Forgotten people of Bhopal still suffering

A warning sign from inside the abandoned Union Carbide factory in Bhopal India. The factory lies derelict 25 years after the disaster [David Graham]

A warning sign from inside the abandoned Union Carbide factory in Bhopal India. The factory lies derelict 25 years after the disaster [David Graham]

A new report by the Bhopal Medical Appeal (BMA) has found that groundwater in the Indian city of Bhopal is contaminated.

The new report investigates pollution levels in Bhopal 25 years after a gas leak in a pesticide factory. The toxic leak, which occurred on the 3rd of December 1984, killed at least 20,000 people and left many more chronically ill.

The contaminated water is regularly used for drinking and washing by around 30,000 people. Several contaminants have been found at levels far exceeding those given in World Health Organisation (WHO) safety guidelines. Amongst these is the carcinogen Carbon Tetrachloride. The quantities found were 2,400 times higher than the recommended safety level. The toxins found are known cause problems ranging from cancer to birth defects in children.

There is further evidence that contamination levels of water in the city are still rising as a result of industrial waste which remains on the site, continually seeping into the ground.

The recent findings correlate with the health of Bhopal’s people. According to Amnesty International, 120,000 people are still suffering from chronic illnesses due to exposure on the night of the disaster.

A new generation is being affected by the continuing pollution of the environment, and is being referred to as ‘Bhopal’s second disaster’.

As many as one in 25 babies in the area are being born with a congenital defects or will develop defects later in life. There are also notably high rates of cancer and tuberculosis in the area.

At the time of the disaster the pesticide factory was owned by Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), an American multinational. The gas leak has been attributed to negligence and lax safety precautions. UCC settled out of court, with the Indian Government paying $284 million to victims.

“120,000 people are still suffering from chronic illness”

Union Carbide, which is now owned by Dow Chemical, sold its Indian subsidiary onto another firm in 1994. Following this, Dow rejects any further responsibility for compensating the current victims of the environmental pollution, or cleaning up the reported 8,000 tonnes of chemicals still in the factory.

While campaigners now say Dow is liable, questions must be asked of the Indian Government.

The Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh recently mocked activists in Bhopal by picking up a handful of soil and saying “see, I am alive”.

Broadcaster Jon Snow, who is the Patron of the BMA, said of this (with regards to this year’s anniversary): “That’s 25 years of evasion and denial from the parties responsible for this appalling crime. 25 years of struggle for justice on the part of the survivors.”

2 comments

  1. 8 Dec ’09 at 10:27 pm

    Dominic Mantle

    For further information, or to donate to the Bhopal Medical Appeal, go to http://www.bhopal.org

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