Bhopal fuel leak | Battling water woes in land of tragedy


Rashid Khan, 60, remembers the chilly winter evening of December 2, 1984, vividly. Sitting round a hearth with 4 buddies, his eyes began to burn. People started to shout, “Gas nikal gayi he (the gas has leaked).”

Outside his present home in Devaki Nagar, about one km from the chemical firm Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) manufacturing unit premises, Mr. Khan is now apprehensive about one other risk: the groundwater that he and the folks within the densely populated space round use. “I still get dizzy every two or three days, and it lasts for two to three minutes. I sweat and get anxious,” Mr. Khan mentioned.

In what was one of many best tragedies of the earlier century, a lethal methyl isocyanate leakage from the plant in 1984, killed 5,479 folks, briefly disabled 35,455, and injured over 5 lakh, as per authorities estimates. Over the years, research have discovered groundwater in numerous residential areas outdoors the manufacturing unit contaminated with heavy metals and different poisonous substances, which might result in most cancers and different ailments. Now, specialists say there are probabilities of the contamination spreading.

This is as a result of a whole bunch of tonnes of poisonous waste dumped by UCIL inside their manufacturing unit premises from 1969 to 1984 and 11 lakh tonnes of contaminated soil haven’t but been cleared by authorities, regardless of court docket orders and warnings, officers confirmed. In this soil is about one tonne of mercury, as per a government-commissioned research in 2010. There can also be practically 150 tonnes of underground dumps.

Members of the Sambhavna Trust Clinic with survivors of 1984 Bhopal fuel tragedy throughout a candlelight vigil to pay homage to the victims of the tragedy on its thirty ninth anniversary, in Bhopal, on Dec. 2, 2023.
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The authorities has beneficial funds just for the disposal of 337 tonnes of waste, collected 18 years in the past and saved in a shed within the manufacturing unit.

Mr. Khan’s space just isn’t a part of the 42 areas across the manufacturing unit the place a Supreme Court-appointed Monitoring Committee is trying into the consuming water provide after groundwater contamination was discovered.

Devaki Nagar began getting piped water from the Narmada river a few decade in the past, however once they run out, they draw water from a borewell close by. “We still use borewell water for bathing, washing utensils, cleaning, and all other purposes. The piped water comes once a day and that too only for 20 minutes. In summer, there are many days without piped water,” Mr. Khan mentioned, including that they’re compelled to drink water from the borewell once they run out of piped water. Many others had an analogous story to inform.

With activists complaining to the Supreme Court of groundwater contamination spreading, the Madhya Pradesh authorities has, over the past 15 years, elevated the variety of areas across the manufacturing unit that they supply secure consuming water to, from 14 to 18 to 22 to 42, following court docket orders and research. The authorities has additionally sealed hand pumps and tube wells in order that residents shouldn’t have entry to contaminated water.

Contamination spreading

Professor Indumathi M. Nambi, within the civil engineering division at IIT Madras, was appointed by the Supreme Court to verify the water contamination within the space. She examined 20 samples of water outdoors the manufacturing unit premises in 2018 and advised the court docket in an affidavit: “The ongoing contamination of soil and groundwater in Bhopal is a technologically challenging problem that calls for immediate attention. The problem involves contamination by an array of highly toxic chemicals and heavy metals that over several decades have seeped to great depths over a wide area.”

She advised 247 I News that the groundwater contamination is most definitely to unfold, so long as the poisonous waste within the manufacturing unit premises just isn’t eliminated.

A number of authorities research although, haven’t discovered any groundwater contamination outdoors the manufacturing unit.

Dr. Suranjit Chatterjee, Senior Consultant (Internal Medicine), Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, Delhi, mentioned that even in small portions, consuming water containing heavy metals damages the nervous system, liver, kidney, and different organs. “Using water contaminated with heavy metals and other toxic materials, even for non-drinking purposes such as bathing or washing utensils, leads to them being absorbed by the skin and mucosa. Over a long period of time, it affects the same organs. Even vegetables grown in such water are very dangerous to health,” he added.

Sheela Sahu, 65, who at the moment lives in Kalyan Nagar, was eight months pregnant when the fuel leak occurred. “After the gas leak, we moved to a slum in Arif Nagar [next to the factory]. There we drank water from the hand pump for 25 years there. The water smelt, but we didn’t have any other option. Our slum was right next to the factory’s wall,” she mentioned.

Kalyan Nagar is a part of the 42 areas the place the SC-appointed committee is monitoring the availability of consuming water. Here too, piped water provide is erratic. Ms. Sahu’s son died after we was 15. “He was not well since his birth and fell ill quite often,” she remembers.

Rachna Dhingra, a member of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, an NGO a part of the SC’s Monitoring Committee, mentioned, “The groundwater contamination is spreading to more areas and affecting people’s health and it is not even being documented, let alone the government doing something to solve it.”

In 2022, Sambhavna Trust Clinic in Bhopal, primarily based on exams, claimed that aside from the 42 areas, groundwater is contaminated in 29 extra residential areas within the neighborhood of the UCIL plant, together with Devaki Nagar.

“The polluter-pays principle is not being applied to Dow Chemical. They are not even being held accountable for the waste,” she mentioned. After 39 years of the federal government’s “inaction and apathy”, “It is putting the next generation of children at risk.”

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