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Bhopal-25 years later

07/07/2008

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Scoopit!

Children bathing in what Bhopal residents call the “poison pond” near the Union Carbide plant. Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

The above is a picture from a New York Times slideshow of images from Bhopal. site of the Union Carbide chemical plant disaster some 25 years ago.

This site continues to cause health problems for the inhabitants of Bhopal and this article here, details some of the problems.

The toxic remains have yet to be carted away. No one has examined to what extent, over more than two decades, they have seeped into the soil and water, except in desultory checks by a state environmental agency, which turned up pesticide residues in the neighborhood wells far exceeding permissible levels.

Nor has anyone bothered to address the concerns of those who have drunk that water and tended kitchen gardens on this soil and who now present a wide range of ailments, including cleft palates and mental retardation, among their children as evidence of a second generation of Bhopal victims, though it is impossible to say with any certainty what is the source of the afflictions.

Why it has taken so long to deal with the disaster is an epic tale of the ineffectiveness and seeming apathy of India’s bureaucracy and of the government’s failure to make the factory owners do anything about the mess they left. But the question of who will pay for the cleanup of the 11-acre site has assumed new urgency in a country that today is increasingly keen to attract foreign investment.

The article discusses the bureaucratic and legal wranglings both within India and with UC’s current owners, Dow Chemical. A familiar name to New Zealanders, especially where chemical waste is concerned. Due to this wrangling and what appears to be considerable bureaucratic inertia:-

The result is a wasteland in the city’s heart. The old factory grounds, frozen in time, are an overgrown 11-acre forest of corroded tanks and pipes buzzing with cicadas, where cattle graze and women forage for twigs to cook their evening meal.

Since the disaster, ill-considered decisions on the part of local residents have only compounded the problems and heightened their health risks. Just beyond the factory wall is a blue-black open pit. Once the repository of chemical sludge from the pesticide plant, it is now a pond where slum children and dogs dive on hot afternoons. Its banks are an open toilet. In the rainy season, it overflows through the slum’s muddy alleys.

The slum rose up shortly after the gas leak. Poor people flocked here, seeking cheap land, and put up homes right up to the edge of the sludge pond. Once, the pond was sealed with concrete and plastic. But in the searing heat, the concrete cover eventually collapsed.

Some of the authorities deny there is a danger.

The article concludes with some very sad case studies of ailments and birth defects suffered by residents and their children:-

The stories repeat themselves in the nearby slums. In Blue Moon, Muskan, a 2-year-old girl, cannot walk, speak or understand what is happening around her. Her father, Anwar, blames the water.

In Arif Nagar, Nawab and Hassan Mian, brothers who are 8 and 12, move through their house like newly hatched birds, barely able to stand. They have no control over their muscles. Their mother, Fareeda Bi, is unsure of exactly what caused their ailment, but she, too, blames the water.

“There are more children like this in the neighborhood,” she said, “who cannot walk, who cannot see.”

To compound the tragedy, there is no way to know to what extent the water is to blame. The government suspended long-term public health studies many years ago.

To a Westerner it seems almost unbelievable that the waste was left lying around for so long. Even now it is kept in a warehouse, yet it was supposed to have been incinerated years ago.

Yet we should not be surprised given the years of denial by the NZ Government in respect of the impact of Agent Orange on NZ troops in Vietnam; coupled with the reluctance of the government to deal with the issues of the Dow plane in New Plymouth.

As Adam has noted previously he is not a GReen, but he does believe that we need to make sure that all waste is properly disposed of. To that end he wonders about the impact of old landfills on the environment especially the water supply.

Scoopit!

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