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Carbide plant still spewing venom.

Twenty-six years on, the unprotected epicentre of the Bhopal gas disaster continues to pollute surrounding areas

THE BOUNDARY wall that was supposed to keep trespassers off limits has now almost disappeared. Instead, rubbles lay strewn all around, giving easy access to the Union Carbide plant, that on the intervening night of December 2-3, some 26 years back, had brought with it a message from death itself.

The gas leak on that fateful night left thousands dead and thousands more bearing the scar from the world's worst industrial disaster.

Twenty six years is a long time but the victims' families are still fighting for justice. And what has made matters worse is the apathy of the state and central governments that has left the five-hectare Union Carbide plant unprotected.

As a result, locals and thieves have been picking away at the skeleton of the factory. And in doing so, they have unknowingly helped recycle scrap material contaminated by hazardous chemicals.

Though entry to the plant was supposed to be restricted, MAIL TODAY found out that it could be easily accessed.

In the last 26-years, the site has been taken over by locals, thieves and drug addicts. One can get close to the gas chambers, the methyl isocyanate (MIC) tanks and the Sevin Storage/Packaging Facility that still contains empty chemical bottles.

"They (thieves) break into the factory and get away with toxic waste lying in drums, sacks, decaying gas pipelines, chambers and containers and also rip out the wiring in the absence of proper supervision," a resident of JP Nagar said.

The JP Nagar slum is a stone throw away from the plant. At the back of the site lies Arif Nagar and here the boundary wall has given away, giving easy access to the toxic plant. Locals claimed they brought down the wall to make space for themselves and their children.

AROAD leads past the formulation plant to the storage tanks, containers, gas chambers and pipelines that for the past 26 years are leaking toxic waste and polluting the groundwater.

A left turn brings one to the area where construction is going on a new boundary wall. However, it is coming up a bit too late as thieves and miscreants have already done considerable damage to the plant. But what they have failed to realise is that their act could lead to irreversible damage for them as well as others.

Thus, several pipes, containers, vessels, piles of scrap metal and sheets have been sold in the markets in the last two decades. Even the grills, doors and tiles from Phosgene, MIC and Sevin control room were not spared. The MIC tanks are horizontally mounted and half-buried in the ground with two feet of earth on the top. The design was supposed to prevent the tanks from floating away during monsoon.

The tanks have now corroded and each year during the monsoon season, toxic waste seeps into the soil and contaminates the groundwater.

Former chairman of the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board, P.S. Dubey, had admitted in an interview: "There was toxic waste in vessels, pipes, containers and we don't know how much had been placed in the ground. After visiting (the site) I saw that a lot of waste was lying here and there and it was creating havoc."

SEVERAL non-government organisations (NGOs) have protested against the poor attempts to clean up the site but there has been very little effort from the government. "The Union Carbide management was least bothered to clean up the premises. Shockingly, the government, too, ignored the matter.

"This has lead to at least 425 tonnes of toxic waste remaining buried in the ground and the hazardous material decaying and polluting the environment for the past 26-years," Abdul Jabbar, convenor of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan, alleged.

Talking about removal of toxic waste, Jabbar claimed: "Amar Saeed, a local contractor, was awarded a contract to clean 120 metric ton of toxic waste from the factory premises for which he was paid `1 per ton. This is how toxic waste was removed from the plant. God only knows what actually got cleaned and what was sold as scarp in the local market."

As a result, even 26 years after the tragedy, the number of gas victims visiting various city hospitals for treatment are on the rise.

"The Union Carbide management totally ignored the havoc it was creating by dumping toxic waste in and around Bhopal. It treated toxic waste as garbage and as a result we see second and third generation gas victims, whose numbers are increasing each day," Jabbar alleged.

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:Dec 4, 2010
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