I find the Bhopal disaster to be one of the most inconceivable disasters and catastrophic event that ever happened in history. I am sure many of you have heard about this or even remember the day it happened, on the night of December 2, 1984. Do you know, even today Bhopal is still feeling the effects from this calamitous and cataclysmic event. I want to visit this Bhopal site one of these days to see how this event has changed Bhopal till this day. I get so emotional about this event, and I am haunted by the pictures I see, especially the photo that appeared on the front cover of Time Magazine. The 1984 gas leak in Bhopal India was a terrible tragedy that understandably continues to evoke strong emotions even almost 35 years later. Here is the story that leaves me ghastly.
In the early morning hours of December 3, 1984, Union Carbide, a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India released 40 tons of gas drifting through the streets. A relief valve on a storage tank containing highly toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) lifted. A cloud of MIC gas was released and the destruction begins. The residents of Bhopal awoke in darkness to sounds of screams with gases severely burning their eyes, noses, and mouths as they began to cough violently. The deadly brew of gases burned the tissues of the eyes and lungs, and attacked the nervous system. People began vomiting uncontrollably, were wracked with seizures and quickly fell dead. People were falling down, crashing into each other, trying to run for dear life. Men pushed and pulled women along, and woman tugged their children. Many were dying in the stampedes; even the cows were running to save their lives! The poison cloud was so dense and scorching that people was reduced to near blindness. Women lost their unborn children as they ran, their wombs spontaneously opening in bloody abortion. Hundreds of corpses of men, women, and children, cows, buffaloes, dogs and goats were all over the place. With 8,000 deaths within a few days, and more than 20,000 in the years since, people continue to die each month from long-term effects of the poisoning.
Since the disaster, survivors are still plagued with cancer, TB, retardation, persistent cough, diminished vision, body aches, fatigue, anxiety, depression, and babies born with many defects. More than half a million Bhopal’s community who survived the tragedy are suffering from the effects of the toxic cloud. Treatments are hampered because the company refusal to share information it holds on the toxic effects of the gas, claiming the data is a ‘trade secret’ frustrating the effort of doctors to treat gas-affected victims. Bhopal has an estimate of about ten to fifteen patients a month dying from the effects of the toxic gas. Bhopal remains essentially the same today as the day they were running for their lives. The site has since never been cleaned up and the area near the site of the plant is still contaminated, and has very high levels of pesticides and chemicals. A new report released by the Bhopal Medical Appeal and the local Sambhavna clinic demonstrates that there are still high levels of toxic chemicals in the drinking water supply in 15 communities near the old Union Carbide pesticide plant, according to a press release issued by the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.
In the early 1980s, the demand for pesticides had fallen, the factory was operating at a loss which led to a series of cost-cutting measures. Widespread crop failures and famine led to increased debts and decreased capital for farmers to invest in pesticides. The results, staff and maintenance cuts were all made. Between 1978 and 1984, there were six major accidents at the plant which were precursors of the December 3rd disaster, while company experts did little about these warnings signs. A Union Carbide Corporation Safety survey team audited the Bhopal plant in May 1982. This report was sent to Bombay (Union Carbide’s headquarters) Hong Kong, and West Virginia, listing a total of 61 hazards, 30 of them considered major, and 11 as dangerous warning signs of possible leaks. Union Carbide’s neglect of major safety dangers at the Bhopal plant is demonstrated in even starker fashion by a safety report in September 1984, just three months before the disaster. Safety equipment and procedures far below the standards found in its sister plant in West Virginia.
Finally, in 1989, Union Carbide, in a partial settlement with the Indian government agreed to pay out some $470 million in compensation. Five years after the tragedy, its victims had still not laid hands on a single one of the $470 million they had been awarded. The victims were not consulted in the settlement discussions, and the large sum of money was placed in a special account administered by the Supreme Court. Eventually, according to official figures, 548,519 survivors would eventually receive what was left of the money paid by Carbide, a little less than 60,000 rupees or approximately $1,400 for the death of a parent and about half that in cases of serious personal injuries. The residents who were awarded are hardly better off than those who were not awarded.
In 1991, the Bhopal court summoned Warren Anderson, Union Carbide’s CEO to appear on a charge of homicide in a criminal case. However, Mr. Anderson has never stood trial before an Indian court; he has instead evaded an international arrest warrant and a summons to appear before a US court. Neither the American nor the Indian government seem interested in disturbing him with an extradition, despite the scandal over corporate crime, and this in itself is a crime!