5.5 Environmental damage from the Bhopal plant
In addition to the harm caused by the gas leak, various reports indicate that the site of the Bhopal plant and surrounding area is contaminated and hazardous not only from MIC but from a range of other noxious substances which were used and stored at the plant. Assessing the nature and extent of pollution is difficult, especially for the layman. The Amnesty report provides a detailed chronology of the various reports on the toxicity of the site and points out that UCC engineers identified the plant as being a source of pollutants both before and after the gas leak in 1984. UCIL and its successor, Eveready Industries India Ltd (EIIL), were involved in site management of the plant until 1998, when the latter surrendered the lease of the site. Up until then international chemical engineering consultants, Arthur D. Little, had advised on waste disposal and contamination assessment in cooperation with the Indian authorities in the form of the National Engineering Environmental Research Institute (NEERI).
The nature and extent of the pollution caused by the toxic substances in the Bhopal plant is disputed. Reports by NEERI differ from those of Arthur D. Little even though they worked in collaboration. The Greenpeace report of 1999 was supported by the technical expertise of the University of Exeter and details the nature of the contamination. Its findings were subsequently supported by reports from both Indian and international sources. For instance, the Bhopal Medical Appeal conducted a water analysis survey of the area surrounding the Bhopal plant and detailed its results in its 2009 report. This report supports the Greenpeace study, establishing that the areas north of the disused factory are worst affected due to the groundwater running in that direction.
According to Satinath Sarangi, a founder of the Sambhavna Clinic, there are 23,000 people who were either exposed to the gas or who have since used contaminated water supplies who are registered with chronic conditions such as liver disease, paralysis and severe anaemia. Doctors report a steady flow of new patients – adults and children – at clinics every day, evidencing the continuing effects on the community of both the gas leak and the contamination from the Bhopal plant. Tuberculosis is rife among people whose immune systems have been worn down by exposure to poisonous water. There is evidence that the toxicity is affecting subsequent generations with a higher than average incidence of complicating birth defects such as missing limbs, abnormal organs, misshapen heads and tumours (in e.g. Ingrid Eckerman, 2005, The Bhopal saga: causes and consequences of the world's largest industrial disaster, p. 111).
So it would now seem sufficiently established that the groundwater of the area is contaminated with a variety of substances which are toxic and are present in sufficient quantity to adversely affect the water quality. As a consequence, the water is unfit for humans and farming in the area is adversely affected.