1984 to Now: The Ongoing Disaster in Bhopal

1984 to Now: The Ongoing Disaster in BhopalBhopal on the 26th Anniversary

Often referred to as the world's worst industrial disaster, Bhopal still remains a global symbol of corporate negligence.  Bhopal didn't start on the night of the tragedy; Bhopal still has not ended.  This tragedy of multinational proportions continues in the abandoned factory's corpse, as it leaks its poisons into the community drinking water.  It continues in Indian and American court rooms, as Union Carbide and Dow attempt to deny their responsibilities.  It continues in the generations of affected Bhopalis, as they face a wide range of health issues.  Bhopal lives on in the hearts and in the minds of thousands of activists worldwide, as they tirelessly fight for justice that should have come 26 years ago.

"Bhopal, sitting on the edge of a volcano…" -Rajkumar Keswani, Journalist, 1982

In the early hours of December 3rd, 1984, an immense cloud of poisonous gas began spewing out of the Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal, India. Methyl isocyanate (MIC) and other deadly gases moved quickly through the city, engulfing masses of people.

Bhopal Factory: Then
Bhopal Factory: Now
The Dow/Carbide Factory at Bhopal: In 1984 (top) and in 2008 (bottom)
(Photo Credits: BBC, S. Bouillet)

More than 27 tons of MIC and these other poisonous gases turned Bhopal into a gas chamber.  Choking, with violent convulsions, many Bhopal residents drowned in their own body fluids. Thousands died that night. For fear of compounding their legal liability, Union Carbide would not identify the chemical agents that fueled this catastrophe, leaving doctors to treat victims without an answer to their agony.

It was soon revealed that none of the six safety systems at the Union Carbide plant were functional, and Union Carbide's own documents clearly demonstrate that the company designed the plant with "unproven" and "untested" technology, cutting corners on safety and maintenance in an effort to save money.

Generations of Suffering

The gas leak triggered a disaster that is now widely recognized as the world worst industrial catastrophe. More than two decades on, around 25,000 people have died and over 100,000 more still suffer severe, chronic and disabling illnesses: victims are plagued by breathing difficulties, damaged eyesight, reproductive complications, rising cancer rates and a range of other ailments that affect nearly every system of their assaulted bodies. Further, a 2003 study in the highly-regarded Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) confirms that children of gas-affected parents are themselves suffering the effects of Union Carbide's poisons.

"If I told you that one of the world’s largest companies had run away like a thief in the night and left mountains of poisons behind for the last twenty-six years, would you doubt me?" -Gary Cohen, Activist

The Kids of Bhopal: 1984
The Kids of Bhopal: 2007
Leela & Amir – Victims of Bhopal: From 1984 (top) and 2007 (bottom)
(Photo Credits: R. Rai, Bhopal.Org)

Union Carbide left Bhopal without cleaning up the factory site, leaving thousands of tons of highly toxic chemicals in sheds, storerooms and solar evaporation ponds. These chemicals have leached into the earth, contaminating the groundwater source for 25,000 Bhopalis who live nearby. Testing in a 2002 Greenpeace report documented the presence of chloroform, lead, mercury and a series of other chemicals in the breast milk of nursing women who live near the factory. Union Carbide is still killing innocent people in Bhopal.

The Dow Chemical Company, based in Midland, Michigan, USA, acquired Union Carbide's assets and liabilities when Dow purchased the company in 2001. In the years following, and to this day, Dow-Carbide has refused to:

  • Clean up the factory site, which continues to contaminate the soil, water and much more
  • Provide just compensation to victims made ill by these poisons
  • Fund necessary medical care, health monitoring regimens and research studies
  • Reveal decades of the company's research on the effects of MIC and related toxins
  • Offer alternate livelihoods to victims who cannot pursue their work because of exposure-related illness
  • Stand trial before the Chief Judicial Magistrate's court in Bhopal, where Union Carbide faces criminal charge of culpable homicide (manslaughter) and has fled these charges for many years

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