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Bhopal: Government lags as contamination from waste spreads

Thirty years after Bhopal gas disaster, the government has not been able to ascertain how much toxic waste was left behind by Union Carbide even as surveys showed potentially life-crippling contamination in new areas.

bhopal Updated: Dec 02, 2014 21:55 IST
Bhopal gas tragedy,Bhopal,Madhya Pradesh

Thirty years after the Bhopal gas disaster, the government has not even been able to ascertain how much toxic waste was left behind by Union Carbide even as surveys showed potentially life-crippling contamination in new areas.

In fact, 346 metric tonnes of toxic waste — the first lot ticked off for disposal — has been lying at the abandoned factory which leaked the deadly methyl isocyanate (MiC) gas on a chilly December night in 1984 and killed thousands of people.

According to sources, the 346 metric tonnes are just a fraction of the estimated 20,000 metric tonnes of toxic waste lying in and around the now-abandoned factory premises spread of 67 acres.

Oncologist Shyam Agrawal, a member of the Supreme Court-appointed advisory committee to work on correct medical aid to gas victims, said that the toxic waste could lead to serious health problems in humans including infertility, mental disorder and bone marrow suppression.

According to rough estimates, by now at least 22 settlements have been affected by the spread of toxic waste from the 14 in the initial stages.

On May 7, 2004, the Supreme Court had directed the authorities to supply tapped water to localities around the factory after it was established that the toxic waste was contaminating the ground at an alarming level.

But the scheme is yet to be fully operational despite its progress being monitored by a sitting high court judge, sources added.

A 2013 study by the Lucknow-based Indian Institute of Toxicology Research (IITR) had confirmed the presence of heavy metals and concluded that groundwater in 22 settlements have been contaminated.

The study was carried out at the directions of the Supreme Court.

The biggest shocker came earlier in 2009 when a government-appointed expert committee rejected a study by the Nagpur-based National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and Hyderabad-based National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) as “unreliable”.

The report was prepared at the cost of a whopping Rs 22 crore.

Activist Abdul Jabbar of another NGO, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangthan, said the major source of contamination was the “solar evaporation pond”.

An estimated 10,000 metric tonne (MT) of hazardous silt is said to be present in pond, constructed in 1977 to dump toxic sludge from a Union Carbide factory that made pesticides.

Principal secretary, gas relief and rehabilitation department, Pravir Krishn said, “we have identified an agency for the purpose. But unless the 346 MT of packed toxic waste is first disposed, we cannot make a forward movement,” he added.

First Published: Dec 02, 2014 21:25 IST