India’s Defence Ministry to Incinerate Bhopal Toxic Waste

NEW DELHI, India, August 8, 2011 (ENS) – The 350 metric tonnes of toxic waste remaining at the former Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India will be incinerated by the Ministry of Defence, a senior government official said Thursday.

In a written reply to a question in Parliament, Minister of State for Chemicals and Fertilisers Srikant Kumar Jena said the Defence Research and Development Organization, DRDO, will incinerate the waste, a process that will take two years to complete.

“The DRDO has agreed to undertake the safe disposal of toxic waste currently lying at the premises of the erstwhile Union Carbide India Ltd. in its incineration facility at Borkhedi near Nagpur,” the minister said.

The toxic wastes have contaminated soil and groundwater in and around the abandoned, dilapidated Union Carbide premises, according to several scientific assessments, the most recent report published in June 2010 by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute, NEERI.

The interior of a building at the abandoned Union Carbide India factory (Photo courtesy NEERI)

Union Carbide India Ltd. manufactured carbamate pesticides and associated chemicals at their Bhopal factory from 1969 to 1984. The solid, semi-solid, liquid and tarry wastes generated were dumped by the company within their premises from 1969 to 1984.

The factory was closed down in December 1984 when a leak of toxic methyl isocyanate gas and other chemicals from the plant resulted in the exposure of hundreds of thousands of people.

The government of Madhya Pradesh state, where Bhopal is located, has confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release. Others estimate 3,000 died within weeks and another 8,000 have since died from gas-related diseases. A government affidavit in 2006 stated the leak caused 558,125 additional injuries.

But the ongoing contamination of soil and water around the factory is not the result of the gas release, NEERI said in its report.

“There is a general misunderstanding among the public as well as various agencies and organizations” that the methyl isocyanate gas tragedy in 1984 “also resulted in contamination of soil and groundwater in and around UCIL premises,” the report states.

“However, it may be made clear that, contamination of soil and groundwater in and around UCIL premises is solely due to dumping of abovementioned wastes during 1969 to 1984, and MIC [methyl isocyanate] gas tragedy has no relevance to it.”

One of many waste dumps at the Union Carbide India factory, outside the wall is a residential neighborhood (Photo courtesy NEERI)

Bhopal groundwater in general is not contaminated due to seepage of contaminants from the Union Carbide toxic waste dumps, according to the environmental engineering report. Still, pesticides and dichlorobenzene were documented in five wells in the immediate vicinity of the UCIL premises.

The government of India has set up a committee within the Ministry of Environment and Forests to provide oversight and support to the government of Madhya Pradesh for carrying out remedial actions at the Union Carbide factory.

The NEERI report recommended incineration of the 350 MT of waste at Pithampur Treatment, Storage and Disposal Facility in Madhya Pradesh, but the state government told the oversight committee in meetings earlier this year that it would be unable to incinerate this waste at Pithampur.

So, the Defence Research and Development Organization will dispose of the waste. However, the government of Madhya Pradesh will be solely responsible for the “safe transportation of toxic waste from Bhopal to the DRDO facility,” said Minister Jena.

The DRDO facility is located 352 kilometers (220 miles) from Bhopal in the state of Maharashtra.

Jena said, “The disposal of the toxic waste will be continuous over a period of two years from the start of delivery of the waste by the government of Madhya Pradesh at the incineration facility of DRDO at Borkhedi near Nagpur.”

While the central government says the toxic wastes are “kept safely in a secured go-down within the UCIL premises, Bhopal,” the NEERI report contradicts that claim.

“The boundary wall of the UCIL premises was found to be broken at many places which provided an easy access to the people living around the premises, states the NEERI report. “The factory area is surrounded by working class settlements.”

NEERI recommends, “Proper fencing and security to UCIL premises and SEP area for preventing unauthorized access and use of these areas by public.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2011. All rights reserved.