly Accident — Report

Twenty-five years after a toxic gas cloud from a pesticide factory killed thousands of people in Bhopal, India, groundwater at the accident site — a drinking water supply for 15 communities — remains contaminated, according to a report released today by an advocacy group and a medical clinic.

The U.K.-based Bhopal Medical Appeal and the Sambhavna Clinic say water contamination is worsening as chemicals leach through soil into the aquifer.

“A huge proportion of the factory site is full of very toxic waste,” said Colin Toogood, the report’s author. “There are parts of the factory where the soil you walk on is 100 percent toxic waste, and there are areas where you still see pools of mercury on the ground.”

At issue is one of the most famous industrial accidents of all time.

On the evening of Dec. 2, 1984, methyl isocyanate gas escaped from the former Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal, killing at least 3,000 people immediately. Thousands more are said to have since died or been injured as a result of the toxic cloud, although the exact death toll remains unclear.

The government of the Madhya Pradesh state took responsibility for the site in 1998, and Union Carbide is now a subsidiary of Midland, Mich.-based Dow Chemical Co.

Indian officials say the contamination around the factory is largely contained and is not a public health threat. The Indian government announced last week that it would open the site to the public to help people come to terms with the disaster.

And Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan told the BBC today that communities are being supplied with clean drinking water. “There is nothing hazardous to human life. … People should not be worried,” Chouhan said. “We have secured the site.”

But the new report claims site contamination has had lasting consequences on people exposed to it. “Not surprisingly,” the report says, “the populations in the areas surveyed have high rates of birth defects, rapidly rising cancer rates, neurological damage, chaotic menstrual cycles and mental illness.”

Researchers collected groundwater samples from 20 locations and sent them to a lab in Delhi, India. The lab did not report finding chemicals in its samples, so researchers sent duplicate samples to a lab in Switzerland, which reported high levels of chlorinated compounds in two of its three samples.

“It would be nice to think the contamination had cleared up, but it does make you wonder,” Toogood said. “The Swiss results just confirmed what we were expecting to find. There’s absolutely no doubt their [the Indian lab’s] samples were flawed, but we’re not able to speculate why that is.”

Swiss lab results show chloroform concentrations as many as 3.5 times higher than drinking-water guidelines from the World Health Organization and U.S. EPA, and carbon tetrachloride at up to 2,400 times higher than the guidelines.

Because of the highly contaminated samples and the discrepancies between labs, Toogood is pushing for an independent analysis of water quality around the site, including a large-scale groundwater sampling project and a long-term monitoring program.

“We would like to see a complete cleanup in Bhopal, but you can’t have that unless you have a full environmental assessment, and that would have to be done by an independent body,” Toogood said. “There’s too much going on with politics for it to be done by the Indian government. Our tests show that — there are clear discrepancies there.”

Advocates like Toogood insist that Dow Chemical, which bought Union Carbide in 2001, is responsible for the cleanup even though the site is now the property of the Indian government.

“Dow bought Union Carbide and inherited all of the assets and liabilities,” Toogood said. “One of the liabilities is the Bhopal cleanup. … Dow would like to pass the buck elsewhere, but as far as we’re concerned, they’re responsible. The Indian government took responsibility of the site, and they may own land, but they’re not the polluter.”

Union Carbide spokesman Tomm Sprick said in an e-mail that the company never owned or operated the plant because Union Carbide India Ltd. managed and operated the site, and that Union Carbide sold its stake in that company — which continues to operate today under another name — in 1994. Furthermore, he said Union Carbide provided financial and medical aid to the victims of the accident.

Finally, Sprick said the state government is responsible for cleanup activities and should deal with the groundwater contamination.

Copyright 2009 E&E Publishing. All Rights Reserved.

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25th Anniversary Resource Kit >> Background >> Introduction

25th Anniversary Kit >> Background [doc][pdf] >> Introduction


The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB) is a coalition of people’s organizations, non-profit groups, and individuals who have joined forces to campaign for justice for the survivors of the Union Carbide Disaster in Bhopal.  ICJB is led by three survivor organizations and includes thousands of supporters worldwide. Continue reading 25th Anniversary Resource Kit >> Background >> Introduction

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