Two thousand Bhopal residents demand clean-up compensation for 1984 leak

At least two thousand Bhopal residents have taken part in a cyber campaign to demand clean water, a site clean-up and compensation for those affected by the lethal gas leak of 1984, and claim that the site is still a danger.

Crowds of survivors gathered outside the gates of Union Carbide’s disused factory on 14 August to demand action over the disaster and its after-effects via a cyber action campaign organised by Greenpeace and Bhopal-based survivor support organisations.

Greenpeace said that victims visited temporary internet booths in the vicinity of the disused factory which claimed some 16,000 lives and left half a million with permanent injuries more than 15 years ago. The first 2,000 message cyber petition in a five day long campaign was sent by four-year-old Noor Jehan Begum who was born with a respiratory disorder inherited from her mother, a victim of the tragedy.

Greenpeace says that people like the Begum family living in ten or more poor localities surrounding the Union Carbide site depend on local groundwater supplies which are severely contaminated by hazardous waste from the pesticide factory. It says that the US chemical giant has taken no action since 1999 studies, some of which were government commissioned, showed that local groundwater contained carcinogenic pollutants, and that waste, containing mercury, other heavy metals and chlorinated pesticides and pollutants was still “scattered around the factory.” The investigation also found more than 20 tons of hexachlorocyclohexane, which is linked to immune system and reproductive disorders, stored in sacks lying within an open shed in the factory, Greenpeace says.

The campaigners are demanding a clean-up of the site and local drinking water, which they say was found to contain concentrations of carbon tetrachloride more than 1700 times above the World Health Organisation limit, as well as full compensation for the victims of the disaster. Greenpeace says that a 1989 monetary settlement with Union Carbide had not compensated for any future damage to health caused by the contamination at the site of the factory.

“The internet offers us a unique opportunity to directly tell Union Carbide and Dow (new partners in a merger) that we won’t let it hide behind a cloak of corporate anonymity while we, the survivors, continue to die. The fight against Union Carbide and for justice in Bhopal is clearly growing in strength and will continue until justice is delivered,” said Abdul Jabbar, who runs the survivor support organisation, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sanghatan.

However, Union Carbide denied that it had not compensated victims adequately nor that the site had contaminated local water supplies. “Union Carbide has always been sympathetic to the disaster victims and their families and hopes that the rest of the monies with the Indian Government will be distributed to them,” Tom Sprick, press spokesperson for Union Carbide, told edie.

“As for compensation; we gave $470 million in 1989 to the Indian Government, and that’s as much as we know about where it went,” Sprick continued. “If that amount had been put into an interest bearing account it would have grown to $1 billion by now, which would have been sufficient.”

Sprick pointed out that the site had been the property of the state of Madra-Pradesh for the last two years and that Union Carbide had no knowledge of any hazardous chemicals still being stored on the site.

The spokesperson also said that extensive tests carried out in 1998 by the Madra-Pradesh Control Board and in 1997 by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute analysed numerous wells situated within 500 metres of the site and found “no traces of chemicals that could be linked back to Union Carbide chemicals.”

“They found that pollution in the well water was caused by improper drainage and other causes of environmental pollution,” he added.

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