World’s Worst Industrial Accident

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Imagine that you are being woken up from your sound sleep by a feeling of choking and suffocation. Your eyes burn and your instinct beg you to escape for safety and you try to run. Your physical exertion makes you gasp for more air and you try to breathe deep and hard without knowing that the faster you inhale the sooner you will die. Probably a worst nightmare for some but the people of Bhopal lived this nightmare and gave in to it.  The tragedy of these people was so bad they couldn?t even run out of trouble because of poor visibility due to thick fog. That night alone nearly 3,000 people died coughing phlegm from their lungs (Pulmonary oedema) and the roads were littered with herds of dead animals. An estimate says that incident has been responsible for at least 15,000 related deaths since and still counting.

This ghastly incident happened exactly 20 years back in the early hours of a fateful morning on 3rd December 1984 at the American-owned Union Carbide Pesticide Plant near Bhopal housing more than 90,000 people. The air filled with toxic methyl isocyanate gas (MIC), escaped when a valve in the plant’s underground storage tank broke under pressure. By the time safety alarm came into function he damage had been done. The company blamed it on sabotage and has not yet accepted the blame for the disaster. Leading to that accident many of the safety measures including the refrigeration system to control eventual run away violent reaction were switched off to save money. The local medical facilities were weighed down by the scale of tragedy. The medical profession wasn?t prepared and was ill informed by the company regarding the nature of antidote to be used in case of accident. The only advice provided by the Union Carbide to the medical profession was to use eye drops, milk and egg yolk to overcome burning eyes. Till date the exact composition of the chemical hasn?t been released by the company. The CEO of the company absconded soon after obtaining bail from an Indian court and has openly refused to be tried in an Indian court.

Indian government sued Union carbide for $ 3.3 billion but received only a fraction of that amount of $470 million through a legal settlement in 1989. The human rights group says India’s government has not distributed most of the compensation paid by the plant owner. Whatever money was received by the victims was just pittance and wouldn?t even cover their medical expense let alone their rehabilitation. At the moment Union carbide is a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical. The current management are claiming no legal liability for the tragic events, saying they acquired the shares of Union Carbide only after 16 years of the tragedy. Appearing in court, Dow chemicals has said that it has no authority to order Union Carbide to take action regarding the Bhopal incident. Union Carbide says it has already reached a settlement and that government of the State of Madhya Pradesh has taken over the facility in 1998 and has assumed all responsibility for completing any further remediation. The Indian Government still fighting to extradite the CEO of Union Carbide for manslaughter.

Still thousands of tonnes of toxic material labelled clearly as ?poison? is lying around in bags covered with dust at the factory site. The drinking water from a well near the site has shown levels of contamination 500 times higher than the maximum limits recommended by the World Health Organization. The rate of infertility is high amongst women along with other gynaecological problems (miscarriages are 7 times higher than national average) and children are born deformed. There have been reports of increased risk of skin, lung and gastrointestinal cancer, mental illness, difficulty in breathing, headaches and stomach pain. Over the years the rain water has repeatedly washed these chemicals off the site and lead them into the ground water. People who drink the same water are exposing themselves perpetuating this cycle of illness.

Recently Amnesty International has called on Dow Chemical Company to ensure that 1)Union Carbide Corporation decontaminates the Bhopal factory site, cleans up the groundwater and removes the stockpiles of toxic and hazardous substances 2) That it cooperates fully with those who are assessing the long-term health consequences of the gas leak and of the hazardous and toxic substances left on site and 3) Promptly makes public all information it has on all reaction products released on the day of the gas leak and full information regarding their toxicity and impact on people and the environment and appears before the Bhopal Court in the criminal case.

It has further called on Dow chemicals to provide promptly full reparations, restitution, compensation and rehabilitation for the continuing damage done to people?s health and the environment by the ongoing contamination of the site.

It has also criticized the Indian government for its lack of respect for, and lack of will to protect the lives, rights and health of its own poorest citizens and for entering a settlement without the participation of the victims.

These are our people and they need our help and support so that they and their children live in safe environment. You and I could together shake the dead conscience of our administration and make it recognize its moral obligation towards its citizens. Does it take twenty years to clear up this waste site which is keep on killing innocent lives? Do we have to always pay by our life for others selfishness or does human life has any value at all? If you are willing, you can make at least our Government act now to clean the site. Join the campaign in support of Bhopal gas tragedy and write to the Prime minister of India (), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (), Government of Madhya Pradesh (). Make them know that you want it to be done and now.

What would your options be if we were attacked with nuclear weapons?  Would you wait for your Government to fight in the court of law and bring the rogue nation to justice or rather have the affected place decontaminated and save life?

Author: Vijay DSouza- U.K.

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