Bhopal: The Ongoing Tragedy
It was the worst industrial disaster in the world. Around midnight as residents slept, a cloud of Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) and other gases moved through the city of Bhopal, India, leaving a path of death and illness in its wake.
This is the 25th anniversary of the gas leak at a Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal. Since that leak, which was estimated at more than 27 tons, more than 20,000 people have died (thousands that night) and more than 100,000 continue to suffer devastating illnesses. Children born to those affected are also sick and/or deformed.
When Union Carbide left the country, they also left their mess. Thousands of tons of chemicals were left on the factory premises in solar ponds, sheds and storerooms. These chemicals have now contaminated the ground water. In 2002 Greenpeace reported the breast milk of nursing women living near the factory was tested and it contained chloroform, lead and mercury.
In 1989 Union Carbide and the Indian government reached an out-of-court settlement of $470 million (about 43 cents per share of its stock). Survivors, who were not allowed to be part of the suit nor were they consulted prior to the settlement, were awarded approximately $500 each.
At the time Union Carbide left the country, they were facing criminal charges of culpable homicide. As a result of the out-of-court settlement, Union Carbide was absolved of all civil liabilities and the criminal charges were dropped.
Among the outrageous actions of Union Carbide were claiming the gas was not ultra-hazardous, blaming an unnamed saboteur and pleas to the court for humanitarian relief.
The victims were finally able to file a lawsuit in 1990 which made it to the Indian Supreme Court. In its 1991 ruling, the Court would not overturn the settlement but it did restore the criminal charges against Union Carbide, CEO Warren Anderson and other officials.
In Union Carbide's SEC Filing 10-Q, as of September, 2009, the company had net sales of 410 million US.
Union Carbine, as a result of the anniversary, put this statement on their website:
“The 1984 gas leak in Bhopal, India, was a terrible tragedy that understandably continues to evoke strong emotions even 25 years later. In the wake of the release, Union Carbide Corporation worked diligently to provide immediate and continuing aid to the victims and set up a process to resolve their claims – all of which were settled 18 years ago at the explicit direction and with the approval of the Supreme Court of India.”
The Madhya Pradesh website claims it “aims at recounting the contribution of the Government of Madhya Pradesh in alleviating the suffering of the gas victims of Bhopal Gas Tragedy and in restoring normalcy.”
It further states, (sic) “There have been no financial constraint in the matter of providing relief and rehabilitation to the affected population.”
Dow Chemical Company which is based in Midland, Michigan, acquired Union Carbide as a subsidiary in 2001. It, too, has refused to clean up the site, compensate victims, fund medical care or offer livelihoods to victims who cannot work as a direct result of the leak.
Dow Chemical did not appear to acknowledge the event on its site.
Clearly, everyone has an opinion and viewpoint on this terrible tragedy (except for Dow Chemical). Only those involved know all of the facts but it is clear the people of the region have been forever changed. While money does not cure anything, it could help these people deal with the situation better.
Union Carbide should be held as accountable as if they had purposefully spread the gas due to the total lack of concern they have demonstrated.
These people should have been relocated so as not to continually poison them. There should be appropriate and nonstop medical care including pain relief and they should be paid a wage comparative to what they would have been able to earn had they not been inflicted with these illnesses and/or deformities.
Lastly the United States government should extradite the management staff of the Bhopal plant to face charges in India. They would expect the same were roles reversed.
It's long passed the time that justice should have been served.
For more information about Bhopal, visit: