Tata FAQ #7: What are the environmental health risks in Bhopal related to the abandoned Union Carbide Factory?

The corporation has been well aware of the environmental health effects on and around the Union Carbide plant for almost 20 years. A 1989 Union Carbide internal correspondence document demonstrates that the corporation had conclusive proof with regard to the poisoning of ground water within the factory premises. The report states that during tests to find out what the effect of the contaminated water on living systems was, found that:

All samples cause 100% mortality to fish in toxicity assessment studies and were to be diluted several fold to render them suitable for survival of fish”

Residents ingest this contaminated water on a daily basis due to the fact that they have no other viable option.
A number of toxic chemicals that were created, used, and dumped as waste in Union Carbide’s pesticide formulation process still lurk in the water, soil and living organisms around the factory.
The majority of over 20,000 people living in communities that surround the abandoned Union Carbide plant and solar evaporation ponds rely on groundwater for all of their domestic water uses, including drinking. A 2001-2003 survey in Annu Nagar (pop. 1528) found that 91% of the households interviewed use contaminated hand pumps to supply drinking water. Mercury, heavy metals, and VOC’s appeared at dangerously high levels in the water samples the study analyzed. This study conclusively shows that these communities continue to be poisoned by the chemicals that have been left behind at the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal.
In 2000 a series of health camps were organized by the Sambhavna Trust Clinic in Atal-Ayub Nagar. Tests of Haemoglobin content in the blood of persons affected by water contamination conducted at this time revealed a high prevalence of anemia, far exceeding national averages.
Abdominal pain, skin lesions, dizziness, constipation, indigestion, burning sensations in chest and stomach, skin discoloration, suppression of lactation, underweight births, birth defects, child growth retardation and contaminated breast milk are just some of the chronic health problems linked to the ingestion of contaminated water in the neighbourhoods surrounding the old Union Carbide Factory in Bhopal.
Survivors’ organizations have been calling for an official assessment of the damage to environment and human health wrought by Union Carbide so that Union Carbide and Dow Chemical can be asked to pay the costs of medical and environmental rehabilitation and supply of safe drinking water to the affected communities.
The Centre for Rehabilitation Studies published a “Consolidated Report on Medical Research (1995 – 2005)” on the Bhopal Gas Disaster in 2006. The report designated a specific section to deal with a, “Morbidity survey related to water contaminations”. The survey was conducted in known water affected areas such as; Arif Nagar, Atal Ayub Nagar, Annu Nagar and other identified localities in the surrounding areas of the solar evaporation pond. The report concluded that, “It is definite that the water and soil contamination has caused (an) increase in morbidity pattern among the population staying near UCIL factory and surrounding area of Solar Evaporation Pond.” The study found higher instances of Respiratory disorders, Gastro intestinal disorders and skin diseases in the affected population than in the control population.
Little Research on Health Effects
The National Institute of Occupational Health conducted a study on body burden (presence of chemicals in the bloodstream) in 2004; the results however, have not yet been published. In 2004, an epidemiological survey conducted by the Madhya Pradesh Government’s Center for Rehabilitation Studies found that residents of communities affected by groundwater contamination have a higher prevalence of skin diseases and respiratory and gastrointestinal health concerns.
The Poison is Spreading
In 1984, wind carried the toxic MIC gas south. Today the geological slant of the water table carries toxins in the groundwater to communities north of the plant. Contaminants, such as heavy metals and VOCs, are found in greater concentration closer to the plant; however, underground toxic plumes can travel between 200 and 700 meters per year. Movement through the water table has carried contaminants as far north as Shiv Nagar, which is 3 km away from the factory. As long as the site is not properly cleaned up, the contamination will continue to spread and continue to create new affected populations.
From Water to Food and Breast Milk
A study carried out by the Fact Finding Mission on Bhopal of 1999-2004 found bioaccumulation of toxins in vegetables and breast milk. Lead, Mercury, Nickel, BOCs, HCH (CH) pesticide, and halo-organic compounds were found in soil, water, vegetables. Breast milk of mothers in these communities also carry high concentrations of toxic chemicals and heavy metals. Based on the projections of the Sambhavna Trust Clinic survey of Annu Nagar mentioned earlier, at least half of all children under 2 are potentially nursing on contaminated breast milk
The Next Generation
Many of the chemicals found in the ground water are known to cause developmental problems. Too many children in the affected communities are born with congenital abnormalities and growth retardation.

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