Wednesday, July 18, 2007


The controversial move by the Madhya Pradesh government to incinerate some waste from the the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal has met with stiff opposition in India (including direct action underway now - see article below). The government's plan is to take the waste to an incinerator in Gujarat.

Opponents of the plan say the incinerator at Ankleshwar is badly equipped and the move will merely shift the health hazards and in no way help dispose the toxic chemical waste. Moreover, the move will rid Dow Chemicals—responsible for the waste’s disposal—of the responsibility, say the groups.

Authorities say the incinerator can handle the waste.

Still groups representing the survivors of the Bhopal tragedy and activists in Gujarat still question the incinerator’s ability to control pollution. They say incineration of the toxic waste will pollute the area the way Union Carbide did, triggering another tragedy. That a national company has undertaken the disposal goes against the ‘polluter pays principle’, they say.

The web site Down to Earth has printed an alternative plan put forth by those opposed to that of the government:

The road map prepared by the ngos calls for a review of all scientific studies conducted at the Bhopal site since 1989. The threats the waste poses to workers, local residents and the environment have to be assessed first, it says. The liabilities of damages caused to workers, residents and environment have to be fixed. This includes judicial action against the consultants and agencies that had used unscientific procedures to measure the effects, and officials and ministers who neglected medical care for people affected by polluted soil and water.

According to the activists, strategies have to be identified to deal with the contaminated soil and the plant. The government can seek technical help from the United Nations Environment Programme for the disposal of the persistent organic pollutants. The waste and contaminated soil have to be kept in suitably labelled containers. Tanks with monitoring systems have to be built within the factory premises, say the activists.

The following is from the Indo-Asian News Service.

Bhopal gas victims protest toxic waste disposal plans

Hundreds of Bhopal gas tragedy victims Wednesday laid siege to the abandoned Union Carbide factory here, opposing the Madhya Pradesh government's plans to send the hazardous waste at the defunct pesticide plant for incineration to Gujarat and to Pithampur near Indore.

Survivors of the 1984 gas leak residing near the plant demanded that US multinational Dow Chemical, which owns Union Carbide, be made to take the toxic waste to the US for final disposal. They also wanted the company to pay for the environmental and health damages caused due to the chemical wastes that contaminate the soil and ground water.

The residents pointed out that rains were now bringing in contaminated water to their localities and that the state government had done nothing to stop the toxic flood.

The deadly gas leak from the Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal on Dec 3, 1984, has killed over 20,000 people so far. An estimated 150,000 people continue to suffer from the toxic effects of the gas, including diminished vision, cancer, respiratory, neurological and gynaecological disorders.

Second generation victims are suffering from growth defects and women from severe menstrual disorders.

However, Dow, which took over Union Carbide in 2001, has rejected the contention that it has inherited Union Carbide's Bhopal liabilities - something the activists don't agree.

Survivors and activists of three groups - Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha and Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA) - said that waste disposal as proposed by the state government would cause environmental pollution and health damage to residents of Ankleshwar in Gujarat and Pithampur now.

Apart from Dow being legally liable, with an annual sales of $49 billion in 175 countries, activists said the firm was well placed financially and technologically to deal with the hazardous waste problem.

They noted that the 386 tonnes of waste that the government wanted to dispose off through incineration was less than five percent of the toxic waste that requires safe disposal.

The leaders of the three protesting groups said they had documents from the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) that show the government was working on a secret deal with Dow Chemical that would allow the firm to walk away from its liabilities in Bhopal.

They pointed out that Dow Chemical was fined $325,000 by the US Securities and Exchange Commission in February for paying bribes of $200,000 to officials in India from 1996 to 2001.

'Dow Chemical paid thousands of dollars in bribe to get its pesticides approved for the Indian market,' said Rashida Bee, an activist. 'We wonder how much the company is paying the Indian government over the issue of legal liabilities.'

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