Union Carbide specter arises as state prepares to burn toxic waste
The Supreme Court of India has given the nod to begin test burning of the toxic waste from the long-condemned Union Carbide factory that led to the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984.
The Court last week upheld the decision of a high-level meeting of the Environment Ministry to direct the state of Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board (MPPCB), and the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) to carry out incineration of 10 of the 350 metric tonnes of toxic waste lying at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) site since the 1984 tragedy.
The CPCB is to test the incineration at Pithampur in Madhya Pradesh (MP) and monitor results visavis its impact on environment through the release of toxic gas, if any, for 60 days. Based on the results, the government make a call on the remaining bulk of the waste.
The MP government had been denying permission for the burning following protests from pressure groups citing possible environmental hazards. The MPCB, too, had been denying permission to take the waste to Nagpur and incinerate — an alternate solution offered a few years ago following protests.
The Environment Ministry moved a Special Leave Petition and got the approval on April 4.
The Bhopal disaster, which occurred on the night of December 2–3, 1984 is considered one of the world's worst industrial catastrophes.
A leak of methyl isocyanate gas and other chemicals from the plant resulted in the exposure of hundreds of thousands of people in and around the shantytowns located near the plant.
Estimates vary on the death toll. The MP government has confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release while another 8,000 deaths have been attributed to gas-related diseases. The tragedy caused 558,125 injuries including 38,478 temporary partial and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries.
Ministry sources said a meeting in February discussed that at a temperature upwards of 1200 degrees Celsius, which will be used to burn the waste in the incinerator, diaxin and furan — the two cancer-causing gases — do not emit. Environmentalists have for years challenged this claim.