Disposing of the hazardous chemicals that have saturated the site of the Bhopal industrial disaster shouldn’t be very difficult, the man in-charge of the government’s clean-up effort told HT today. But according to other officials, the process is likely to take at least two years.
“Hazardous waste disposal is done on a case-by-case basis,” said T. Chakrabarti, acting director of the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), a government laboratory tasked with overseeing the clean-up effort. “But it won’t be difficult.”
More than 345 tonnes of toxic waste remain in and around the site where a gas leak at a chemical factory owned by the Union Carbide Corporation killed more than 5,000 people a quarter of a century ago. Recent studies have found that toxic chemicals have penetrated the groundwater reserves beneath the site, and continue to poison nearby villagers.
Chakrabarti had told HT that the clean-up would involve removing some of the hazardous waste to a special waste disposal facility and incinerating the rest. After this, the contaminated groundwater will have to be pumped out, purified and then recharged, he said.
Decontaminating the soil will be especially challenging because “they [Union Carbide] dumped pesticides under the ground”, he said. Sources at the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), which has done extensive surveys of the site, said cleaning the groundwater will be the biggest problem.
“Cleaning up Bhopal is not technically difficult,” said a scientist with the CPCB. “The dirty water will have to be pumped out and then the aquifers will have to be cleaned using special filters.” “Contaminated underground water could be traced till some meters and is present in the old wells,” CPCB chairman SP Gautam said.
The task of cleaning the site will be split among laboratories. NEERI, based in Nagpur, will be responsible for removing toxic waste, along with the Hyderabad-based Indian Institute of Chemical Technology.
The National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI), also based in Hyderabad, will be responsible for cleaning the groundwater.
“We plan to first do two surveys of the contamination, one before and one after the monsoon,” said VP Dimri, former director of NGRI.
Govt ‘released’ UCC, says Dow
The Dow Chemical Company, which owns Union Carbide Corporation, on Tuesday said the Indian government had “fully released” UCC and its subsidiary in Bhopal from any civil liability for the gas tragedy.
“In 1989, the Government of India — acting on behalf of the victims by virtue of an Act of Parliament — negotiated a $470-million settlement and fully released UCC and Union Carbide India Limited from any civil liability for the gas tragedy,” Dow Chemical Company spokesman, Scot Wheeler, said. He said the Dow Chemical Company never owned nor inherited the facility in Bhopal.