New Research Shows Union Carbide Site Remains A Serious Threat

The Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has released findings from a recent study which show the ground around the abandoned Union Carbide factory in Bhopal to still contain dangerous levels of toxic waste.

CSE, a leading think-tank and research and advocacy body from New Delhi also released a comprehensive action plan for the removal of the contamination from the site.

During the years 1969-1984 Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) were indiscriminately dumping toxic industrial waste from the carbamate pesticides and organo-chlorine formulations which were being produced at the plant. The dumping took place at locations both within the factory grounds and as well as in solar evaporation ponds outside of the site. The waste has remained discarded at the site since, nearly three decades on, leaking into the water supplies of the city’s poorest residents.

Bhopal, Bhopal gas disaster, Union carbide Dow site dangerous contaminated toxic waste says CSE
The rusting remains of the factory remains a toxic threat to the surrounding residents. Photograph by Samuel Benoit

The waste left by UCIL at the 85 acre site has led to widespread soil and groundwater contamination, leaving local water supplies polluted by heavy metals including mercury as well as chloroform. The hazardous waste at the site has been estimated at 20,000 tonnes, the 350 tonnes stored in warehouses on site only a fraction of the total amount surrounding the factory grounds.

The contamination’s toxicity remains a serious threat to local populations with health concerns due to the contamination now widely recognized. Second and third generations of children in the area continue to be born with severe birth defects and disabilities, preliminary epidemiological studies have shown.

The rusting hulk of the factory, visible from miles around, remains in the centre of the old quarters of the city. Children climb through gaping holes in the factory walls, seizing the opportunity for a game of cricket in the spacious grounds, oblivious to the ongoing dangers.

The solar evaporation ponds which continue to seep into ground, were developed on leased private land which has since been given back to locals – which has led to many people having constructed slum-like housing in the area. Each year the monsoons wash the chemicals further into the earth.

Bhopal gas disaster second disaster photographer David Graham
A boy stands by a hole in her wall surrounding the derelict Union Carbide factory in Bhopal. Photograph by David Graham

Research by the CSE involved the assessment of samples collected over a 20 year period which confirm the contamination in the area. Experts from CSE propose a plan for remediation of the site lasting five years which has been split into immediate and medium/ long-term measures. Chandra Bhushan, Deputy Director of CSE stated that “over the years, the waste has been a continuous source of soil and water contamination and therefore, a cause of serious public-health concern.” Immediate proposals include the sealing of the site to prevent further human contact with the remaining harmful chemicals.

The research by the CSE has been supported by activists from the Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA). Survivors and activists in Bhopal together with international solidarity groups are campaigning for the Dow Chemical Company who took over Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) in 2001, to take responsibility for the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe in Bhopal and pay for remediation of the site.

With criminal charges of culpable homicide by UCC chairman Warren Anderson dating back to 1987, major legal and environmental developments have continued to surround the case. Even though the ongoing struggle by survivors was recently hindered when a legal battle to hold UCC responsible for the contamination and subsequent health problems suffered by survivors was dismissed by the US Court of Appeal in June 2013, the following month of July saw Dow Chemical become directly involved in the criminal case with summons issued for the company to attend court over it’s outstanding liabilities in Bhopal.

Girl with candle Bhopal

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