Remediation (Clean Up) of the Bhopal Plant Site

Status of the Former UCIL Plant Site
The Bhopal plant closed after the 1984 methylisocyanate (MIC) gas release and never resumed normal operations. While the Bhopal gas release litigation was in progress, no steps could be taken to remediate the site because the MIC unit was considered by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) as “evidence” in the criminal case. All activity at the site was closely monitored and controlled by the CBI, the Indian courts and the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board (MPPCB).

UCIL was finally permitted to undertake clean-up work in the years just prior to the sale of its stock by UCC in 1994, and spent some $2 million on that effort, which included beginning construction of a secure landfill to hold the wastes from two on-site solar evaporation ponds. The central and state government authorities approved, monitored and directed every step of the clean-up work. Following the sale, it appears that UCIL, now renamed Eveready Industries India Limited (EIIL), continued some clean-up work and completed the construction of the secure landfill on the site. In 1998, the Madhya Pradesh State Government (MPSG), which owned and had been leasing the property to EIIL, cancelled the lease; took over the facility; and assumed all accountability for the site, including the completion of any additional remediation. Click here to view the MPSG press release.

According to media reports, court-ordered remediation efforts directed at the government entities have proceeded slowly. Furthermore, proposals made by private companies have similarly been questioned or rejected. For example, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) protested against and blocked remediation attempts by those who offered to help raise funds for clean up or to conduct pro-bono remediation. The disposal of the waste has consistently proved to be a non-starter, and was further hindered after a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) was filed in the Madhya Pradesh High Court in 2004.

The media reported in 2007 that the Supreme Court of India had directed the central and state governments to pay for collection of waste on the site and to have it landfilled or incinerated, as appropriate. While some of the waste had been landfilled, public interest groups again challenged the Court's incineration directive, as did the states where waste incineration facilities were located.

However, in 2012, the Supreme Court selected the Pithampur waste treatment storage and disposal facility (TSDF) in Madhya Pradesh’s Dhar district as the most suitable facility for incinerating the waste. Though environmental NGOs claimed the facility failed to meet desired safety parameters, the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) submitted an affidavit in 2014 verifying the suitability of the facility to carry out the incineration.

According to The Indian Express, 10 tons of trial waste were transferred to the site in July 2015 and the trial incineration was conducted over a five-day period in mid-August. Operated by the Ramky Group Company, the TSDF was monitored by the CPCB, as well as private firms CVR Labs of Chennai and Vimta Lab of Hyderabad. The Express reported that officials associated with the trial said the levels of emissions and ambient air quality from the burning were within permissible limits, with the air quality being monitored at three locations in and around the facility, including a station representing Tarpura village adjacent to the facility.

The full report on the trial incineration results has been submitted to the Supreme Court.

Frequently Asked Questions About Remediation of the Bhopal Plant Site

1. Did UCIL abandon the Bhopal plant after the gas leak?
A. No. UCIL, an Indian company, managed and operated the Bhopal plant from its startup to the time of the gas leak. After the incident, UCIL completed an important remediation activity -- the transformation and removal of tens of thousands of pounds of MIC from the plant. In the years following the tragedy, the Indian government severely restricted access to the site. UCIL was permitted to undertake clean-up work only in the years just prior to the Union Carbide sale of its UCIL stock, and spent some $2 million on that effort, which included beginning construction of a secure landfill to hold the wastes from two, on-site solar evaporation ponds. The central and state government authorities in India approved, monitored and directed every step of the clean-up work.

It appears that after the sale of UCIL stock in 1994, the renamed UCIL -- now called Eveready Industries India Limited (EIIL) -- continued the clean-up work and completed the construction of the secure landfill on the site. In 1998, the MPSG, which owned and had been leasing the property to EIIL, took over the facility and assumed all accountability for the site, including the completion of any additional remediation.

A trial incineration of some waste from the Bhopal plant site was conducted in August 2015. Specific questions regarding this or any other remediation work are best directed to the Madhya Pradesh State Government and/or the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

2. Is there groundwater contamination at the site?
A. According to media reports, various groups have made assessments of the groundwater quality at the Bhopal site through the years, including a recent effort supervised by the State of Madhya Pradesh. For an overview of those studies, please see "Environmental Studies of the Bhopal Plant Site" on this website. Specific questions regarding these issues are best addressed by the organizations that conducted the studies and/or the Madhya Pradesh State Government.

3. Did the gas leak contaminate the groundwater and soil outside the plant?
A. No. Indian government authorities have publicly and repeatedly confirmed that no contamination of soil or groundwater outside the plant walls resulted from the MIC gas leak.

4. Did the day-to-day operations of the plant contaminate the groundwater or soil outside the plant?
A. A report issued by the India's National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) in 1997 found soil contamination within the factory premises at three major areas that had been used as chemical disposal and treatment areas. However, the study found no evidence of groundwater contamination outside the plant and concluded that local water-wells were not affected by plant disposal activities. UCC sold its stock in UCIL in 1994, and the state government took over responsibility for the site in 1998. If groundwater outside the plant is now contaminated after this length of time, it cannot under any circumstances be the responsibility of UCC.

Specific questions regarding these issues are best directed to organizations that have conducted environmental studies and the Madhya Pradesh State Government. For an overview of environmental studies, please see “Environmental Studies of the Bhopal Plant Site” on this website.

5. What remediation work has been performed at the site?
A. Because the government closed off the site from any and all operations following the gas release, UCIL was only able to undertake additional clean-up work in the years just prior to the 1994 sale and spent some $2 million on that effort, which included beginning construction of a secure landfill to hold the wastes from two, on-site solar evaporation ponds. The central and state government authorities in India approved, monitored and directed every step of the clean-up work. We understand that, after UCC sold its stock in UCIL in 1994, the renamed company -- EIIL -- continued the clean-up work at the site and completed the construction of the secure landfill on the site. In 1998, the MPSG, which owned and had been leasing the property to EIIL, cancelled the lease; took over the facility; and assumed all accountability for the site, including the completion of any additional remediation.

The media reported that a trial incineration of some waste from the Bhopal plant site was conducted in August 2015. Specific questions regarding this or any other remediation work are best directed to the Madhya Pradesh State Government and/or the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).

6. Why shouldn’t UCC be responsible for the Bhopal site clean-up under the “polluter pays” principle?
A. UCC did not own or operate the site. If the court responsible for directing clean-up efforts ultimately applies the "polluter pays" principle to a corporation, it would seem that legal responsibility would fall to UCIL (now called EIIL), which leased the land, operated the site and was a separate, publicly traded Indian company when the Bhopal tragedy occurred. In 1994, UCC sold its interest in UCIL with the approval of the Indian Supreme Court. EIIL remains a viable company today. The fact that UCC was not responsible for the operation of the Bhopal site was considered by the U.S. courts and confirmed. In 2013, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit concluded that UCC was not the entity responsible for any environmental pollution resulting from operation of the UCIL plant. The Second Circuit concluded, "[M]any others living near the Bhopal plant may well have suffered terrible and lasting injuries from a wholly preventable disaster for which someone is responsible. After nine years of contentious litigation and discovery, however, all that the evidence in this case demonstrates is that UCC is not that entity.”

7. What about claims of contaminated groundwater outside the plant contaminating the adjoining region?
A. While we are aware of conflicting claims being made by various groups and reported in the media, we have no first-hand knowledge of what chemicals, if any, may remain at the site and what impact, if any they may be having on area groundwater.

It is important to note, however, that a 1998 study of drinking-water sources near the plant site by the MPPCB found some contamination that likely was caused by improper drainage of water and other sources of environmental pollution. The Control Board did not find any traces of chemicals linked to chemicals formerly used at the UCIL plant. Further, The Hindustan Times reported on April 29, 2006, that "A study by the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad, has virtually debunked voluntary organisations' fear about contamination of water in and around Union Carbide plant…." We believe it is important for the MPSG to complete the remediation of the plant site. The state is in the best position to evaluate all scientific information that is available and make the right decision for Bhopal.

Specific questions regarding these issues are best directed to organizations that have conducted environmental studies and the MPSG. For an overview of environmental studies, please see “Environmental Studies of the Bhopal Plant Site” on this website.

8. What is the status of litigation against UCC regarding remediation of the site and/or paying damages for the effects of pollution?
A. Two lawsuits filed in New York federal court in 2004 and 2007 have focused on site remediation and compensation for residents related to the alleged impact of pollution. In June 2012, a Federal court unambiguously concluded in the first of these cases, Janki Bai Sahu et al. v. UCC, that neither UCC nor its former Chairman Warren Anderson are liable for any environmental remediation or pollution-related personal injury claims made by residents near the Bhopal plant site. In June 2013, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the 2012 court decision, stating: "[M]any others living near the Bhopal plant may well have suffered terrible and lasting injuries from a wholly preventable disaster for which someone is responsible. After nine years of contentious litigation and discovery, however, all that the evidence in this case demonstrates is that UCC is not that entity".

A separate case -- Jagarnath Sahu et al v UCC and Warren Anderson (Sahu II) -- filed in 2007 in New York District Court sought damages to clean up six individual properties allegedly polluted by contaminants from the Bhopal plant, as well as the remediation of property in 16 colonies adjoining the plant. This suit, which had been stayed pending resolution of appeals in Janki Bai Sahu case (Sahu I), was the last remaining Bhopal-related case before U.S. Courts. In July 2014, Judge Keenan ruled that UCC was not liable for any on-ongoing pollution from the Bhopal chemical plant.

In May 2016, the U.S Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York affirmed the lower court ruling in Sahu II, which said that UCC was not liable for any pollution arising out of the disposition of wastes at the former Union Carbide India Limited plant site in Bhopal. For the complete opinion of the U.S Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, please click here.

In July 2016, the U.S Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York rejected the plaintiffs' petition for certification of certain questions of state law and then, on Aug. 15, 2016, the same court rejected the petition of plaintiffs for a rehearing, letting stand the lower court decision that said UCC was not liable for any plant site pollution effects arising out of the Bhopal tragedy. Sahu II was the last case in the U.S. courts seeking damages related to the Bhopal plant, all of which have been dismissed.

Other pollution-related litigation is pending in India against various parties in the Madhya Pradesh High Court and the India Supreme Court. For additional information, please see "Bhopal Litigation in the U.S." and "Bhopal Litigation in India" pages on this website.