Indian authorities plan to burn toxic Bhopal waste in Mumbai

Burning toxic Bhopal waste in Mumbai – what could possibly go wrong?

Indian media are reporting that highly toxic waste from Bhopal is ‘headed for Mumbai’ today and allege that as a result of a ‘secretive, high-handed decision’ the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) has authorized the burning of hazardous toxic waste from Union Carbide at facilities in Mumbai, India’s largest city.

The Union Carbide facility in Bhopal is still heavily contaminated with tonnes of toxic chemicals and heavy metals but some 346 tonnes are currently stored elsewhere and awaiting destruction. States including Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat have previously disallowed authorities from incinerating the waste in their facilities on grounds of risk to public health and the environment.

Latest developments, from CPCB sources and reported by India Today, state that the CPCB has decided to send an initial 10 metric tonnes of toxic waste to the Mumbai Waste Management Company for incineration at facilities in Taloja, a Mumbai suburb.

The area’s residents are opposed to this move and critics have warned that burning such material, which is highly carcinogenic and poisonous would likely cause long-term health issues similar to those suffered in Bhopal today.

Authorities want to burn tonnes of the toxic waste from Bhopal, which critics say is highly irresponsible © JL / BMA

The magazine India Today quotes one particular expert: “The waste from Bhopal includes the hazardous halogen nitrate compound and chlorinated organic chain. Burning it could result in poisonous dioxin fumes that can result in cancer and deformities in future generations, besides respiratory and nervous system disorders.”

State governments in India have been routinely criticised for previous covert attempts to incinerate toxic waste from Bhopal in an unsafe manner. In 2008, the Indore environment minister Jairam Ramesh apologized to his people after it was revealed that 40 tonnes of toxic waste was secretly smuggled from the Union Carbide factory to an incinerator in Pithampur.

As the courts and state governments, as well as Union Carbide and Dow Chemical, continue to bicker about who is liable and what is to be done with the hundreds of tonnes of toxic waste, much of Bhopal still remains contaminated with no effective clean-up in site.

Currently, some 346 metric tonnes of toxic waste from Bhopal have been stockpiled by the Indian authorities yet the Union Carbide site is still heavily polluted (see picture) © JL / BMA

Today, The Bhopal Medical Appeal said this: “This haste to get rid of the toxic waste is leading to some very hasty – and quite possibly ill-informed – decisions; it risks putting yet more lives at risk from Union Carbide’s toxic chemicals.”

The BMA went on to state that although the government was attempting to dispose of stockpiled waste, they still haven’t cleaned up the water and soil around the Union carbide complex.

“The authorities seem desperate to get rid of this toxic waste that’s stored above ground but, in fact, the real mess in Bhopal is all within the ground. It seems they’re doing this because these barrels of chemicals are such a highly visible manifestation of the ongoing toxic disaster in Bhopal. But it’s not the 300 odd tonnes of toxic material sat in warehouses that is poisoning the local population; it’s the dumped waste that has contaminated the area and, most damagingly, the drinking water for many thousands of people.”

Environmental activists and Mumbai residents have pledged to oppose any attempt to dispose on Bhopal’s waste in a negligent manner, but critics warn that Indian authorities will simply bypass legislation and regulation to dispose of the waste secretively.

Girl with candle Bhopal

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