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Groundwater Around Leak Site Is Still Contaminated  
Source:   Times of India City   : Bhopal Published On   05-12-2009  


Yet another report on the persisting disastrous effects of the gas tragedy has claimed that the erstwhile pesticide factory of Union Carbide, from where the toxic methyl isocyanate leaked 25 years ago, has been contaminating the soil and underground water in Madhya Pradesh’s capital.

The new report by New Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) released here on Tuesday said the ‘‘groundwater in areas even 3 km away from the factory site contains almost 40 times more pesticides than normal Indian standards’’. ‘‘Continuous intake of this groundwater can have drastic effects on the human body,’’ CSE’s director and activist Sunita Narain claimed. ‘‘This is like slow poisoning.’’

According to Narain, the CSE pollution monitoring labs have tested water and soil samples from in and around the Union Carbide factory and found high concentration of pesticides and heavy metals inside the factory premises as well as the groundwater outside. All 11 groundwater samples collected by CSE found large quantities of mercury, chlorinated benzene compounds and organochlorine, said the CSE report.

Earlier research conducted by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), Pollution Control Board, City Environmental Laboratory (Boston) and environmental NGO Greenpeace also found extremely high levels of toxins like carbaryl, lindane and alpha napthol in the soil and water around the factory areas. Residents of 18 gasaffected areas continue to consume the water that hese surveys have termed ‘‘contaminated’’. In July 1998, Union Carbide handed over the factory to the Union government with 8,000 tonne of toxic effluent and 10,000 tonne of toxic silt in ponds. Former Union Carbide employee T R Chouhan had told a US court that between 1969 and 1984, the factory had dumped over 1,900 tonne of chemicals in and around the factory. Another 390 tonne of toxic waste, which was the raw components for the pesticide, has been packed and kept for disposal. NGOs claim that this poisonous waste has spread through the soil and water making Bhopal gas tragedy ‘‘not a one-time but a continuing disaster for human life”.

Union Carbide manufactured three kinds of pesticides in this factory including Carbaryl (Sevin), Aldicarb (temik) and a third formula of carbaryl with gamma-hexachlorocyclohexane (Sevidol). ‘‘The plant used heavy metals like mercury and chromium. Most of these products and elements are persistent, toxic and harmful for the human body. We decided to test for these chemicals. The water in Shiv Nagar, which is 3 km away from the factory, tested the highest concentration of carbaryl at 0.011ppm which is 110 times the normal standard. Lindane was found at 0.004 ppm, 40 times higher than normal and mercury was 0.024 ppm, 24 times greater than normal.’’ Narain said 25 years after the worst industrial disaster, the Union government thinks that the situation is far from alarming. She drew attention to the remarks by Union minister of state for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh, who had said: ‘‘I held the toxic waste in my hand. I am still alive and not coughing. It’s 25 years after the gas tragedy. Let us move ahead.’’

Narain argued that the Union government was ignorant about the difference between acute toxicity and chronic toxicity. ‘‘No one has explained to Jairam Ramesh that when victims inhaled the gas and died, it was acute toxicity. Chronic toxicity, on the other hand, is a longterm slow poisoning. We are talking about chronic toxicity and its harmful effects on the body,’’ she said.

Hiroshima-like memorial planned

The premises of the defunct Union Carbide factory will be opened for public from January, a senior minister said on Tuesday. “The state also has plans to build Hiroshima-like memorial there depicting detailed account of the disaster,” Bhopal gas tragedy relief and rehabilitation minister Babulal Gaur said. He said the state has sought Rs 116 crore from the Centre to build a memorial for the victims in the factory premises. PTI

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