Fresh Concerns over Bhopal Toxic Waste Disposal


Abandoned Factory Bhopal
The Abandoned Union Carbide Factory in Bhopal © JL / BMA

Urgent warnings have been issued by experts in India following revelations that authorities plan to incinerate toxic waste from Bhopal in Mumbai

Activists, doctors and environmental experts have suggested that the plans, proposed by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), could well lead to a “second disaster.”

Electronic newspaper Mid Day quotes Satinath Sarangi, managing trustee of the Sambhavna Trust Clinic in Bhopal and member of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA)’s alarming warning; “the toxic waste lying in Bhopal contains toxic materials such as dioxine, furins, halogenated nitrates, organic chlorinated chains and we are not sure what additional toxic compounds have developed in the past few years. Any exposure to these materials can lead to cancer and genetic disorders. Therefore, transferring the waste without a proper disposal facility and without necessary arrangements could cause another disaster.”

The Union Carbide factory has remained heavily contaminated with poisons for the past 27 years but around 346 tonnes of previously recovered waste remains at different sites awaiting destruction.

The Union Carbide site remains heavily contaminated © JL / BMA

Previous attempts from the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to transfer the toxic waste to other waste disposal facilities in Madhya Pradesh, as well as others in neighbouring states, have been prevented by concerned environmental authorities and local residents who resisted the plans.

Experts aren’t certain that the proposed incinerator in Mumbai is able to deal with the toxic waste and other critics have warned that incinerating the waste is dangerous and irresponsible. A decision is still to be made. The group of ministers (GoM) have so far refused to express their view on the matter.

Further concerns of how the waste itself will be transported have come to light. Critics have proposed several alternative solutions including the possibility of international overseas disposal, where the waste may be better dealt with.
Sarangi suggests that the “CPCB should ask DOW Chemical to bear the expenses, as its subsidiary was responsible for the disaster in Bhopal.”

Environmental Negligence

In other news, it has emerged that levels of toxicity in groundwater and soil in Bhopal were deliberately withheld during the 1989 settlement with the Indian Government. During the settlement, samples collected by Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) were found to contain high levels of toxicity which was not disclosed.

Documentation reveals that UCC were aware of the large-scale environmental contamination of the area both prior to, and after the disaster. Critics argue that UCC deliberately withheld such information to prevent further liability and to minimize damage to their corporate image. Toxicity and contamination remain an ongoing problem in Bhopal to this day and UCC, now a Dow subsidiary, are still wanted on criminal charges.

Dow Chemical, who are opposing any responsibility for environmental remediation, see the 1989 settlement as ‘full and final,’ despite outstanding liabilities being present with the takeover of UCC in 2001. Survivors and activists in Bhopal heavily contest both the settlement which failed to recognise any environmental impacts made by UCC, as well as Dow’s dismissal of responsibility.

Girl with candle Bhopal

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