Amid all the controversy surrounding disposal of the hazardous Union Carbide waste, an organisation of victims and survivors of the Bhopal gas tragedy has said 350 tonnes of waste lying inside the factory godowns is not the real problem, as it poses a threat less severe and less immediate.
The real danger comes from the hazardous waste lying in the open — on the factory premises (covering 67 acres) as well as in and around a solar evaporation pond (20 acres), where the fluid waste and effluents from the UCIL plant were stored.
“The waste lying in the open is a permanent source of lethal damage to people and environment, especially during rains,” says Abdul Jabbar of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan.
“However, nobody is even talking about this waste and the continuing damage it is causing to the people and the environment. Had this happened in the U.S. or some [other] developed country, the United Nations would have established an international protocol to cover it,” he says.
This waste, in the solar evaporation pond and on and around the factory premises, is easily over 18,000 tonnes (including the contaminated soil), says Mr. Jabbar.
Reports compiled by the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI), the Madhya Pradesh Public Health and Engineering Department (PHED), Greenpeace, the Citizens Environmental Laboratory (Boston) and others reveal that the Carbide factory, stockpile, disposal sites, waste dump and the soil around it contain over 15,000 tonnes of at least 18 toxicants.
The waste contains carcinogens such as polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) and hexachlorobenzene (HCB), and substances such as chlorinated naphthalene, hexachlorobutadiene, lead and mercury, which on exposure can cause excessive damage to the brain, nervous system, liver, kidneys and lungs, and result in skin lesions and fragile skin, stunted growth and damaged foetus.
Qamar Saeed, a former technician employed in the factory, gives another figure for the packed waste, the source of the current controversy over incineration.
In 1990, he received a contract to dig out all waste lying around in the factory at Re. 1 a kg. According to him, his team dug out only 120 tonnes before the process was stopped, leaving the much of the waste unexcavated.
“This is the waste that lies packed in the godowns, and it is not 350 tonnes. It is just 120 tonnes. I know that because nobody tried to remove it before we did and nobody has tried since,” says Mr. Saeed.