Fatal Bhopal pesticide plant disaster sees first convictions

Bhopal disaster

Water supplies in the local area are still being contaminated by toxic waste from the factory site

A twenty-five year wait for first convictions relating to the gas leak at Bhopal chemical plant in India ends, but the contamination of the local environment and population continues

An Indian court has convicted seven people for their part in one of the world's worst industrial disasters - the gas leak at the US-owned Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, Central India in 1984.

Between 7,000 - 10,000 people are thought to have died from the accidental release of toxic gases and a further 15,000 died due to lingering effects, according to Amnesty International.

Thousands of children have also been born with deformities since the disaster because of the poisoning.

The guilty seven, who were all Indian employees of the Indian arm of the company, face jail sentences of no more than two years after tougher charges that could have led to 10-year terms were dropped.

The then chairman of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson, has remained in the US and refuses to face trial. Amnesty International say the case against him is 'unlikely to conclude' and is another example of a foriegn company commiting an abuse of human rights and avoiding facing justice.

Contamination continues

Despite the deaths, the site has also still not been properly cleaned and contamination of groundwater supplies by toxic chemicals leaching from the abandoned Union Carbide pesticide plant continues.

Examining what campaigners called a 'second Bhopal disaster', a report published in December 2009 found that water supplies in a 3km radius of the site contained at least sixteen contaminants at levels far above World Health Organisation (WHO) safe guidelines.

One carcinogen, carbon tetrachloride (banned in the US since 1970), was found at 2,400 times the safe limit.

The contamination is leading to a toxic build-up of chemicals and heavy metals in the soils, plants, animals and local people. A preliminary study by the Sambhavna clinic suggests as many as one in twenty-five children in the area are born with a congenital defect.

Amnesty International say the convictions will make no difference to the on-going wrangle over responsibility for cleaning up the factory or compensation to victims. Dow Chemical, which now owns Union Carbide, has said the company paid compensation to the Indian government for the disaster back in 1989 and that responsibility for the factory site now rests with them.

Useful links

Amnesty International report on the Bhopal disaster
Bhopal Medical Appeal

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