Friday, December 4, 2009

Everything Old is New Again

The sad news from Bhopal about how the Union Carbide disaster still resonates, gave me a surprise: HP told me that after the gas leak, UC put out tenders to companies in the water and air cleaning chemistry business, to research ways to clean up the site.

HP was one of the team whose company, not Union Carbide, no connection with it, but with a track record for water and air cleaning and benevolent natural pest control for major crops (they increased the rice and wheat harvests in India and China) set to work on it. I had no idea he had any involvement at all in the frantic attempts to put right what UC had disastrously let go wrong.

As usual, the original research chemist rarely knows to what extent the work was used, successful, etc., but he knows he was on the side of the good guys looking to alleviate the suffering there all those years ago.

It amuses me when students come around to get signatures from us to encourage clean water regs in the state, and try to explain to HP what this really means. They have no idea they're talking to one of the guys who invented the flocculating (or maybe deflocculating, I'm not a chemist) process that cleans water for re-use. And he is far too modest ever to mention it. But he applauds their idealism and willingness to go door to door in support of it.

Then today online is a story of the topping (putting a tree on the top of the final girders for a new building) of the new huge complex being built on the very place he used to work when he did that Bhopal research work.

One of his last projects before he retired was to research and write up the groundwater and soil conditions of that site where he worked, with a view to the company's eventually selling it, in order to satisfy EPA requirements.

A huge project on which he played a big part, since this is very high water table country, very sensitive wetland, and the company was working in chemistry, so they had to be very sure they had followed the protocols for protecting the water and land.

And the EPA report was successful, they got the clearance, and now 25 years later, a major hospital is being built on the site. Princeton hospital, to be in Plainsboro (yes, as in House!!! one of the producers of that program is an old high school acquaintance of HS, now a tv and movie guy, the name of the hospital in House is a kind of in-joke), is rising on the site of HP's old research labs. A hospital, more alert than almost any other site to the need for safe conditions to build on.

So since he can not get there at all, I took a ride over and made pix for him to see what's up and for you, too.

The hospital is on both sides of an old farm road with a lovely avenue of ancient elms, which have been left alone in the construction, and one of the pictures shows you two of them framing the picture of the new scaffolding.

And there's the pic of the classic little tree lashed in traditional fashion, to the topmost girder, and the flag flying.

And a couple of shots of the sheer size of the place.

They plan to include a park and walking paths around the lake, which will be untouched, good, since there are a lot of birds who come there to fish, black back cormorants, a couple of bald eagles seen around, now and then an egret, often great blue herons.

So all of this is very heartening to HP whose work goes on even though he is very much retired from activity now, and he was so happy to see these pictures and visualize what used to be there, what's happening now, and how it's changed. And how he is still having an impact on the world!