Bhopal: 25 years on

We have mentioned the 1984 Bhopal disaster at The Notes before when we compared it with the Trafigura toxic dumping incident in Ivory Coast. (You can read that post here at Toxic: A 21st Century Bhopal).

On the 25th anniversary of the deadly Bhopal gas leak, there seems to be a fervent wish from both Dow Chemicals, who bought the plant from Union Carbide, and the Indian authorities that the local population cease worrying about the rusting skeleton of the chemical plant in their midst and move on. Indian officials have decided to open the plant for a week next month to allow locals to see how benign it actually is. Minister for Gas Tragedy (Relief and Rehabilitation) Babulal Gaur explains…

The government hopes that allowing people to visit the site would satisfy their curiosity and remove misconceptions that things at the plant have been kept under wraps. I have visited the site numerous times and handled the waste on several occasions. There’s nothing to worry about…

…In any case, birds and animals are breathing the same air without coming to harm. Moreover, people live in the close vicinity of the plant.

It is, perhaps, the “close vicinity” of the plant which continues to worry the 20,000 local residents. Several NGOs, most notably Greenpeace, have claimed the site is still toxic and is responsible for dangerous chemicals seeping into the local water supply and polluting the soil. Greenpeace claims, in its 25th anniversary post on Bhopal, that…

A whole new generation continues to get sick, from cancer and birth defects to everyday impacts of aches and pains, rashes, fevers, eruptions of boils, headaches, nausea, lack of appetite, dizziness, and constant exhaustion.

The Environment and Forests Minister, Jairam Ramesh, who also recently visited the site, disagrees…

I held the toxic waste in my hand. I’m still alive and not coughing

Later he said the “truth” about the gas tragedy and how it occurred were “extremely complex” and “uncomfortable”. He also advised that 25 years after the tragedy it was time to move on, remarks for which he was burned in effigy by outraged locals. And one wonders just how seriously Mr Ramesh expected residents to take his assertion when a BBC report noted the Indian Government stopped its research into the medical effects of the gas 15 years ago without any explanation.

Here’s a short video of the plant as it is today, shot by someone sneaking in. They are associated with the Bhopal Medical Appeal, and if you wish to donate you can find their website here.

Perhaps we can also consider a couple of simple questions…

Is there any chance, any at all, a toxic chemical plant would be allowed to remain to rot inside any western city?

It seems like your vote is effectively disregarded if you’re dirt poor in Bhopal, so at what point in a democracy does a population’s collective earning power enforce action from their elected officials?

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