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Bhopal's drinking water is still heavily toxic: Report

December 01, 2009 03:55 IST
High levels of toxic chemicals are still found in Bhopal's drinking water, a new report published ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal gas tragedy, said.

Residents in the areas surveyed have high rates of birth defects, rapidly rising cancer rates, neurological damage, chaotic menstrual cycles and mental illness, it said.

The report also questions the reliability of the tests carried out in at the AES Laboratories in New Delhi.

The report, 'Analysis of chemical contaminants in groundwater of communities surrounding UCIL Plant Site in Bhopal' was made by Bhopal Medical Appeal, a UK-based nonprofit; and the Sambhavna Trust Clinic in Bhopal that offers free treatment to those suffering from both the 1984 chemical gas disaster and the present day water poisoning.

The lead authors are Aio Haberli, a masters student at the Swiss Institute of Technology, Zurich and Colin Toogood, who works full-time for the BMA.

This report, which includes testing results from as recently as June 2009, demonstrates that the water in and around the Union Carbide factory site in Bhopal still contains extremely unsafe levels of carbon tetrachloride, a carcinogen, and other persistent organic pollutants, solvents, nickel and other heavy metals.

Some of these chemicals were used in the production process of Sevin at the Union Carbide plant. The report uses a combination of new and un-published data from accredited laboratories in Switzerland and UK along with the data from previous tests by Nongovernmetal organizations like Greenpeace, NEERI and SHRISTI.

The new data found that the level of carbon tetrachloride increased compared to earlier tests. The toxins are still rising as the chemicals leach through the soil and into the aquifer, still used as a source of drinking water.

There are at least 15 other highly toxic chemicals present in the drinking water samples tested at levels greatly exceeding World Health Organisation guidelines.

Many of these chemicals have potential neurotoxic properties and can cause damage to the body's organs. They are especially harmful for children and fetuses. A preliminary study suggests as many as one child in 25 is born with a congenital defect.

In spite of the Supreme Court order of 2004 directing authorities to provide clean drinking water, the Bhopal Municipal Corporation's water supply system is inadequate, forcing the people to use the toxic ground water.

The report doubts if the AES laboratory did not wish to pass on the correct results due to the political controversy around the Bhopal disaster. 'For the first stage of this report, twenty samples from different hand pumps, within the test area were taken and sent to AES. Twenty duplicate samples were taken and three of these were sent to an accredited laboratory in Switzerland. Surprisingly, the chemical concentrations in the AES tests, were all reported to be below detection limit. This was despite the fact that some of the samples clearly smelled of solvents. The authors called the results into question and now dismiss these findings,' the report stated.

The three duplicate samples sent to the lab in Switzerland showed various chemicals, including some in extremely dangerous concentrations. These results back up the findings of the Nongovernmental Organisation Greenpeace etc, the report said.

In June this year, a year after the tests, a final sample was collected by the BMA and brought to an accredited lab in UK. The sample was from the same source as one of the three tested by the Swiss lab. The UK lab too found the same chemicals and found to have more contamination.

December 3 will be commemorated as International Day of Action around the world with mass rallies, symbolic 'die-ins,' candle-lit vigils, concerts, protests and more.

Bhopal survivors are calling on supporters to commemorate the night in 1984 when twenty-seven tons of lethal gases leaked from Union Carbide's pesticide factory, immediately killing 8,000 people and poisoning thousands of others.

The area was never cleaned up and over 150,000 people, including children of survivors, are suffering tremendously as a result.

Human rights, legal, environmental, health and other experts are demanding that Dow Chemical, the current owner of Union Carbide, and the government of India, be held accountable for this situation. The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal demanded that the Indian government to clean up Bhopal now to prevent further spread of the toxins, and use the courts to get reimbursed by Dow.

It also demanded that Union Carbide to show up in court to face trial in the ongoing criminal proceedings against them in India.

It also asked for the India government to establish an 'empowered commission' that it promised in August 2008 to address the health, environmental, social, and economic issues in Bhopal.

A Correspondent