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No Indian facility equipped for toxic waste disposal

bhopal Updated: Sep 24, 2012 12:05 IST
Manoj Ahuja

With the German company refusing to dispose of 346 tonnes of toxic Union Carbide waste, the options before the state and central governments are quite limited. In fact, experts have categorically stated that currently no facility in India is suitable for disposal of the toxic waste lying at the defunct plant in Bhopal.

In a letter to MP High Court in 2010, CEO of Thermax Ltd, the only company that supplies incinerators in India, had said that there were no incinerators in the country with adequate sophistication and safety systems to handle the Carbide waste. Thermax's conclusion had come on the basis of a sample provided to it by non-governmental organisation (NGO) Anveshan. The letter said that if such a material was incinerated, it could create carcinogenic toxins. However, the company also added that it was not possible to predict anything about the entire material on the basis of the small sample provided.

“The alternative is to build a suitable hazardous waste disposal facility at some remote location or to look for another facility outside India,” says Indore-based NGO Lok Maitri. Some NGOs have been demanding that the waste be transferred to an OECD (Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development) country that has proper facilities for disposing of such waste and that Dow Chemicals bear the cost. However, the experience of dealing with the German company, GIZ, has shown that fear psychosis regarding the possible adverse impact of disposal of the toxic waste has spread beyond India.

Meanwhile, the state government's efforts for the past three years to dispose of the toxic waste have failed to bear fruit. In August 2011, a Nagpur bench of the Bombay high court had stayed the move to dispose of the toxic waste at a Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) facility near Nagpur amid protests by residents and activists. The DRDO facility was chosen after the government's attempts to dispose it at Pithampur in Dhar district and then in Gujarat failed due to stiff public protests.

According to conservative estimates, about 27,000 tonnes of waste (apart from 346 tonnes of highly toxic waste in sealed containers) is lying on the factory premises that is contaminating the groundwater and the air in the area. A 2009 report by Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment revealed that groundwater in areas even 3 km away from the factory have been contaminated with pesticides and heavy metals.