Greenpeace calls for clean up of Bhopal site

Greenpeace have called for full corporate responsibility to be taken for the clean up of the contaminated former Union Carbide site in Bhopal, India. This year marks the twentieth anniversary of the disaster.

The pressure group organised a symposium where a team of independent scientists presented a recommendations for the remediation of the site that, they say, should be carried out following international standards.

Forty tons of lethal gases leaked from the Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal on December 3rd 1984, adding to the site s toxic legacy from years of routine plant operations. Various lethal chemicals have leached into the soil and local drinking water supplies.

At the symposium Professor Harold Burmeier, a civil engineer with thirty years experience in hazardous waste management said: “The remediation of the site must include dismantling of the existing building and plant, the excavation and pre-treatment of polluted soils and the assembly of discarded stockpiles and it has to be done as a first step in the clean up process.”

All experts agree that the most urgent measure is to immediately secure the site, prevent any access to it and supply safe pipelined water to the local communities.

“A longer term remediation focusing on the clean up of the underground water is also a vital step, but one that will take many years to complete due to the complexity of the site and the unknown extent of the contamination,” Professor Burmeier added.

Campaigners have said the biggest obstacle to the clean up of the Bhopal factory has been the lack of corporate responsibility and the political will to make it happen. In February 2001, Union Carbide merged with DOW Chemical Company, becoming a wholly owned subsidiary.

“Clearly the responsibility of bearing the cost of the clean up lies with Dow Chemicals, and the Indian government should ensure that the company does not escape its responsibility,” said Vinuta Gopal, campaigner with Greenpeace India.

Union Carbide agreed a compensation settlement in 1989 for victims of the disaster, in which at least 3,000 people died in the first few days. Campaigners say nearly 20,000 others have since died from the effects of the gas leak, and that the total of those affected has risen to 572,000 when new births are taken into account.

Under the details of the compensation agreement, Union Carbide paid US$470 million to the victims. However, only a small part of that was paid to the survivors and their families and the Indian Supreme Court ordered the rest to be paid in July this year. Last week US$330 million was released.

Union Carbide has blamed the disaster on sabotage by a disgruntled employee, and refuses to take responsibility for the clean up operation.

By David Hopkins

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