Groundwater contamination around Union Carbide factory is now officially confirmed

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Indian Institute of Toxicology Research says the contaminant levels are not a public health concern because drinking water is supplied by municipal bodies

The Indian Institute of Toxicology Research (IITR) has confirmed that the groundwater around the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal is contaminated.

In its report submitted to the Supreme Court on September 25, the IITR stated that the levels of heavy metals like lead, nitrate and nickel are much more than the permissible limits set by the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS).

But it also emphasised that it is not a health concern as the drinking water supply in the area comes from the local municipality and not the groundwater.  But many areas do not have water pipelines and where they do exist they are damaged and leaking; at times, sewage water enters the drinking water pipes.

The report found that nitrate levels exceeded in nine of the 30 samples while lead was high in almost 24 samples. It also stated that the contamination is spread over to 18 colonies in the area.

The apex court has now asked IITR to carry out another survey as the “samples taken for the present survey were done during the monsoon season, thus diluting the chemicals in the water,” informs Karuna Nundy, senior advocate representing the 1984 gas tragedy survivor organisations in the Supreme Court.

These organisations have time and time again approached the Madhya Pradesh government through requests and legal recourse to supply clean drinking water. On May 7, 2004 the apex court had directed the state government to immediately provide clean drinking water to the communities living around the defunct pesticide factory. But the action taken consequent to this order is next to nil; in eight years, this is the first official report submitted in court that accepts groundwater contamination.

In 2009, Centre for Science and Environment, a Delhi-based non-profit, had also surveyed the localities along with Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) officials and had released a report which showed heavy groundwater contamination. But officially both Central and state agencies have denied any groundwater contamination in Bhopal. A senior CPCB official recently explained that since the soil under the Union Carbide factory has a high clay component none of the chemicals could have seeped into the groundwater.

IITR was also required to examine the water samples for their physico-chemical properties, heavy metals and organic pollutants, but the report does not speak of the organic pollutants. The institute has now sought three months more to complete these tests.

Rachna Dhingra of Bhopal Group for Information and Action says the report has vindicated the stand of Bhopal survivor organisations that have been fighting since 1990 to secure clean drinking water for communities affected by groundwater contamination due to Union Carbide's reckless dumping of toxic waste in and around the factory from 1969-1984.

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