The Bhopal Gas Tragedy

3′rd December  1984.

  • 21:00 Water cleaning of pipes starts. Water enters tank 610, reaction starts.
  • 22:30 Gases are emitted from the vent gas scrubber tower.
  • 00:30 The large siren sounds and is turned off.
  • 00:50 The siren is heard within the plant area. The workers escape.

Outside.

  • 22:30 First sensations due to the gases are felt—suffocation, cough, burning eyes and vomiting.
  • 1:00 Police are alerted. Residents of the area evacuate. Union Carbide director denies any leak.
  • 2:00 The first people reached Hospital. Symptoms include visual impairment and blindness, respiratory difficulties, frothing at the mouth, and vomiting.
  • 2:10 The alarm is heard outside the plant.
  • 7:00 A police loudspeaker broadcasts: “Everything is normal”.

Everything was not normal and for the people of  Bhopal it probably never will be. The Bhopal Gas Tragedy is the world’s worst industrial catastrophe and occurred on the night of December 2-3, 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. At that time, UCIL was the Indian subsidiary of the U.S. company Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), which is now a subsidiary of Dow Chemical Company. Around midnight on December 2–3, 1984, there was a leak of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas and other toxins from the plant, resulting in the exposure of over 500,000 people. Estimates vary on the death toll. The official immediate death toll was 2,259 and the government of Madhya Pradesh has confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release. Other government agencies estimate 15,000 deathsOthers estimate that 8,000 died within the first weeks and that another 8,000 have since died from gas-related diseases. A government affidavit filed in the Supreme Court in 2006 stated that of the 5,58,125 cases of injury resulting from the disaster, 5,16,406 (92.5%) were minor, 38,478 (6.8%) were temporary partial disablement while 0.7% (~3,900) were severely and permanently disabled. The government’s classification was criticized after the deaths people who were classed as having minor injuries.

Some 25 years after the gas leak, 390 tons of toxic chemicals abandoned at the UCIL plant continue to leak and pollute the groundwater in the region and affect thousands of Bhopal residents who depend on it, though there is some dispute as to whether the chemicals still stored at the site pose any continuing health hazard.

Over two decades since the tragedy, certain civil and criminal cases remain pending in the United States District Court, Manhattan and the District Court of Bhopal, India, against Union Carbide with an Indian arrest warrant also pending against Warren Anderson, CEO of Union Carbide at the time of the disaster. Greenpeace asserts that as the Union Carbide CEO, Anderson knew about a 1982 safety audit of the Bhopal plant, which identified 30 major hazards and that they were not fixed in Bhopal but were fixed at the company’s identical plant in the US. In June 2010, seven ex-employees, including the former chairman of UCIL, were convicted in Bhopal of causing death by negligence and sentenced to two years imprisonment and a fine of about $2,000 each, the maximum punishment allowed by law. An eighth former employee was also convicted but had died before judgment was passed.

Twenty Five years have passed since the country’s worst industrial disaster in Bhopal the horrific effects of the gas continue to this day.

The Bhopal gas tragedy verdict has taken almost 26 years to come, but has justice been done?

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