Timeline: Water Contamination & Government Reaction

1969: Union Carbide sets up pesticide formulation plant in Bhopal. Hazardous waste routinely dumped in factory premises in 21 unlined pits.

1977: Solar Evaporation Ponds built on 32 acres for dumping of hazardous wastes. Ponds flood toxic material annually in monsoon season.

1982: Farmers agitate over death of cattle due to contaminated surface water. Union Carbide settles matter out of court.

March 25, 1982: Telex sent to UCC from UCIL in Bhopal, which stated, “Phase II evaporation pond almost emptied. Reps of KR Datey at site and investigation of the leakage in progress. Unfortunately, emergency pond has also shown some signs of leakage.”

April 10, 1982: Follow-up telex sent to UCC: “Continued leakage from evaporation pond causing great concern.”

1989: Union Carbide Corporation’s scientists report severe contamination of local ground water but the report is suppressed by the Corporation. Report stated: “Samples drawn in June-July ’89 from land-fill areas and effluent treatment pits inside the plant were sent to R and D. The solid samples had organic contamination varying from 10% to 100% and contained known ingredients like naphthol and naphthalene in substantial quantities.” and “Majority of the liquid samples contained naphthol and/or Sevin in quantities far more than permitted by ISI for onland disposal. All samples caused 100% mortality to fish in toxicity assessment studies and were to be diluted several fold to render them suitable for survival of fish.”

April 1990: In the years following the disaster, persistent complaints of foul-smelling and -tasting tube and well water in the communities around the factory prompted survivors’ organisations to initiate investigations into the possible contamination of the area. The Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA) sent sediment from the Solar Evaporation Ponds, soil samples taken from near the ponds and community well water from Jai Prakash Nagar to the Citizen’s Environmental Laboratory, Boston. Dichlorobenzenes, Phthalates, Trichlorobenzenes and 1-Napthalenol were found in the pond samples. Additionally, Dichlorobenzenes and Trichlorobenzenes were found in the soil and water samples and Phthalates were found also in the soil.

1990: Bhopal Group for Information and Action sends samples of ground water and soil to Citizen’s Environmental Laboratory in Boston, USA. This laboratory identified highly toxic materials (dichlorobenzenes and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons) in the soil and water surrounding the plant. Findings are presented before Union Carbide Corporation and clean up demanded.

April 1990: Marco Kaloften of the Citizen’s Environmental Laboratory, Boston raises the issue of contamination of Bhopal’s soil and community wells in the annual shareholders meeting of UCC (USA). He asked for a schedule for the clean up of toxic materials by Union Carbide. Mr. Robert Kennedy, CEO of UCC at the time, requested Mr. Kaloften to pass on the information to Mr. C.C. Smith, Vice President of Health, Safety and Environment.

1991: The Madhya Pradesh Public Health Engineering Department’s State Research Laboratory carry out tests on local groundwater taken from 11 tube wells near the factory. The study reports heavy chemical contamination of the drinking water in the area.

1994: Union Carbide’s advisor Arthur D. Little, USA retained National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) on behalf of Union Carbide India Limited to study contamination inside the factory premises. NEERI reported that over one-fifth of the factory site was contaminated with hazardous waste.

1996: State Research Laboratory of the Public Health Engineering Department once again reported severe chemical contamination in samples taken from 11 tube wells in the area. The municipal corporation declared water from 100 tube wells unfit for drinking though no alternative drinking water source was suggested or provided.

November 26, 1996: M.P. Public Health Engineering Department’s State Research Laboratory again tests water from 11 community tubewells, finding large amounts of chemicals dissolved in the water. The report concludes “it is established that this pollution is due to chemicals used in the Union Carbide factory that have proven to be extremely harmful for health. Therefore the use of this water for drinking must be stopped immediately.”

1999: Greenpeace International conducts a study that finds solid wastes, soils, groundwater samples collected within plant area to be high in mercury, organochlorine compounds and 12 volatile organochlorine compounds (VOCs). Mercury concentrations were found to be 20,000 to six million times higher than expected.

November 1999: Greenpeace tests soil, groundwater and wells in and around the derelict Union Carbide factory and finds 12 volatile organic chemicals and mercury in quantities up to six million times higher than expected. The toxic inventory includes sevin, temik, lindane carbon tetrachloride, dichlorobenzenes and others: www.bhopal.net/oldsite/contamination.html. Read the full report.

2002: Soil samples, groundwater and vegetables from residential areas surrounding UCIL were found contaminated by: mercury, chromium, nickel, lead, organochlorines, hexachloroethane, hexachlorobuta-diene, pesticide HCH and other chemicals by the Fact Finding Mission on Bhopal, New Delhi. These same contaminants were also found in breast milk.

January 2002: A report by Delhi based Srishti & Toxics Links finds lead and mercury in the breast milk of nursing mothers in neighboring communities. www.bhopal.net/oldsite/documentlibrary/survivingbhopal2002.doc 

September 30, 2002: A new study from The People’s Science Institute, Dehra Dun confirms the presence of mercury in Bhopal drinking water, in some places as high as two micrograms per liter, and warns of grave risk to health. People have been drinking the water for 18 years after the gas leak.

October 20, 2002: State of Madhya Pradesh, in which Bhopal is located, announces that it will petition the Indian Supreme Court to compel Dow Chemical to clean up the contaminated soil and ground water at the Union Carbide factory site (http://www.indianexpress.com/archive_full_story.php?content_id=11645), thus beginning Dow’s ‘week of horrors’.  www.bhopal.net/oldsite/weekofhorrors.html 

October 25, 2002: Technical guidelines for the clean-up of Carbide’s abandoned factory site, drawn up by Greenpeace scientists, are presented to Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh and simultaneously handed over at Dow offices in India, Europe and the U.S. The guidelines indicate that clean-up costs could top US $500 million.

November 19, 2002: Activists erect signs to warn people living around an area of land used by Union Carbide to dump its hazardous waste. When the factory was operating, toxic chemicals were disposed in open evaporation ponds. Some people have been digging up soil from the area and using it to build their houses.

November 22, 2002: Secret Union Carbide documents go public. The documents show that Union Carbide tested soil and water in and around its factory in Bhopal after the disaster and found them to be heavily contaminated. It did not make this information public but used another report, which said there was no contamination, to appease the public and the government of India. The confidential documents show they considered the findings of this report to be unreliable.

November 25, 2002: ICJB and local community members attempt to safely contain the hazardous pesticides in Bhopal. Greenpeace activists trained in hazardous material handling arrive from around the world to lend their expertise. Bhopal police arrive and begin shoving and beating survivors including women. Within one hour, seventy people are arrested and later charged with criminal trespass. http://www.greenpeace.org/international_en/news/details?item_id=72482&campaign_id=3991

November 28, 2002: Dow posts an internal memo on its website stating the following: “But what we cannot and will not do – no matter where Greenpeace takes their protests and how much they seek to undermine Dow’s reputation with the general public – is accept responsibility for the Bhopal accident.” A few days later the author Dow CEO M. Parker is dumped.

December 12, 2002: The Central Pollution Control Board orders the removal of toxic chemical waste from the premises of the Union Carbide factory within 15 days.

May 2004: Order of the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India dated May 7, “…The State Government of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat are directed to take steps to supply fresh drinking water in tanks or pipes particularly, taking into consideration, the fact that summer season has already set in. It shall be done expeditiously. Industrial estates of Vapi, Ankleshwar and Vadodara in the state of Gujarat and Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh were inspected by the committee. The two state governments would ensure supply of water in such villages, areas which are effected, list whereof has already been given by learned counsel for the petitioner to learned counsel appearing from two states…”

May 2005: On May 18, 2005 several hundred residents of the 18 communities gathered first outside and then inside the Directorate of Bhopal Gas Tragedy demanding clean drinking water. Several peaceful protestors were beaten up with sticks and 7 persons were charged under Sec. 332 and other sections of the IPC.

January 2006: On January 21, 2006 well over a thousand residents of the communities affected by contaminated ground water sat outside the residence of the Minister of Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief & Rehabilitation demanding clean drinking water. 9 persons were charged under Sec. 148 and other sections of the IPC.

April 2006: 52 Bhopalis including survivors of the disaster, residents of the communities affected by contamination and activists marched for 37 days to cover 850 kilometeres from Bhopal to New Delhi. Supply of clean drinking water to the communities affected by ground water contamination was one of the prominent demands of the Padyatra. On April 17, following a seven day fast by Bhopalis, the Prime Minister met with a delegation of Bhopalis and among other assurances promised to ensure funds for clean water supply. As per the direction of the Prime Minister, a Coordination Committee on Bhopal (CCB) with bureaucrats from the central and state governments and representatives of Bhopali organizations was formed. An amount of Rs. 14. 85 Crores was sanctioned by the Prime Minister for supply of clean water to the communities affected by contamination of ground water. In June the amount was transferred to the state government. One of the principal tasks of the CCB was supervising the work of provision of clean drinking water to the 18 communities in the vicinity of the abandoned factory. Officials of the State government assure supply of water by the deadline of September 2008.

2007: Six activists including three residents of communities affected by groundwater contamination fasted for 19 days demanding that the State government provide clean water to residents of communities affected by groundwater contamination. The official representative of the Chief Minister conceded this and other demands. Deadline for completion of work shifted to November 2008.

2008: 55 Bhopalis marched on a second Padyatra with essentially the same set of demands including the demand of supply of clean drinking water in the 18 communities. On August 8, the Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers conceded the demand for clean drinking water and other.

September 2008: In the meeting of the CCB in September 2008, State government officials assure completion of work of supplying clean drinking water by March 2009.

2009: The report of the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi analysed samples of soil and ground water from in and around the factory along with the Central Pollution Control Board. They reported presence of high concentrations of toxic chemicals and heavy metals at three kilometres distance from the factory and at depths greater than 30 metres.

August 2009: In the meeting of the CCB in August 2009, State government officials move deadline to November 2009.

March 2012: In a meeting presided over by the Commissioner, Bhopal Division, officials of the Bhopal Municipal Corporation assured that the work of supplying clean water to the 18 communities will be completed by March 2012.

May 2012: Hon’ble Supreme Court’s order of May 3, 2012, “…The entire exercise should be completed within three months from the date of communication of this order to the Executive Chairman of the State Legal Services Authority and the Members of the Committee and both the State Government and the Bhopal Municipal Corporation, shall ensure that the work does not suffer or is not obstructed on account of inadequate or insufficient funds…”

June 2012: Field visit and meeting of the Supreme Court Monitoring Committee presided over by Justice K K Lahoti, Chairman, M P State Legal Services Authority.

Timeline Index

  1. Timeline: Events of 1969-1984
  2. Timeline: Events of 1984-1989
  3. Timeline: Indian Court Cases 1990-Present
  4. Timeline: Medical History
  5. Timeline: ICJB History
  6. Timeline: Water Contamination & Government Reaction
  7. Timeline: US Court Cases


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