Ever since the plant opened in 1970, it has been a source of environmental pollution. Several studies have concluded that the material containing toxins and heavy metals has leeched into the ground, contaminating groundwaterthe only source of drinking water for people nearby. While tragedy stuck in 84, warnings had been coming for a long time.
Operational and waste disposal practices at the factory harmed the environment even before the gas leak. UCCs engineering department warned back in 1973 that the design of the Bhopal plant, which used solar evaporation ponds for waste effluent, posed a danger of polluting sub-surface water supplies in the Bhopal area.
A 2004 High Court order requiring the state government to clean up the waste has resulted in only partial clearance. Local authorities have initiated efforts to incinerate 350 tonnes of waste at a disposal facility by September this year. But activists believe that this is not enough. A huge amount of waste is still lying at the solar evaporation ponds that is spreading the contamination, says Rachna Dhingra, a social activist associated with Bhopal.net, a website dedicated to the cause of the gas victims.
For some, the government is to blame for dragging its feet on the waste disposal, despite a ticking public health time-bomb. Others see Union Carbide as shirking its responsibility to clean up after itself.
It is the failure of the Indian government for not being able to get Union Carbide to do the clean up. Also, the current owner of Union Carbide Corporation, the Dow chemical company, refuses to accept the liabilities arising out of toxic contamination that it has inherited from Union Carbide, says Satinath Sarangi, a member of Bhopal-based voluntary medical organisation, Sambhavna.
While the blame game goes on, people living near the factory silently suffer.