Bhopal Survivors Demand Action

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Al-Jazeera

Bhopal Survivors Demand Action

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Local activists attend a demonstration to mark the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal gas disaster in Bhopal December 3, 2009. The Union Carbide plant in the central city of Bhopal, now owned by Dow Chemical, left a potent legacy when it accidentally released toxic gases into the air, killing thousands of people and causing many more to suffer in the world's most deadly industrial disaster. (REUTERS/Reinhard Krause)

Hundreds
of residents of the Indian city of Bhopal have held a vigil to mark 25
years since a deadly chemical leak in the city caused the world's worst
industrial disaster.

Survivors and local residents joined activists late on Wednesday to
remember the thousands of victims of the leak from a pesticide plant
owned by US chemical company Union Carbide on December 3, 1984.

According
to research conducted by the state-run Indian Council of Medical
Research, between 8,000 and 10,000 people were killed in the immediate
aftermath of the disaster.

About 25,000 others later died from the effects of exposure while government estimates say the fumes affected half a million.

Toxic legacy

Activists say tens of thousands of people in Bhopal - many not even
born at the time of the disaster - still suffer chronic illnesses
related to the leak.

Bhopal disaster


Shortly after midnight on December 3, 1984, about 40 tonnes of the
highly poisonous methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a tank at the Union
Carbide plant in Bhopal.

 The
state-run Indian Council of Medical Research says 8,000-10,000 people
were killed within three days and 25,000 more subsequently died from
the effects of exposure.

 More than 500,000 people are estimated to have been affected by the leak.

 US
chemical firm Union Carbide says the leak was an act of sabotage by a
disgruntled employee - never identified - and not lax safety standards
or faulty plant design, as claimed by some activists.

 Union
Carbide, owned by Dow Chemical, says the legal case was resolved in
1989 when it settled with the Indian government for $470m -
compensation some activists say has not reached many victims.

They say children born to parents exposed to the gas leak or poisoned
by the contaminated water are suffering from cleft lips, missing
palates, twisted limbs, varying degrees of brain damage and a range of
skin, vision and breathing disorders.

The state government says it has complied with a 2004 High Court
order to clean up the waste at the site but critics say only a partial
clearance of toxins was done.

Studies released on the eve of the anniversary said more than 350
tonnes of toxic waste strewn around the site still pollutes soil and
groundwater in the area, leading to cancer, congenital defects,
immunity problems and other illnesses.

The UK-based charity Bhopal Medical Appeal (BMA) said on Tuesday
that there was evidence that "high levels of toxic chemicals" remained
in the drinking water supply in 15 communities near the plant.

Tests at Swiss and British laboratories indicated concentrations of
some toxins were actually rising "as the chemicals leach through the
soil and into the aquifer", it said.

The group said the government was not providing enough clean
drinking water, forcing many residents to use the contaminated
groundwater.

"Not surprisingly, the populations in the areas surveyed have high
rates of birth defects, rapidly rising cancer rates, neurological
damage, chaotic menstrual cycles and mental illness," BMA said in the
report.

A separate study also released on Tuesday by the Centre for Science
and Environment (CSE), showed a hand-pump 3km from the former Union
Carbide plant contained 110 times the maximum concentration of the
pesticide carbaryl deemed safe in Indian bottled water.

Government denial

The state government says residual chemicals in the ground are harmless and it is providing clean water to residents by tankers.

It also dismisses assertions that the birth defects are related to the disaster.

But the protesters gathered for Wednesday night's vigil disagreed,
demanding the government clean up the chemical waste from the site and
the drinking water in the area.   They also called for an
official panel to work on social, economic and medical rehabilitation
for the gas victims, saying that only part of the $470m compensation
Union Carbide paid in settlement with the Indian government has reached
victims.

Union Carbide, which ran the Bhopal plant when the leak occurred, is
now a subsidiary of Dow Chemical, having been bought in 2001.

Dow says responsibility for the factory now rests with the Madhya Pradesh government.

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