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33 Years On, Toxic Waste Continues to Poison Bhopal

Over three decades after the world’s worst industrial disaster, Bhopal still battles ground and water contamination

Updated
India
3 min read
33 Years On, Toxic Waste Continues to Poison Bhopal
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Thirty-three years ago, the city of Bhopal was struck by not one, but two disasters. The first was the well-documented and deadly gas leak on the night of 2-3 December 1984. The second was the after-effects of the gas leak, in the form of disease, soil contamination and environmental pollution.

Satinath Sarangi from the Bhopal Group of Information and Action tells The Quint that contamination in the area continues to rise due to the toxic waste from the defunct Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide factory. This, he says, continues to be a serious threat to life.

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Govt Rejects Plea for UN Scientific Assessment

Sarangi says successive governments have failed to take action. Organisations like the Bhopal Group of Information and Action had urged the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP) to conduct an independent assessment of the nature, depth and spread of contamination. But UNEP mandated that it would do so only on the request of the Government of India.

We met Environment Minister, Prakash Javadekar. He made us wait for three months and then said NO. The government refused to seek an independent third party scientific assessment from UNEP on the nature, extent and depth of the contamination.
Satinath Sarangi, Bhopal Group of Information and Action to The Quint

Sources within the government say that there is already a government report on the matter dated October 2012, so there is no need for an independent third party assessment. However, as Sarangi points out, the government’s own peer review agency, the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) has rejected the government report.

Why Bhopal Continues to Suffer

The problem is compounded further because no chemical has yet been developed to neutralise the effects of the deadly methyl isocyanate (MIC) that leaked from the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide factory. The effects of MIC have been passed on from generation to generation.

Meanwhile, the chemical waste that was dumped in the premises of Union Carbide and outside continue to contaminate the soil and water in a radius of three kilometres.

Sarangi claims that approximately 350 tonnes of the deadly chemical waste continues to be stored above the ground in a warehouse and that another 1000 tonnes is buried in the factory premises. He adds that approximately yet another 1000 tonnes is stored in solar evaporation ponds spread over 32 acres in the neighbouring areas. Experts say the residue that is left after the chemicals evaporate has led to further degradation of soil and the water table.

Sarangi adds that it is the responsibility of the Central Pollution Control Board to monitor and provide timely reports. No such reports are available, he says.

Studies by 17 governmental and non-governmental organisations show that the contamination has spread to a 3-km radius. We conducted an independent study recently that showed that the chemical oxygen demand was more than 40 in 12 samples beyond the 3-km radius.
Satinath Sarangi, Bhopal Group of Information and Action

The incompetent and inadequate response of various governments over the years as only added to the woes of the victims. While official figures state that 15,274 people lost their lives, independent bodies and NGOs say the death toll over a period of time stands at over 35,000 people. This is excluding the thousands more who continue to be affected by contaminated soil and water.

(This article was first published on 3 June 2016 and has been reposted from The Quint’s archives to mark 33 years since the Bhopal Gas Tragedy.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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