Not adding to Bhopal’s toxic load

Chandrakanta Sisodia leans forward, eager to share her extensive knowledge of alternative cleaning products developed by staff and the three sanitary workers – herself, Jamila and Nandkishor – here at Sambhavna.

‘When I joined in 2005, we started using neem water made from the leaves of the plant for cleaning the floors here. We want to be as environmentally-friendly and chemical-free as possible so we’re always researching, testing and developing alternatives to standard, chemical cleaning products.

We use EM solution for cleaning other areas, an environmentally safe detergent and deodorising agent for washing and cleaning. Its acidity, antioxidant properties and competitiveness against other microbes eliminate mould and harmful bacteria . This is in place of acid and phenyl solution used widely in hospitals and other clinics.

Since 2008, for washing cloths, utensils and handwashing, we have been using a solution made from aritha, a small knobbly-skinned fruit. It works very well and we are spreading the word all the time about how effective alternatives are. It’s really wonderful when people come back and tell us how they now have a chemical-free home.

One time we – our team of three – went to the government hospitals. We spoke to the sanitary workers on duty at the time but none of them showed much interest in what we had to say about chemical-free alternatives to the norm. “We work on contract, cleaning is our duty; we’re given products to use, it doesn’t matter what they are – we just do our jobs.” When we asked some of the patients what they thought, they told us that they feel suffocated by the strong smell of phenyl solution, also that removing waste sometimes doesn’t happen and that the combined smell is hard to bear.

One of our biggest achievements has been developing the neem stick which we burn as an alternative to standard mosquito repellents. These sticks are non-toxic, unlike the coils and creams and really work.

Every Tuesday at 10.30am I hold an education session in the gol ghar for Sambhavna patients and visitors where I teach them how to prepare a neem stick. I also give information on the effects of commonly-used household chemicals. It feels good to be sharing what we’ve researched and developed, word is spreading and that’s what’s important, a toxic-free future.’

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We believe Dow must finally accept responsibility for Bhopal. Until then, The Bhopal Medical Appeal funds two award-winning clinics in the city. Both offer free, first-class care to victims of the gas disaster or the ongoing water contamination. The survivors have nowhere else left to turn – please help if you can.