Most people, when they think of Bhopal, recall only the horrors of 'that night', when gas leaked from the Union Carbide factory and killed thousands. What is not generally known is that after the gas leak, the factory was closed and for all practical purposes abandoned by the company. The factory, which killed so many, lies empty now and derelict, with the weather battering at it. Union Carbide left without cleaning it up. Tanks full of toxic chemicals have corroded and burst, dumping their contents onto the ground. Winds batter at loose metal sheets and gradually the buildings come apart. To this day you can see piles of dangerous chemicals lying in the open air. The warehouses are full of sacks of poisons, many of which have split open. Children and animals have been in and left footprints in the chemical dust. The structures and buildings on the site have been left to rot.
The monsoons of more than two decades have washed the chemicals deep into the soil and into the underground aquifers, which feed wells and boreholes. The drinking wells and tap of communities living within a considerable radius of the plant have been contaminated with chemicals that are implicated in cancers and birth defects. People have no other water supply and have been forced to drink and wash in Union Carbide's diluted poisons. 20,000 people are affected.
Outside the ruins of the Alpha-Napthol plant a large heap of brown rocks lies exposed to the elements. The rocks are actually pure carbaryl. If they caught fire they would release MIC, the gas that leaked in 1984. There have been two major grass fires in the factory in recent years.
Till date, Dow-Carbide has refused to:
1) Clean up the site, which continues to contaminate those near it, or to provide just compensation for those who have been injured or made ill by this poison;
2) Fund medical care, health monitoring and necessary research studies, or even to provide all the information it has on the leaked gases and their medical consequences;
3) Provide alternate livelihood opportunities to victims who can not pursue their usual trade because of their exposure-induced illnesses;
4) Stand trial before the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court in Bhopal, where Union Carbide faces criminal charges of culpable homicide (manslaughter), and has fled these charges for the past 15 years.
It was not until 1999, ten years later, that the first systematic study of the contamination was carried out by Greenpeace. Samples of soil and water were analysed at labs in the UK. In some places levels of mercury were six million times higher than expected. Local drinking water was found to be heavily laced with cancer and birth defect causing chemicals.