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Worst industrial disaster still haunts India

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Looks half her age
Elsewhere in the city, 26-year-old Rizwana Bi sits on a plastic mat minding her 8-year-old daughter Menaz, who looks half her age and whose twisted body is strapped into a special chair with a wooden back to support her spine.

Rizwana and her husband (who are unrelated to Hazra) both were exposed to the gas as children, and have two sons, both of whom have severe speech defects and poor mental development.

She is one of dozens of parents who bring their children to a special school and clinic run by the Chingari Trust, a nonprofit organization funded in large part by the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize awarded in 2004 to Bhopal activists and survivors Rashida Bee and her friend and neighbor, Champa Devi Shukla.

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Chingari, which means "spark" in Hindi, says it has identified hundreds of children with disabilities ranging from cerebral palsy to speech defects who were born to parents exposed to the gas or the contaminated water.

Hundreds of tons of toxic material from the factory still sit in a warehouse on the premises, but Gaur says there is no contamination of either the soil or water.

The tragedy of Bhopal's children is compounded by the lack of any detailed research into the long term health implications of exposure to the gas.

Studies never published
In 1985 the Indian Council of Medical Research — the top government-funded body conducting medical investigations — initiated two dozen studies into the likely biomedical impact of MIC exposure. Most of those studies were never published, say doctors involved in the research.

"We were told that studies could not be published because of some legal issues, but to date those studies have not been published," said Dr. N.R. Bhandari, a pediatrician who was the main investigator in five studies.

According to V.M. Katoch, the New Delhi-based head of the medical council, most of the main findings of the investigations were published and "the individual studies will not merit a publication anyway."

The council is open to funding new studies in Bhopal, Katoch said, but added that in the last 10 months they have received only two project proposals.

For now, people like Hazra Bi remain caught between despair and hope.

"For us nothing changes. People come and write about us and then they go away. We stay here and our problems stay here," she said. "But we will go on fighting."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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