Groundwater contamination near the Union Carbide plant at Bhopal: a draft research report

This draft research report by the People’s Science Institute (PSI), Dehradun deals with groundwater contamination near the Union Carbide plant at Bhopal. The main objective of PSI's monitoring exercise was to assess the degree of groundwater contamination, if any, in the vicinity of the erstwhile UCIL plant particularly in the context of the huge quantum of the ill-contained toxic wastes lying unheeded inside.

The monitoring exercise was restricted to the colonies adjoining the UCIL plant. Particularly in areas from where complaints about pungent water in handpumps had been received. A survey of the available literature relating to the studies conducted beforehand on the abandoned factory site brought out the fact that during 1967-1977 the effluents were dumped inside a large pit near the eastern boundary wall of the plant.

As per the study the situation is grave and poses threats of magnanimous proportions to the health and wellbeing of the people residing in the area. In order to resolve the crisis, it is absolutely imperative to contain the toxic chemicals lying inside the UCIL plant premises. Since, it is not known exactly when this phenomenon of leaching of toxic chemicals from sources inside the abandoned plant started, it is necessary to know the extent to which the contamination has spread over time. It should also be useful, if possible, to predict the rapidity with which the toxic chemicals are proliferating in the aquifer of the region. This would help prepare a strategy to counter the situation in future target areas that are likely to be contaminated in subsequent times.

The recommendations that emerge out of this study are -


  • A rapid, action- oriented Clean-up Operation to remove the toxic hazardous wastes lying openly within the factory premises and to store them in sealed non-corrodable containers. This would prevent leaching of the hazardous wastes in to the soil and groundwater. Therefore, further proliferation of the toxic substances in adjoining areas would be minimised.
  • All the sealed containers of the hazardous wastes recovered from the Carbide factory should be disposed off properly in Disposal sites for Hazardous wastes identified by the State Government {as per the provisions of the Hazardous Wastes (Management and Handling) Rules, 1989.
  • Areas, which have already been detected for groundwater contamination by the present study (and other studies taken up from time to time), should be provided with alternative source of drinking water. The authorities responsible for water supply and maintenance in Bhopal city  should consult the Central Groundwater Board (North Central Region office at Bhopal) to examine possibilities of meeting the demand of drinking water in the affected areas through harvested and treated rainwater.

Research -oriented

  • There is a need to undertake routine monitoring of the area under threat from the leaching chemicals.
  • Theoretical prediction (by the help of mathematical modeling) of the movement of the contaminants from the UCIL would help in devising a mitigation strategy.

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Post By: Rama Mani