Bhopal Gas tragedy: data on birth defects hidden, NGOs claim

Bhopal, Nov 28 (PTI) The women who inhaled the toxic gas which leaked from the Union Carbide factory here 34 years ago gave birth to children with birth defects in alarming numbers, but the data was concealed, organisations working for Bhopal Gas Tragedy survivors claimed on Thursday.

The gas leak, which took place on the night of 23 December, 1984, at the Union Carbide India Ltd's pesticide plant here, claimed around 3,000 lives as per the official estimates.

'The documents we have obtained from the National Institute for Research on Environmental Health reveal that its parent organisation, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) decided against publishing the report of a study having damning fact that the mothers exposed to the tragedy are begetting children with defects,' alleged Rachna Dhingra of Bhopal Group for Information and Action at a press conference.

'The study found out birth defects in babies of gas exposed mothers to be several times higher compared to those of non-exposed women,' she claimed ahead of the 35th anniversary of what is considered to be the world's worst industrial tragedy.

As per the documents, Dr Ruma Galgalekar, the principal investigator found that 9 per cent of 1,048 babies born to gas exposed mothers had congenital malformations while in 1,247 babies born to unexposed mothers, only 1.3 per cent had congenital malformations, Dhingra said.

'The study was carried out from January 2016 to June 2017 and was discussed at three meetings of the Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC),' she alleged.

'The documents further show that when the findings were presented at another SAC meeting in December 2017, members expressed concern about the high incidence of malformed children and raised several queries related to quality control of data,' she said.

Thereafter it was decided that an expert group would review the data, the activist said.

'As per the minutes of the Expert Group's meeting on April 4, 2018, it strongly recommended that this data, due to its inherent flaws, should not be put in public domain and shared at any platform,' Dhingra alleged.

'According to the four experts, the `inherent flaws' of the study were `various methodological issues, problems of invalidated data and outcome assessment bias,' she added.

'At the SAC meeting in October 2018 the members agreed that `as the said project had flaws...the results are erroneous and thus should not be brought in the public domain',' she said.

'All this is being done in the interest of Union Carbide and Dow Chemical,' the activist alleged.

Dow Chemical purchased Union Carbide subsequent to the Bhopal disaster.

Rashida Bee, president of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh, said, 'These documents make us lose faith in our scientists and scientific institutions.

'If the study design was indeed flawed, how was it approved at three successive meetings over two years?...why has there been no fresh proposal to do the study properly?' she asked.

'We have other documents that show that back in 1994 95, over 70,000 children in gas affected areas were examined and 2,435 of them were identified with congenital heart disorders alone,' claimed Nousheen Khan of the Children against Dow Carbide. PTI LAL MAS KRK KRK