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The Report of the ICFTU-ICEF Mission

The Report of the ICFTU-ICEF Mission to study the causes and Effects of the Methyl Isocyanate Gas Leak at the Union Carbide Pesticide Plant in Bhopal, India, on December 2nd/3rd 1984

International Confederation of Free Trade Unions
International Federation of Chemical, Energy, and General Workers Unions.

This report, based over an onsite study by a 12 member Fact finding committee, is the most accurate and detailed analysis we are likely to have of what happened in Union Carbide’s Bhopal Plant and how it came about.

It establishes that while some wrong decisions were made by local plant management, Union Carbide Corp. also bears a major share of responsibility for the catastrophe.

As for the lesson to be learned here at home, none of the conditions which led to the disaster would have been violations of specific standards or regulations of the occupational Safety and Health Administration or the Environmental Protection Agency

On an International basis, the ratification and implementation by many governments and employers of International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions on occupational safety and health could prevent such horrible accidents.

Lane Kirkland
President, AFL-CIO


The Purpose of this report is to Prevent Future Bhopals.

Many People in the developed countries have viewed the Bhopal Tragedy as an isolated event in a far away land that resulted from conditions and factors endemic to developing countries. Statements have been made by governments and the chemical industry that such as accident could not occur in the industrialized western countries. Some have even suggested that accidents like Bhopal are to be expected in developing countries and are the price that must be paid for technological development.
The investigation by our mission does not support these views.

Our investigation revealed, and our report outlines the fact that none of the factors that caused or contributed to the Bhopal accident were unique to the Union Carbide Plant in Bhopal, India Indeed the causes we identified are common to many chemical manufacturing and other industrial Processes through out the world. These conditions were not the inevitable result of technological Progress. But discrete and well-recognized Problems that could have been controlled.

The Mission consisted of :

Pekka O.Aro , Mission leader, Deputy Secretary General ,ICEF

Johan-Ludvik Carlsen, mission secretary, ICFTU

Annie Rice, Occupational Health and Safety Officers , ICEF

Margaret Seminario , Associate Director, Department of Occupational Health and Safety, AFLCIO, U.S.A.

Michael J. Wright , Director of occupational Health and Safety, United steelworkers of America, U.S.A.

Stephen McClelland, Assistant to the Secretary General, Trade Union Advisory Committee (TUAC) to the organization for economic cooperation and development (OECD)

Jacky Vidal, members of the chemical industry federation of the french Confederation of Democratic Trade unions (CFDT-FUC), and employee of La Littorale, UCC Plant at Beziers , France.

Raja Kulkarni , President, Indian National Chemical Workers’ Federation(INTUC)

R.K. Yadav, General Secretary, Union Carbide Karmachari sangh (Nominated to the mission by HMS)

T.D.Singh, Secretary, Madhya Pradesh HMS

N.Nagarajan ICFTU Asian and Pacific Regional Organisation(APRO)

In Delhi, the mission was joined by its indian members on march 31,1985. We visited the offices of both ICFTU affiliates in india ,namely the indian National Trade union Congress (INTUC) and Hindi Mazdoor Sangh(HMS). where we met Mr.Gopeshwar and Mr.Toofan,Respectivly.

We also had audiences with the minister of the Labour. Mr.. T. Anjaiah and the minister of Petroleum. Mr. Nawal Kishore Sharma .We also had meetings with several trade unionisis, Government authorities. representative of research institutes and the Press.

In Bhopal , we met the present Chief Minister of the state of Madhya Pradesh , Mr.Vora and the Director of Health Ser vices of the State of Madhya Pradesh ,
Dr. Nagu. we also met several representatives of the two trade unions, Which representatives of the Union carbide indian LTD.(UCIL) Bhopal Pesticides Plant, as well as reprsentatives of Health institutions and community groups.

The Trade unions of the chemical workers have for years raised issues Pertaining to the Safety conditions of this industry. None of the issue involved is new or unknown. There are ways of Preventing accidents or contributed to it.. We discuss the implications of the issues arising from accident and its aftermath.

At the end of this report we make recommendation to governments .Chemical Industry companies. International Organization like the ILO and the WHO and the trade unions for measures to improve the safety of workers and the environment.

Bhopal and Some other recent accidents have created a new level of awareness about hazardous substances and the Potential danger they Present Several developments are taking place to increase information on these questions and to diminish the risks. As an appendix you will find a resolution which was presented by our members and adopted by the ILO’s annual conference in June , The international free trade union movements is committed to do its part. We hope this document contributes to the formulation of that policy.

A very important aspect which needs urgent consideration is the fate of the former workers of the Bhopal Plant . The plant has been shut down since the accident. The company has announced that it will not be opened again .At the moment, there are very few concrete measures being taken to restore employment to these people .The ongoing trials have to do with the gas victims, not with the people who lost their jobs. The international trade union movements has to support the effects of the Indian union’s to combat this problem.

At the moment of the writing there are various investigations taking place. The most important one is a one man inquiry commission appointed by the state government of Madhya-pradesh . It will take at least months to be completed and the union’s will watch closely the deliberation and the outcome . Among other things, it is a test of the integrity of the Indian authorities.


In compiling this report, the mission relied on several sources of Information . Including news accounts from Indian, European and American publications; articles from technical journals; Union Carbide technical manuals and reports ; documents compiled by the U.S. Congress ; materials Published by Indian Community and scientific organization : and Correspondence between the unions representing Bhopal workers, The Company , and the government. In addition, the delegation interviewed more then thirty Union Carbide Worker, Including Several who were on duty on the night of the release, as well as leader of the local and national Union’s . Victims of the disaster, medical personnel, present and former government officials and community activists working on behalf of are sometimes contradictory .A clearer picture emerges from the Union Carbide Workers. Based on the Information available to us , the mission has reached the following conclusion about the causes of the Bhopal tragedy;

1. The disaster was caused by insufficient attention to safety in the process design, dangerous operating Procedures, Lack of Proper maintenance, faulty equipment, and deep cuts in manning levels, crew sizes, worker training and skilled supervision, Smaller releases of toxic , and skilled supervision. Smaller releases of toxic chemicals had occurred in the past., Leading to one death and numerous injuries . Little was done to correct these Problems. despite vigorous protests by the Union representing Bhopal Workers.

2. The accident was Probably triggered by a runaway reaction occurring when water entered methyl Isocyanate (MIC) storage tank . A likely Source of the water was a faulty maintenance Procedure on the evening of December 2, 1984.

3. The operating and maintenance errors which led to the MIC release were made by management of the Bhopal plant and Union Carbide India limited (UCIL). However, responsibility for the disaster also rests with UCIL’ S parent multinational, the U.S-based Union Carbide Corporation (UCC).UCC insisted on a process design requiring, large MIC storage tanks, over the objections of UCIL , engineers, in addition , a 1982 corporate inspection report demonstrates that UCC knew the Bhopal plant had major safety Problems. But the company did not take sufficient action to correct them.

4. The government of Indian and the state of Madhya Pradesh did not cause, and are not directly responsible for. the gas release .However , stronger worker safety and environment regulations , and stricter enforcement . Could have prevented it.

5. Chemical accidents are rarely identical , and it is unlikely that an equivalent accident involving MIC will happen again in the limited number of plants still using it. However , the process design , equipment , operating , maintenance , manning , training , and supervisory Problems that caused the Bhopal disaster are not unique to Union Carbide , India , or developing countries. Highly dangerous chemicals are produced , used , stored transported and spilled – throughout the world . Bhopal was not the first chemical disaster . In the absence of strong national and international regulations. rigorously enforced , the next such tragedy is only a matter of time.


Union Carbide has a long history in India, beginning in 1905 when the company began selling products manufactured elsewhere. In 1924, a plant was opened in Calcutta to assemble battery components made in Britain. By 1983, Union Carbide was operating 14 Indian plants manufacturing pesticides, chemicals batteries, industrial carbon, and other products.

Union Carbide’s Indian interests are held by Union Carbide India interests are held by Union Carbide India Limited, Which is 50.9% owned by the parent multinational, and 49.1% by Indian investors. India’s 1973 Foreign Exchange Regulation Act generally limits foreign investors to minority ownership, but UCC persuaded the Indian government to waive the requirement in its case, on the basis of the technological sophistication of its plants, and the offsetting factor of exports. UCC exercise managerial control through its Eastern Division headquarters in Hong Kong. Bhopal workers and national union officials maintain that even minor production and maintenance decision were made by Hong Kong.

The Bhopal plant opened in 1969. At First . UCIL Bhopal only formulated carbamate pesticides from concentrates imported from U.S. , but in 1975 UCIL was licensed by the Indian government to produce its own carbary1 (trade name”sevin”) Methyl isocyanate (MIC) is a chemical intermediate in the sevin manufacturing process chosen by UCC. For a time, the Bhopal plant depended on MIC imported from Union Carbide’s plant in Institute , West Virginia . However, UCIL added an MIC production unit to the Bhopal plant in 1979. The unit was approved and designed by UCC in the United States.
The licensed registered capacity of the plant was 5,250 tonnes in 1983, falling to 1,657 tonnes in 1983. The decline was Primarily due to mistaken market estimates, exacerbated by growing impact of competing pesticides like synthetic pyrethroids as a result, the plant was losing money, and UCIL – with UCC’s permission – may well have been looking for a buyer.

The Carbaryl process in use in Bhopal began with chlorine, brought in by tank truck, and carbon monoxide, produced on site from coke, which were reacted to form phosgene – which was used as a lethal gas in World War I – and killed one Bhopal worker in a 1981 accident. Purified Phosgene was sent to a reactor Vessel and pyrolysis unit to combine with monomethylamine, ultimately forming MIC. Chloroform was used as a solvent in this process. The Bhopal plant stored refined MIC until needed in two underground 15,000 gallon tanks, designated 610 and 611 . A third tank, 619 . was available as a backup . Eventually, the MIC was reacted with alpha -naphtol to form sevin.


The Bhopal plaint’s MIC production unit was shut down for maintenance and to reduce inventories in mid -October 1984, with more then 185,000 Ibs. (23, 125 gal.) of MIC stored in the underground tanks. Some of the MIC in the second storage tank, tank 611, was converted to Carbaryl after November 24, Ordinarily, the MIC in tank 610 Would have been used first, but the operators had been unable to pressurize the tank with nitrogen, which is used to transfer MIC to the Sevin unit . As a result, tank 610 contained more than 11,290 gal, of MIC on the night of December 2.
MIC is highly reactive, unstable, flammable, volatile, and toxic. It reacts with acids, alkalies , water, and a variety of organic chemicals. It can even react with itself. Most of these reactions are exothermic (they give off heat); some are violent . The flash point of MIC is -18 c, and a concentration of only 6% in air is explosive . MIC boils at 39.1 C. The threshold limit value set by the American conference of Government Industrial Hygienist is 0.02 ppm. among the lowest for any substance. Union Carbide’s material safety data sheet states: “Methyl isocyanate can undergo a ‘run-away’ reaction if contaminated. A vapor cloud constitutes from the standpoint of ignition (a ‘fire-ball’ could result) and toxicity.”

Such a chemical deserves respect, and the Bhopal MIC plant contained several safety systems. MIC reacts more violently when warm, So the storage tanks included a refrigeration system. The tanks were protected from overpressure by safety valves and rupture disks. The system was designed to vent escaping gases to a vent gas scrubber, to be neutralized with caustic soda, and then to a flare tower.

The events of December 2-3, 1984 have been described by a number of publications, and by Union Carbide in its “Bhopal Methyl Isocyanate incident Investigation Team Report,” published on March 20, 1985. Our primary sources were the workers them-selves . The most complete journalistic account, and the one that most closely agrees with the workers, was written by Bhart Bhushan and Arun Subramaniam for the February 25 issue of Business India( see Diagrams 1 and 2).

Unfortunately, the mission was not permitted to enter the plant, due to an ongoing investigation by the Indian Central Bureau of investigation. While we had access to the 1978 Union Carbide Bhopal MIC unit operating Manual, along with the piping, process, and control diagrams because they were made after the plant began operating. As a result, we were unable to check important technical aspects of the accident, which will have to await more complete information..

The Union Carbide report states that the reaction in the tank 610 which released the gas was triggered by 1000-2000 lbs of water (120-240 gallons) entering the tank. UCC claims not to know the source of water, and goes so far as to speculate that it may have been introduced deliberately. During the press conference UCC held when it released the report, Ronald van Mynen, UCC’S corporate safety and health director, hypothesized that the water may have come from a nearby utility station which supplied water and nitrogen to the area: “If someone had connected a tubing to the water line instead of the nitrogen line, either deliberately or intending to introduce nitrogen into the tank, this could account for the presence of the water……”

The Workers disputed this account, insisting that no such connection was made on the night of December 2. During the press conference, Van Mynen admitted that the company’s investigation team found no evidence for a connection. Nor is it clear why someone would wish to hook up a nitrogen tube when it could easily be introduced into the tank through permanent fixed lines. Although Van Myna’ s hypothesis in our view is unlikely, the company’s admission that such a mistake is even possible is in an example of unsafe plant design. Given the lethal natural of the water MIC reaction, UCC should have used incompatible fitting on the water and nitrogen system to prevent their interconnection.

The Bhopal worker we interviewed provided an explanation of the water in tank 610 which is, in our view, much more credible and consistent with what is known about the plant. Their account follows:

Sometime on December 2, the production superintendent ordered the MIC plant supervisors to flush out several lines leading from the phosgene area to the vent gas scrubber, This operation involves connecting a water line, closing upstream isolation valves. The work was begun at about 9:30 p.m. on the second shift. Ordinarily, the lines are isolated by a slip blind (a physical barrier, inserted into a pipe or fitting, which prevents material from passing). Line washing is the duty of an MIC operator, while installing the slip blind is the responsibility of maintenance. However, according to the workers, the second shift maintenance supervisor position had been eliminated several days earlier, and no worker was told to insert the slip blind. The operator could not see the slip blind holder from his location, and had no way of way of knowing that it was not present and in place.

Unfortunately, the downstream bleeder lines were partially clogged, so water began to accumulate in the pipes. Many of the valves in the plant were leaking, including the isolation valve, so water rose past the valve into the relief valve vent header, a line connecting various pieces of equipment to the pressure relief system. When the operator noticed that no water was coming out of the bleeder lines, he shut off the flow, but the MIC plant supervisor ordered him to resume.

The relief value vent header is about 20 feet (7 meters) off the ground at its highest point. From it, the water flowed downhill into the tank through a series of valves. The first two are part of a jumper line between the relief valve vent header and the process line for the three tanks. The jumper is not shown on the diagram published by UCC in its March 20 report, but they described it in our interviews. The workers stated that, since the jumper constituted a design change, standard procedures would have dictated its approval by UCC in Hong Kong or the USA.

Part of the process vent header was being repaired at the time of the accident, so the valves at each end of the jumper were open. As a result, water flowed from the relief value vent header. From there, the water flowed to the main isolation valve for the process vent header, which is normally open, to a diaphragm motor valve which should have been closed. However, that valve is part of the system used to pressurize the tank with nitrogen, and since the tank could not be presurized in the days preceding the accident, the valve may well have been faulty. It is also possible that the valve was inadvertently left open, or had not seated properly – since the valve was routinely opened and motor valve – the water flowed down past the main tank isolation valve, which was almost always kept open, into the tank itself.

Eventually, the clogged bleeders were freed and water stopped entering the process vent header . By that time, the water in the tank 610 had begun to react with the MIC. The reaction was slow at first, but when the third shift reported for work at 10:45 p.m., they began to suffer throat and eye irritation from an MIC leak close to the area where the lines were being washed. The exact source of the small leak was never determined, since the workers were soon overwhelmed by the much larger MIC release, but the MIC was probably escaping back along the same route by which the water previously had entered.

From that point on, the UCC report and the worker’s account agree. At 11:00 p.m., the control room operator noted that the pressure in tank 610 had risen from 2 to 10 psig. The MIC water reaction proceeds much more rapidly if it is catalyzed by iron. UCC’S March 20 report theorizes that the MIC in tank 610 was contaminated by chloroform, which begun to release chloride ions as the heat and the pressure in the tank increased. Others have speculated that the chloride came from phosgene, which also could have contaminated the MIC. What ever its source, the chloride attacked the walls of the tank, leaching out iron. Catalyzed, the reaction’s intensity increased rapidly, creating still more heat and pressure, releasing still more chloride and more iron, intensifying the reaction still more.

At 12:15 a.m. the operator checked the tank pressure again. It was 30 psig and rising rapidly. Seconds later, the reading was off the scale. The rupture disk/safety valve system is designed to give way at 40 psig, and when it did, the contents of tank 610 rushed through the lines at a least 720 lbs per minute. At the height of the reaction, the pressure in the the tank was probably above 200 psig, the temperature above 200 C.

The escaping gas went first to the vent gas scrubber. It is not yet clear whether the scrubber functioned on the night of the release. The pump had been shut off, and the instrument panel in the control room indicated that they could not be restarted. On the other hand, the caustic soda in the scrubber was found to be hot the next morning, indicating that some reaction had taken place. In any event, from the information published in the Bhopal operating manual and press reports after the accident, it appears that the scrubber did not have the capacity to handle the massive release.

From the scrubber, the gas should have gone to the flare tower, but the unit was out of service. The pipe leading to it had been removed for maintenance weeks earlier. So the gas was vented directly to the atmosphere. Several workers made a last ditch effort to spray the escaping gas with water to neutralize it. Wearing full face respirators and rapidly running out of air, they struggled with poorly maintained valves to turn on the water spray, only to find that the pressure was not sufficient to reach the gas. One worker kept trying even after he had run out of air. choking from the gas, he finally tried to escape over the wall, but passed out, falling to the ground where he was rescued by others. One supervisor tried to climb the MIC structure to plug the gas leak, although that would have been stupid. By 1:00 a.m. on December 3, a lethal cloud was drifting over the unsuspecting neighborhoods of Bhopal, where it would kill at least 2,500 people and injure more than 200,000.


MIC Storage
Large volumes of MIC were stored in the Bhopal plant. Reports on the volume of MIC in tank 610 at the time of the accident vary from 11,290 gallons( 75% capacity) to 13,000 gallons (87% capacity). The low figure is contained in the Union Carbide report, which also maintains that such a volume is “well below the maximum operating level.” However , Union Carbide’s technical manual on MIC suggests a limit of 50%. Bhopal workers confirmed that all their MIC storage tanks were frequently filled above the recommended level.

According to calculations based on data in the Union Carbide report, tank 611 contained 11,565 gallons of MIC until November 24, after which it was slowly drawn down for production to 5,620 gallons on the night of the accident . Tank 619 also contained a small amount of contaminated MIC, despite the fact that Union Carbide’s 1978 Bhopal MIC unit operating manual states that one tank is always to be kept empty in case of emergencies.

This long-term storage of large amounts of MIC was a direct causes of the accident . The accident would not have occurred if the MIC in tank 610 and 611 had been promptly converted to sevin after the MIC unit was shut down. If either tank 611 and 619 had been empty, it could have been used as a surge tank to contain some of the reacting MIC on the night of the accident, thus giving operators more time to regain control of the reaction. In fact, operators wee not even sure how much MIC was in tanks 611 and 619, since many of the gauges in the plant were unreliable and not trusted by the workers. As a result, workers where afraid to open the line to tanks 611 and 619. Since they did not know the causes of the reaction in the tank 610, they feared spreading the problems to the adjacent tanks.

Indeed, it was never necessary to store more than minor amounts of MIC in Bhopal. When the plant was first designed, Edward A. Munoz, the managing director of Union Carbide Ltd,. took the position that large volume storage of MIC was contrary to safety and economic considerations. In a sworn affidavit to the Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation considering of the Bhopal case, Mr. Munoz said that he had recommended, on behalf of UCIL, that the preliminary design of the Bhopal MIC facility be altered to involve only token storage in small individual containers, instead of large bulk storage tanks. However , UCIL was overruled by the parent corporation, which insisted on a design similar to UCC’s Institute, West Virginia plant. Other UCC facilities which use MIC (but do not produce it) store the chemical in small containers. Such storage is considered safer, owing to much smaller quantity in each container.

In fact, Union carbide could have produced Sevin in Bhopal without any MIC storage. Since MIC is a chemical intermediate, the process could have been designed in a such a way that MIC was consumed immediately after it was produced. DuPont is currently building such a plant in Laporte, Texas. Dupont has stated that no more than 20 pounds of MIC will be in the system at any one time. A similar process is currently used by Mitsubishi in Japan.

It should also be noted that Carbaryl, the pesticide produced at Bhopal under the trade name sevin, can be made without MIC. Although that process, like the chemical, UCC may have chosen the MIC process on economic grounds. MIC is a chemical intermediate for a number of pesticides, and before the accident Union Carbide’s Institute plant sold large amounts of it to other companies. UCC probably had similar plans for the Bhopal plant when it was designed.

Safety Systems 
The Bhopal plant had four major safety systems designed to prevent or neutralize an uncontrolled MIC reaction:
(1) A 30 ton refrigeration unit to cool stored MIC, in order to prevent it from vaporizing or reacting;
(2) A vent gas scrubber (VGS) to neutralize toxic gases with caustic soda in the event of a release;
(3) A flare tower to burn vented gases from the MIC storage tanks and other equipment; and
(4) A water spray system to knock down escaping vapors.

At the time of the accident, according to the workers, three of these systems were not operating.

The 30 ton refrigeration unit had been shut down since June 1984. There were no mechanical problems with the system; it was taken out of service to save money. The Freon refrigerant had been drained out for use elsewhere in the plant . The shutdown was in violation of established operating procedures.

The vent gas scrubber (VGS) was turned off in October, 1984, apparently because the supervisors thought it was not necessary when MIC was only being stored and not produced. In addition, the caustic flow indicator was malfunctioning, so it would have been difficult to verify whether the unit was operating or not.

The flare had also been out of service since mid-October. A section of corroded pipe leading to it had been removed even though replacement pipe was not ready. The workers stated that the replacement pipe could have been prepared in the plant, and should have taken only four hours to install. However, as of December 2, the pipe had not been replaced, and the escaping gas could not be directed to the tower. In addition, the company had compromised the reliability of the flare tower even before it was disconnected. The tower was originally built with a backup set to fuel gas cylinders to ensure that the pilot light stayed on. However, the backup system was discontinued to save money.

In spite of all of this, even if the systems had been operating, it does not appear that they could have contained the massive realease of MIC gas.

There is some controversy over whether the vent gas scrubber operated at the time of the accident . But if the figures released by Union Carbide are correct, the gas escaped at rate of 400-800 lbs/ minute, at a pressure and temperature approaching 200 psig and 200 C. Union Carbide’s 1978 Bhopal operating Manual gives the “maximum allowable working pressure” of the VGS as 15 psig at 120 C, and the “nominal feed rate” as 3.2 lbs/minute. Indeed the manual lists “high pressure in the vent scrubber” as a process “upset”, for which the remedy is check for the source of release and rectify. “Similarly, “toxic gas release to the atmosphere” from the VGS is also considered as an”upset”, caused by “high release of the toxic streams from the process,” for which the remedy is “check the source of the release and normalize.” In short, the VGs was never dasigned to handle the kind of release which occurred reduced the severity of the accident, even if it had operated.

The MIC unit operating manual does not contain the details of the flare tower, and it is unclear whether it was capable of safety flaring MIC at the rate it was being release However, some workers believe that had the flare tower been put into operation during the release, the enormous MIC cloud near the tower would have exploded, destroying piping systems in the plant and releasing even more MIC.

According to worker interviewed, the water spray shroud which was activated the night of the accident did not reach the level of the gas release, and was therefore useless. In 1982, Union Carbide Corporation, after inspecting the Bhopal facility, had recommended a new, larger water spray system, but it was never installed.

Inadequate maintenance was a longstanding complaint at the Bhopal plant. The poor maintenance of the major safety systems has already been described. These problems extended to production equipment.

According to the workers, leaking valves and malfunctioning gauges were common throughout the facility. A 1982 Union Carbide Corporation inspection of the plant by U.S. safety personnel noted such problems, and resulted in the replacement of valves in the MIC unit; but at the time of the accident, valves and pipes had again corroded and leaking valves were a serious problem. Leaking valves probably allowed water to enter the tank. Broken gauges made it hard for MIC operators to understand what was happening. In particular, the pressure indicator/ control, temperature indicator and the level indicator for the MIC storage tanks had been malfunctioning for more than a year.

At the time of the accident, the Bhopal plant, including the MIC facility, was operating with reduced manpower. According to the workers and published reports, the plant had been losing money, and in 1983 and 1984 there were more personnel reductions in order to cut costs. Some worker were laid off and 150 permanent worker were pooled and assigned to jobs as needed. The workers we interviewed said that employees were often assigned to jobs they were not qualified to do. This practice was also noted by Union Carbide corporation in its 1982 inspection report. If the workers refused to do the job which they were assigned on grounds they were not trained, their salaries were reduced.

In the MIC facility the production crew had been cut from 12 (11 operators, 1 supervisor) to 6 (5 operators.1 supervisor), and the maintenance crew reduced from 6 to 2. According to the workers, the maintenance supervisor position on the second and third shifts had been cut on November 26, less than a week before accident. With reference to maintenance work and giving instructions for the job, the workers indicated that it would have been the responsibility of the maintenance supervisor to prepare the pipe which was being flushed with water the night of December 2, 1984, including to prevent the entry of water into the pipes leading to tank 610.

When the post of maintenance supervisor was eliminated , these responsibilities apparently shifted to the production supervisor. But according to the workers, the production supervisor on duty the night of December 2 had been transferred from a Union Carbide battery plant one month before and was not fully familiar with either operating or maintenance procedures.

Traning was a major problem at the Bhopal plant. At the time the MIC facility was opened in 1980, 25 people were sent to the United States for training. But due to high turnover – 80% in the MIC plant from 1982-1984 by the workers estimate – few of the people originally trained in the MIC operation in the U.S. remained in Bhopal

The worker said that they had been given little or no training about the safety and health hazards of MIC or other toxic substances in the plant; they thought the worst effect of MIC was irritation of the eyes. Even a maintenance worker who had been assigned to the MIC facility since it first began operation in 1980, stated that he had been given virually no training about the safety and health hazards of MIC.

Language also may have contributed to the lack of understanding about MIC and other hazards . All sings and operating Procedures were written in English. even though many of the workers spoke only Hindi. Workers stated that if they wrote in the log books in Hindi, they were reprimanded.

Insufficient Corporate Attention to Safety
In May of 1982, a three man team from Union Carbide corporation in the USA inspected the Bhopal plant. In its report, the team found a number of “Concerns” which they classified as “Major” or “less serious .” with major concerns being those that represented “either a higher potential for a serious incident or more serious consequences if an incident should occur.”

The team listed 10 major concerns. Among them were;

3. Potentials for release of toxic materials in the phosgene /MIC unit and storage areas, either due to equipment failure, operating problems, or maintenance problems.

4. Lack of fixed water spray protection in several areas of the plant.

7. Deficiences in safety valve and instrument maintence program.

8. Deficiences in Master Tag/ Lockout procedure application.

10. Problems created by high personnnel turnover at the plant, particularly in operations.

Problems like these led to the catastrophic MIC release two-and-half years later. But while the team classified these items as “major” in relation to the other “less serious ” concerns, the overall message UCC sent its Indian subsidiary was at best confusing . The report’s opening summary states:

The team was very favorably impressed with the number and quality of operating and maintenance procedures that had been developed and implement in the past 1-2 years . These procedures together with the job safety Analyses detailed for most operations, constitute a major step for all concerned…No situation involving imminent danger or requiring immediate correction were during the course of the survey.

In accord with corporate procedures, UCIL prepared an action plan in response to the 1982 inspection and sent periodic progress reports to the United States until June 1984. But UCC never sent a follow-up team to Bhopal in the two-and-half years between the inspection and the accident. The workers report that UCIL did temporarily fix many of the items cited in the 1982 report, but by the time of the accident, conditions had again deteriorated.

Labor Relations and Management Disputes
The Bhopal plant was plagued by labor relations problems and internal management disputes. In India there can be more than one union representing workers as a plant. At Union Carbide Bhopal there had been conflicts between a union affiliated with the Indian National trades union congress (INTUC) and an independent union over who represented the majority of workers in the plant. Even at the moment of this writing there is a court case pending on representation rights. According to workers, management tried to use this inter-union rivalry to its advantage in contract negotiations to reduce manning levels and in other labor relations matters.

It also appears that there were internal management disputes in the company. The management structure of UCIL changed before the accident, and the Bhopal Pesticides plant was put under the direction of the Union Carbide battery division in India. According to the workers, this resulted in management conflicts within UCIL and the transfer of managers to Bhopal from the battery operation who were not fully trained about the hazards and appropriate operating procedures for the pesticides plant.

Failure to Respond to Previous Accident and workers warnings
The December 2-3 1984, MIC release was not the first accident at the Bhopal plant. Published reports and interviews with worker we spoke with indicate that there were at least five chemical accidents in the plant between 1981 and 1984.

In December 1981 a phosgene leak injured three workers; one of the workers died the next day. Two weeks later in January 1982, 24 workers were overcome by another phosgene leak. In February 1982 an MIC leak affected 18 people. In August 1982 a chemical engineer came into contact with liquid MIC resulting in burns over 30% of his body. And in October 1982 a combined MIC, hydrochloric acid and chloroform leak injured three workers in the plant and affected a number of residents of the surrounding neighborhoods.

Since 1976 the two unions representing Bhopal workers had frequently complained to Union Carbide management and the Madhya Pradesh authorities, including the Factory Inspectorate, about safety and health hazards in the plant. Correspondence obtained from the local INTUC affiliated union, and our interviews in Bhopal, demonstrate that both Unions consistently raised health and safety issues with management and the government, and warned of grave dangers if the conditions were not corrected.

In a July 1976 letter to the General Manager of the Bhopal plant, the Union listed five serious accidents, including one case of chemical burns and one of blindness resulting from separate incidents. The letter stated:

On reviewing the above incidents one can conclude that the safety measures are inadequate. Despite the instructions from the government before commencement of production that the worker safety should be given top priority, we feel that you have neglected this aspect.

In an April 13, 1982, letter to the Minister of Labour or Madhya Pradesh, the Union wrote:

Our unit is going to celebrate the safety week from the 14th of April, 1982. But the workers would like to inform you that this function is merely a window-display… we would also like point out that our unit is manufacturing dangerous chemicals like phosgene , carbon monoxide, methyl iscocyanate, BHC, naphtha and temik.

After the October 1982 combined release of MIC.hydrochloric acid and chloroform. Which spread into the community, the Union printed hundreds of posters (in Hindi) which they distributed throughout the community, warning:

Beware of Fatal Accidents

Lives of thousands of workers and citizens in danger because of poisonous gas. Spurt of accidents in the factory, safey measures deficient.

But despite these constant warnings by the union, little was done to correct these problems and prevent a potential disaster.


In addition to the direct causes described above, several other factors indirectly contributed to the accident and increased its severity . These include the following.

Failure to inform workers and the public
The Bhopal plant produced, used, stored and transported a number of toxic and hazardous pesticides, feedstocks and chemical intermediates that posed a risk to UCIL workers and the public. However, UCIL never provided complete information about these chemicals to workers, government authorities, or community residents. Most of the workers we spoke with said they had received no training or information about the hazards of MIC or other toxic chemicals in the plant. Residents of J. P. Nager and other neighborhoods in Bhopal had little idea what UCIL produced; many residents thought the plant was making “medicine” for crops.

City and state authorities were provided no information on the identites and hazards of the chemicals present in the plant; none of the officials we spoke with had been told before the accident how MIC was produced or used.

Even after the accident, UCC and UCIL failed to provide adequate information on MIC and its hazards. On December 3rd, as thousands of people lay dead or dying in the streets, the medical director of the Bhopal plant continued to insist that methyl isocyanate was only an irritant and not life threatening. A worker who was overcome by MIC the night of the accident, and went to the UCIL medical dispensary the next morning, was told by the same company doctor not to worry, given a shot of medication and sent home. The workers soon developed delayed pulmonary edema and was rushed to the hospital in critical condition.

Medical authorities stated that they received little if any information on the diagnosis and treatment of MIC injuries from either UCIL or UCC. A hospital, directors told us that he finally found out that the chemical was MIC from a newspaper report on the evening of December 3rd; the state health director finally received solid information on the chemical from the World Health Organization several days the accident .Indeed, the first communication from UCC in the U.S. appears to have been a telex received December 5, which briefly outlined possible treatment, but did not fully describe the possible toxic effects of MIC.

Inadequate Action by Government Authorities
In India , work place safety and healthy conditions are governed by the 1948 Factory Act. While the legislation is federal, inspection of health and safety conditions is the responsibility of state authorities, in this case the state of Madhya Pradesh. For the Bhopal area, the state employed two factors. Both inspectors were mechanical engineers with neither the training nor equipment to assess potential hazards posed by chemicals.

However, the factory inspectorate had long been aware of health and safety problems in the Bhopal plant. Union leaders had frequently complained to authorities about safety problems in the plant and the risk of a major gas release. The state factory inspectorate had conducted inspections following the fatal gas leak in 1981 and a subsequent leak a 1982. According to union officials and workers no action was taken by the government. While the authorities did not cause the Bhopal accident, it is clear that they failed to take the necessary action that could have prevented the accident from occurring.

Plant Siting
The Bhopal plant was located in a heavily populated area. Some of the residential growth in the immediate vicinity, including the establishment of the J.P.Nager shanty town directly across the street, took place after the plant was first opened in 1967. These settlement were not originally authorized, but in 1984 the government gave the squatters ownership rights to the land to avoid forcing them out of their homes.

However, even in the absence of the recent settlements, the plant was built dangerously close to the core of the city and was only a mile (less than two Kilometers ) upwind from the Bhopal train station where hundreds of people slept at the time of the accident. Some of the neighborhoods most effected by the gas had been inhabited for more than 100 years.

The problem was not that people decided to live near the plant. but that the company built the plant near pre-existing residential areas.

The 1975 Bhopal Development plan, a kind of municipal zoning ordinance, specifically called for the siting of obnoxious and hazardous facilities at the far end of the city, Where prevailing winds would disperse releases away from dense population zones. But the plan was ignored in the case of Union Carbide . If the 1975 plan had been followed, it is likely that the impact of the accident would have been significantly reduced.

Lack of Disaster planning
Union Carbide was aware that the chemicals produced and used in the Bhopal plant posed a risk to workers and the community at large. Leaks of toxic chemicals from the plant had affected both workers and the public. However, a disaster plan for warning and evacuating the community in the event of a leak had never been developed . The plant is reported to have had two sirens, one to warn the public. However, it is not clear when the alarm was sounded – people affected by the gas had no idea what was happening, or which way they should flee.

The emergency plans for workers in the plant were only marginally better. Workers informed us that in the event of a leak they had been instructed to check the wind indicators and run into the wind, away from the directions of the gas dispersion. However, most escape routes from the plant were blocked. The plant is surrounded by an 8 foot (2.5 meters) concrete wall topped with barbed wire; with only one gate, workers were forced to scale the wall and squeeze through the barbed wire to escape.


We believe there are several factors which can be ruled out as causes of the Bhopal disaster, in particular, the notion of sabotage. After much public criticism, Union Carbide has backed away from its March 20 suggestion that water was “deliberately” introduced into tank 610. There was never any evidence for such an act, a fact the company now admits.

Others have suggested that the workers were some how responsible, by failing to take proper precautions, or by running away when the leak began. But the major design, operating, and maintenance decisions which led to the release were made by UCC and UCIL management. The line washing procedure which we believe allowed water to enter the tank 610 was ordered by management. The worker ordered to wash the line had no way of knowing that the slip blind was not in place, Since it was not his job to instal it, and he could not see it from his location. Of course, Bhopal workers were not responsible for the decision to store large quantities of MIC in Bhopal, or to discontinue refrigerating the MIC tanks, or to disconnect the flare tower.

It is true that some workers ran form the area during the release. That is what they had always been told to do by UCIL management. Since gas leaks had occurred several times in the past, it is not surprising that they feared for their lives. In any event, there is nothing they could have done. The reaction could not have been stopped after the safety valve on tank 610 blew open. But many workers stayed in the plant and tried. Several were injured in the attempt.

Nor can the cause be located in a lack of worker concern for safety. The letter and poster campaigns of the two plant unions, and their frequent complaints to management and the government, have already been described. The unions were as active in pressing health and safety concerns as any other union with which we are familiar in developed or developing countries.

Some have suggested that India and other developing nations are incapable of handling modern technology, However, chemical disasters similar in cause to the Bhopal tragedy have also occurred in highly developed countries, most notably, the large dioxin release in Seveso, Italy, on July 10, 1976, and the chemical plant explosion in Flixborough, United Kingdom which killed 28 people and injured 89 on June 1, 1974. While we were in Bhopal, the mission visited a large electrical equjipment plant (Bharat Heavy Electrical Limited) owned by the Indian government. Most industrial plants have some safety and health problems, but the ventilation systems and other engineering controls for toxic substances at BHEL Bhopal were at least as good as in similar plants in the United States.

Some have suggested that accidents like the Bhopal tragedy are an inevitable consequence of progress. One commentator even stated that half the people who died in the accident would not have been alive in the first place had it not been for the rise in agricultural productivity resulting from pesticides like the ones produced in the plant. However, faulty design, dangerous operating procedures, lack of proper maintenance and inadequate training are not inevitable or inherent in modern technology.

The Bhopal disaster could have been prevented.


Given the nature of the gas leaked at Bhopal and considering that a substantial section of the population was also exposed to non-lethal doses, the effects of which could manifest over long periods of time, it is very difficult to arrive at definite estimate of the number of casualties.

The Indian Government estimates that approximately 1,700 people died. Most of the more reliable news accounts put the figure around 2,600. The true number will never be known, because in the chaotic situation during the first days after the accident, bodies were buried and burned without proper identification or even count. But it is likely that both of the above mentioned numbers are too small. There are still thousands of people registered as missing. Another reason why we do not trust there low figures is that the government death toll only includes those bodies registered at the mortuaries.

Dr. Nagu, the Director of Health Services of the state of Madhya Pradesh said that the Bhopal hospitals treated at least 130,000 patients for problems – mainly of the eyes and lungs. In addition, over 40,000 patients were treated in the other 22 districts of the state. These were to a large extent people who fled from Bhopal by whatever means, they had. According to him, 12,000 of the 170,000 patients were in a very critical condition when they were brought to hospitals and wards, 484 of them died, and he estimated the total number of dead at 2,000.

Dr. K.V. Pandya, the chief medical officer of Kasturba Hospital (BHEL) told us that his hospital treated over 15,000 patients, most of them outside on the hospital grounds: 95-98% of the victims also had eye problems. Almost 100% of the victims also had lung problems-pulmonary edema. Vomitting was also a very common complaint. No official line of treatment was, however, forth-coming mainly because doctors in charge had no idea of the cause of the accident and this in turn because Union Carbide provided practically no medial information to the authorities. In fact, on December 3, the company was still claiming that MIC was not lethal, but that it causes only eye irritation.

Because no information was forthcoming from UCC, initial treatment was essentially supportive-oxygen, bronchodilators, diuretics, corticosteroids to reduce inflammatory conditions. Control of blindness was already well-established in the state so cortisone drops and sulfa drugs were readily available and used to relieve eye problems. Most of the eye problems subsided.

Lung damage on the other hand was much more serious and lasted longer. The strong irritant effects of MIC caused massive build up of fluid in the lungs (edema) as a result of large scale tissue damage and this probably accounted for the majority of deaths.

Although initial treatment was supported by the WHO representative, Dr. Jaeger, who arrived on December 8, in the midst of the great confusion of the first days there arose a strong dispute between medical experts on the methods of treatment. Autopsies carried out by Dr. Heeresh Chandra of the Forensic Medicine Dept, on the morning of December 3 showed that all the classic textbook symptoms of cyanide poisoning were present. These included cherry-red blood, also in the heart and brain, softening of brain tissue and early rigor mortis. His conclusion was that cyanide poisoning was present and that thiosulphate as an antidote was needed for remaining victims.

On December 5, UCC-USA advised from West Virginia on treatment for the victims. They advised the use of, among others, amyl nitrite for cyanide poisoning and, if this did not work, to combine it with injections of sodium thiosulphate. Later, UCC retracted this advice, stating that a misunderstanding had occured, and recommended that such injections should be discontinued.

On December 8 a Munich doctor showed that blood samples of dead victims contained 2 ppm cyanide. Further autopsies confirmed this. He and another doctor then proceeded to give 50 thiosulphate injections. Both thought that those receiving this treatment showed an amelioration of symptoms but this effort was terminated after a dispute with the local health authorities.

The question arises here as to where the cyanide in the blood came from – did the cyanide come from MIC or was cyanide also released in the leak?

Such an amount of cyanide ions in the blood have to come from outside – there is no possibility that they are a biochemical product. On the other hand, UCC, Bayer AG (a West German chemical company which also produces MIC) and Dr. Jaeger of the WHO all state that the cyanide did not come from the MIC. If this is true, then there is the possibility that other gases leaked together with MIC.

Wherever the cyanide came from, the controversy continued until the Indian Council for Medical Research stated that thiosulphate treatment could be given provided haemoglobin and urinalysis tests were also carried out. These conditions were satisfied in various hospital departments and so this treatment was continued on an essentially experimental basis.

A door-to-door survey on the after-effects of the accident, carried out by a community action group Zahreli Gas Kand Sangharsh Morcha in the last week of December 1984 in one very affected colony and one less affected colony, found that 75% of the workforce was incapable of work, insofar as their capacity to carry loads was reduced by one-third.

Breathlessness among the poor manual laborers means that heavy physical work is now impossible or difficult so that their earning ability is reduced a situation that affects thousands. It seems that this chronic lung disease will become a permanent handicap. In fact, some patients subjected to sensitive lung function tests show definite signs of fibrosis, emphysema and bronchitis.

In addition, the respiratory tract may become hypersensitive to a variety of irritants. Such sensitized people develop acute allergic reactions to a secondary exposure, and this, even if mild, could prove fatal. Exposure to other irritants can also result in an acute reaction, as already witnessed by affected women working in a cigarette-rolling factory. These have been affected by small amounts of chemicals emanating from tobacco, which resulted in respiratory distress and asthma. Textile dust has also been reported affecting the lungs of victims.

A large number of pregnant women were exposed to the MIC and resultant hypoxia, infection, stress and drugs, each of which can cause damage to the fetus and result in miscarriage, stillbirth or birth defects.

A study to assess the health problems of women due to exposure to MIC was carried out by Dr. Rani Bang and Dr. Mira Sadgopal in Feburary 1985. This showed that 3 months after the disaster an extremely high proportion of women in two of the gas-affected slums has developed gynecological diseases such as leucorrhoea (94%), pelvic inflammatory disease (79%) and excessive menstrual bleeding (46%). Suppression of lactation, impotence in husbands, still-births and spontaneous abortions were other such effects. The patterns of disease are so striking and so obviously clearly associated with exposure to MIC that it can be safely inferred that there are definite gynecological ill-effects from the disaster.

Some of these problems are especially important because of their sequellae. Women with pelvic imflammatory disease generally have a 10-fold increased risk of ectopic pregnancy as well as anything up to a 60% chance of infertility. Ectopic pregnancy is always an emergency, even in the best of conditions in hospital surroundings. This then is a problem which should be closely monitored.

Excessive menstrual bleeding can result in severe anaemia in already malnourished slum women, reducing their working capacity. These women clearly need added rations or at least iron and vitamin supplements. Like-wise extra rations are needed for those babies or mothers who found that their milk supply was suppressed. Suppression of lactation in 57%of those studied is alarmingly high; exposure to gas, stress or drugs could have been the cause of this, and often leads to malnutrition in the infants of poor women.

All these medium-and long-term effects imply that there may be delayed outbreaks of secondary diseases or effects-bronchial diseases, infections, pneumonia, tuberculosis and allergic conditions. The fact that MIC reacts with other organic molecules in the body to produce a large number of sometimes toxic products would tend to confirm such fears. The WHO and the Indian government have a heavy responsibility in monitoring developments.

MIC also gives this same reaction with water and various organic materials in plants. MIC reacts with water to form methyl amine which again reacts with MIC to form dimethyl urea. Methylamine is also known to react with nitrates or nitrites, normally present in lake waters, to form nitrosamines, which are known cancer-causing agents.

Similar concerns regard the effect of the gas on vegetation, and more specifically, vegetables and fruit for consumption. The gas immediately affected trees surrounding the factory, causing visible damage in changing their colour and blackening leaves. Leafy vegetables such as cabbages showed white spots on their green leaves. In short, vegetable crops all showed signs of being badly affected. These short-and long-terms effects of the MIC pollution on crops and in water deserve to be intensively studied.

This section on the health effects of the MIC gas leak has purposely been kept brief, mainly because detailed accounts have already appeared in the press. Even this brief account, however, shows the strong need for more stringent regulations forcing companies to give exact information on the health hazards of the chemicals they use.


Was the Bhopal disaster unique, or could it happen again? Are the factors that led to the accident confined to Union Carbide, pesticide plants, India, or developing countries, or are they common?

Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) has had a checkered safety record. The company was involved in the worst single industrial health tragedy in American history. In 1930 and 1931, a Union Carbide subsidiary , The New Kanawah power company, drove a hydro-electric tunnel near the town of Gauley Bridge, West Virginia. The rock was almost pure silica, a fact well known to Union Carbide, since the company used the excavated rock in a nearby steel plant. The hazards of silica were well known in 1930, but the company took no precautions. A total of 476 workers died from silicosis (a dust disease of the lungs), some after only a few months’ work. Many were buried in unmarked graves, with no autopsies or death certificates. Senator Rush Drew Holt of West Virginia later called the tragedy “the most barbaric example of industrial construction that ever happened in this world . That company knew well what it was going to do it these men. The company openly said that if they killed off those men there were plenty of other men to be had.”

In 1978, a Union Carbide product, NIAX catalyst ESN, used in the production of polyurethane foam, caused severe bladder paralysis among workers handling it. Union Carbide pulled the material off the market. It was later determined that. While Union Carbide had tested the acute toxicity of the main ingredient in rats, they had never bothered to autopsy the animals, and had thereby missed finding the bladder problems.

In 1970, a survey by the Oil. Chemical and Atomic workers Union (OCAW, affiliated to ICEF) in a Union Carbide Lindane Division plant in Tonawanda, New York, uncovered seven causes of emphysema in an 18 worker department making molecular sieves. Union Carbide workers in other plants have been the victims of liver cancer from vinyl chloride, skin cancer from coal-tar products and higher than average rates of leukemia and brain tumors from as yet unknown causes. Union Carbide’s international record is less well documented , but a Union Carbide battery plant in Indonesia has been charged with responsibility for severe cadmium poisoning of the surrounding community.

Fundamentally, however, Union Carbide is no different from other global chemical companies. All have experienced safety and health problems. In fact, a 1981 survey of the eight largest chemical companies in the U.S. ranked Union Carbide first in overall safety and health, based on goverment inspection statistics . Members of the mission familiar with union Carbide plants in other countries report them to be generally about as safe as any other chemical plants. Union carbide Corporation and its Indian subsidiary were certainly responsible for the Bhopal tragedy, but the fault does not lie in any unique characteristic of the company.

In the weeks following the Bhopal disaster, governments around the world quickly initiated inspections of plants making and using MIC. Union Carbide upgraded its safety systems in Iinstitute and other MIC facilities. One of UCC’S major American customers announced that it would build a new derivatives unit in Texas. MIC is not a widely used chemical and the response to the Bhopal accident makes it unlikely that another large accident makes will happen in the limited number of plants using it.

However, MIC is only one of thousands of highly dangerous chemicals in use in industry. Some chemicals, such as phosgene, chlorine, ammonia, cyanide, hydrogen sulfide and many pesticides can causes sudden death. Others, such as benzene, vinyl chloride, and acrylonitrile can causes chronic disease, including cancer. Other chemicals are highly explosive; liquified natural gas killed 452 people in Mexico City on November 19, 1984, less than two weeks before Bhopal. The Flixborough accident was caused by dioxin, a substance usually present in the process in only trace amounts, but which escaped when the reaction went out of control. Clearly, many different chemicals can cause major accidents.

Similarly, such accidents can happen in any part of the world. The disasters listed above happened in chemical accidents killing at least 200 people each have been documented in Brazil, Spain, Federal Republic of Germany, Mexico, the United States, and now, India.

The Bhopal disaster was caused by a combination of factors, including the long term storage of MIC in the plant, the potentially undersized vent gas scrubber, the shutdown of the MIC refrigeration units, the use of the backup tank to store contaminated MIC, the company’s failure to repair the flare tower, leaking valves, broken gauges, and cuts in manning levels, crew sizes, workers training, and skilled supervision. The accident might have been prevented if UCC had done more to follow up its 1982 safety inspection, or of UCIL or the government had heeded the complaints of unions representing Bhopal workers. The effects of the accident were exacerbated by the company’s failure to provide adequate information to its subsidiary, authorities and community residents, the siting of the plant close to residential areas, and UCIL’S lack of disaster planning.

The specific items which caused the tragedy and the specific way they came together on the night of December 2, 1984, were unique. But the underlying causes are not unique:

– Insufficient attentions to safety in the process design,
– Dangerous and irresponsible operating procedures,
– Inadequate maintenance,
– Faulty equipment,
– Cutbacks in manning,
– Inadequate training,
– Management and government unresponsivess to safety complaints,
– The Siting of potentially dangerous plants in heavily populated areas,
– Lack of Information,
– Lack of disaster planning.

Members of the mission represent chemical unions and have visited chemical plants around the world, In our experience the factors that led to the Bhopal disaster are common.

Most government set standards for routine , day to day exposure to chemicals. Some government have extensive environmental regulations. designed to limit normal emissions of air- and water-pollutants. However , those regulations are not designed to prevent catastrophic accident like Bhopal or Seveso or Flixborough. The conditions that led to the MIC release in Bhopal, had they occurred in the United states or in any of several other developed countries, would not have violated any specific workplace or environmental standard. Unless better national and international regulations are written and strictly monitored by management and trade unions as well as by local. regional, national and international authorities, the next chemical disaster is only a matter of time.


If accidents like Bhopal are to prevented in the future, steps must be taken to address the problems that are posted by the production and use of hazardous chemicals and processes. These problems are not limited by national boundaries and will require attention and action by government, industry, international organizations and trade union movement throughout the world.

Our recommendations for such action are follow are as follows:

Governments must:

a) Established strict health and safety standards to govern hazardous substances and technologies giving special consideration to major accident hazards. Standards must include requirements for the proper siting and design of new production processes and equipment : institution of all necessary controls to prevent releases and accidents; monitoring and alarm systems; emergency plans for the worksite and community; training of workers and supervisors; and appropriate transport and disposal of hazardous chemicals.

b) Adopt legislation and rules requiring complete information on the identity, hazards and control of hazardous chemical and process to be provided to workers, the general public and local medical authorities.

c) Institute an adequate system of inspection of hazardous processes conducted by trained personnel with the necessary equipment and resources to do the job.

Chemical manufacturers, importers and users of hazardous chemicals and processes must:

a) Institute the safest possible operating procedures for hazardous chemicals or processes; proper design and control measures; maintenance of equipment and controls; adequate manning for safe operation; training of workers; limited storage of hazardous substances; and establishment of emergency plans for the worksite and community.

b) Provide all necessary training to workers, supervisors and managers who are responsible for the use or production of hazardous chemicals- in a language understood by them- about the hazards, proper operating procedures, control measures, and plans for emergency response.

c) Provide full information on hazardous chemicals and processes to workers- in a language understood by them – the public and purchasers of the substance and processes in all countries.

d) Provide the same highest degree of safety in all plants, in all countries in which they operate.

International Government Organization( i,e, ILO, WHO, OECD) must:

a) Develop comprehensive guideline for the use of hazardous chemicals and processes, giving special emphasis to measures to control major accident hazards.

b) Develop and distributes hazard and control information on chemical substances and processes for use by governments, employees trade union organization and workers, particularly in developing countries.

Trade Union organizations must:

a) Seek national laws and international instruments which guarantee workers and their representatives complete information on the identity, hazards and control of chemical substances and processes.

b) Establish a unified trade union program for the control of major accident hazards; and seek the adoption of such a control program in all countries through national laws and international instruments.

c) Through their national centers and international trade secretariats, establish the chemical hazards to union members in all countries.

d) Promote the establishment of local safety and health committees and health and safety representatives to monitor the workplace, and institute training programs for these union representatives.


Largely based on accident like Bhopal and Mexico City, ICFTU affiliates presented a resolution to the ILO’S annual Labor Conference in June, 1985. The resolution was adopted by the conference. As it represents to a great extent the will of governments, employers and workers, we include the text in full. It is our intention to push for the development of more effective national and international measures to improve safety in dealing with hazardous substances.

Resolution concerning the promotion of Measures against Risks and Accidents Arising out of the Use of Dangerous Substances and Processes in Industry.

The General conference of the International Labor Organization.

Expressing deep concern at the growing risks and the increasing number of serious accidents related to the use of hazardous substance and chemical products.

Regretting that such accidents have in the recent past caused considerable damage and have led to the death of several thousands of persons both insides and outside undertaking or serious injury to their health,

Considering that such tragedies demonstrate
(a) the inadequacy of safety and supervisory measures and the lack of workers’ information and training concerning the hazards linked to certain dangerous substances and the technical processes that are in use;
(b) the correlation between workers’ safety and that of the public and the environment,

Emphasizing that in the design and implementation of their industrial development policies, competent public authorities and industry should take fully into account the possible safety and heath effects of hazardous substances and processes on workers and the general public,

Noting with serious concern that in some countries and in particular the developing countries, substances continue to be used and produced, and processes introduced, which present risks and which have been prohibited or subjected to restrictions in other countries,

Emphasizing the basic responsibility of multinational companies’ central managements over the organisation and control of the management of all their subsidiary units,

Considering that special activities must be undertaken in order to improve the control of major hazards and safety measures, having regard to the permanent dangers arising from the widespread use of chemical and other dangerous substances throughout the world,

Recalling the guide-lines regarding the protection of safety and health contained in the International Labour Organisation’s Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy, as well as the provisions contained in the relevant international labour Conventions and Recommendations and codes of practice concerning occupational safety and health and the working environment,

Stressing that international labour standards on safety and health should be universally applied and strengthened, and stressing in particular that this resolution applies to the activities of all enterprises, multinational or otherwise;

1. Calls upon the governments of all States Members of the International Labour Organisations to adopt, in full consultation with workers’ and employers’ organisations, integrated and comprehensive policies for hazard prevention in connection with the use of dangerous processes as well as the production, transport, storage, handling and disposal of hazardous substances.

a) Safeguards to ensure that the introduction of new hazardous substances and processes are effectively monitored and covered by adequate health and safety measures;

b) the establishment of strict and adequate safety and health standards to govern, inter alia, the choice of substances and technologies to be used in industry; the location and design of new production processes and equipments; the setting up of safe hazard control and alarm systems in all chemical plants and facilities; detailed emergency plans for factory areas and surrounding communities; maximum permissible exposure levels for workers and local populations; the provision of adequate protective clothing and equipment at the workplace; the safe transport by air, sea and road as well as the safe storage of toxic chemicals and wastes;

c) the establishment of a centralised and independent national authority responsible for submitting recommendations concerning the granting of licences for industrial operations involving hazardous occupations and substances as well as for the import and introduction of new and potentially hazardous technologies and substances in industry;

d) the pursuit of international agreements on the export of hazardous substances and technologies, including provisions to stop importation of substances banned in other countries.

2. Further calls upon the government of States Members of the International Labour Organisation

a. to re-examine the possibilities for a wider and more effective application of the provisions contained in the ILO Tripartite Declaration of Principles concerning Multinational Enterprises and Social Policy, as well as in other international instruments dealing with the economics and social responsibilities of multinational enterprises;

b. to encourage and stimulate effective tripartite cooperation in all bodies dealing with safety and health of workers involved in the production, transport, storage, handling and disposal of hazardous products and substances;

c. to issue adequate legislation and rules for full and clear information concerning the potential dangers of products and technologies to be provided prior to their marketing or export by producing companies.

3. Calls upon employers and company managements in chemical and other hazardous industries

a) to provide for the safest possible operating and control systems in their enterprises and where transportation is involved, for the safest possible mode of transport;

b) to replace, whenever possible, dangerous substances and processes by safer alternatives;

c) to avoid or minimise the stockpiling of toxic and hazardous substances;

d) to ensure the exchange and dissemination of research information concerning safety and health particulars of hazardous processes and substances and their alternatives;

e) to ensure, as a matter of priority, that all workers, technicians and managers who play any role in the safety control system of the enterprise be given adequate specialised training for this purpose;

f) to provide to all workers in the enterprise, and in a language they can understand, the necessary training, information and instructions as well as equipment required for the protection of their individual and collective safety and health at the workplace.

4. Calls upon workers’ organisations

a) to contribute towards the improvement of safety conditions in industry by setting up health and safety departments and locating scientific, medical and legal experts for advice on matters of safety and health;

b) to elect safety and health representatives to monitor the workplace;

c) to initiate training courses for such representatives;

d) to establish more contacts between workers’ organisations in the same national or multinational enterprises in order to acquire a better understanding of matters concerned with safety and health.

5. Invites the Governing Body of the International Labour Office to instruct the Director General

a) to make arrangements for ad hoc expert meeting
(i) to identify and asses risks arising out of dangerous industries;
(ii) to advise the Office on
– general safety measures specific to highly hazardous industries;
– measures required to improve safety and health in the production, storage and transportation of dangerous substances;
– the appropriate transportation standards and a code of practice;

b) to make every effort, through the International Labour Office’s activities in the fields of technical co-operation, promotion of standards, research and information, to provide maximum assistance to member States for the establishment and strengthening of national infrastructures and institutions conducive to ensuring high levels of safety and health standards in the production, transport, storage, and handling of hazardous substances and to strengthen the International Labour Office’s ongoing programmes in the field of training in occupational safety and health;

c) to continue to put emphasis, in the context of Industrial Committtee meetings, on safety and health aspects of the introduction of potentially hazardous substances and technologies in the relevant industrial sectors;

d) to devote adequate attention and resoureces to the International Labour Office’s participation in the International Programme on Chemical Safety carried out jointly with the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Environment Programme, and to pursue maximum strengthening of cooperation with other relevant United Nations agencies for the improvement and effective application of international standards in the field of hazard control and accident prevention as well as the protection of the safety and health of workers employed in chemical and other potentially hazardous industries;

e) to continue to submit proposals to the Governing Body for the inclusion in the agenda of future sessions of the International Labour Conference of technical items dealing with acute safety and health problems in chemical and other hazardous industries with a view to the strengthening of international labour standard in this field and in particular to examine the possibility, as a matter of priority, of including the subject of hazard control and accident prevention related to the use of hazardous substances and processes in industry in the agenda of an early session of the International Labour Conference.

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Bhopal Press Photos by David Graham, May 5, 2008

Poison in Bhopal Gallery by ReMedAct / Stephane Bouillet

Bhopal XXV Gallery by Stephane Bouillet / Micha Patault / Kostas

ESPN E60: The Children of Bhopal [Nov 9, 2010] (13:19)


The Lawyer’s Guild – KPFK 90.7FM – Los Angeles

Andy Bichlbaum of the Yes Men and Shana Ortman of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal were guests on the Thursday, November 12, 2009 Lawyer’s Guild show on KPFK, Pacifica Radio.

Listen here

Andy Bichlbaum’s interview starts at about 1/3 of the way through, and Shana Ortman’s interview starts at 2/3 of the way though.


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Study proves second generational effects of Carbide’s gases

The prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association last month published a ground breaking study carried out by the Sambhavna Trust Clinic which conclusively proves that the poison gases released by Union Carbide’s factory in Bhopal on December 3rd 1984 have had a severe medical impact on a generation unborn at the time of the disaster.

The findings, which relate to physical abnormalities of male children born to women who breathed Carbide’s gases, not only further the understanding of the long term effects of methyl-isocyanate exposure, but have important legal implications as the question of compensation for these children must now arise.

The beggarly compensation paid by Carbide in 1989 only referred to civil awards for the over half a million people who had by that time filed claims. Unbelievably, The Indian and Madhya Pradesh governments – and therefore the Indian tax payer – have been left to pick up the costs of health care, economic support and social rehabilitation schemes. They must not be forced to take on the developing liabilities that this study confirms. These must be borne by the shameless Dow-Carbide, who in their erroneously titled ‘Bhopal factsheet’ lie that “massive, one-time exposure to MIC has not caused cancer, birth defects, or other delayed manifestations of medical effects”.

JAMA study exposes effects of Union Carbide disaster

The Journal of American Medical Association [JAMA] has published a study carried out by the Sambhavna Trust Clinic showing growth retardation among children conceived by parents exposed to the toxic gases of Union Carbide after the December 1984 disaster. The study published in the October 8th issue of the prestigious medical publication shows that male offspring of exposed parents are shorter, lighter, thinner and have smaller heads than sons born to unexposed parents in the same period. Sons of exposed parents showed abnormal growth in which their upper bodies were disproportionately smaller than their lower bodies.

Members of the Sambhavna Trust Clinic criticized government research agencies for their failure to document the long term health impacts of the Union Carbide disaster and demanded that the American Dow Chemical Company, present owner of Union Carbide, compensate for the harm caused to the second generation of victims.

Nishant Ranjan, Community Researcher at Sambhavna Clinic and first author of the report said that information on body weight, height, sitting height, mid-arm circumference, head circumference, and triceps skinfold of 141 adolescents born between January 1982 and December 1986 were collected for the study. The height, weight, and socioeconomic status of their parents were also recorded. Parents of 71 adolescents were exposed to Methyl isocyanate [MIC] and other gases during the December ’84 disaster while parents of 70 adolescents with similar socio-economic background were not exposed to Union Carbide’s poisons.

Dr. Mohammed Ali Qaiser, physician at the Sambhavna Clinic, said that the selective growth retardation of boys is an unexpected and puzzling finding. He pointed out that one of the degradation products of MIC is trimethylamine, and a Canadian study has shown that this can lead to selective growth retardation of male progeny of mice. It is possible that MIC or other poisons produced similar hormonal effects in Bhopal adolescents.

Satinath Sarangi, Managing Trustee of Sambhavna and one of the authors of the study pointed out that a similar study was initiated by the Indian Council of Medical Research [ICMR] but was prematurely terminated despite objections by the principal investigator. He held the Indian government responsible for aborting the study to help reduce the liabilities of Union Carbide. According to Mr. Sarangi, tens of thousands of second generation adolescents are potentially marked by Union Carbide’s poisons and Dow Chemical, Carbide’s new owner, must be made to pay compensation for these damages. He also called upon the ICMR to resume medical research in Bhopal and publish the results of its decade long studies in Bhopal without delay.

Nishant Ranjan
Dr M A Qaiser
Satinath Sarangi

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List of Quotes

“We are not expendable. We are not flowers offered at the altar of profit and power. We are dancing flames committed to conquering darkness and to challenging those who threaten the planet and the magic and mystery of life.”
Rashida Bee, gas survivor, receiving the prestigious 2004 Goldman Environmental Prize

* * * * *

“If you define ‘liability’ simply as the ability to lie, then Dow’s in liability up to its ears.”
Ryan Bodanyi, Campus Organizer, Students for Bhopal

* * * * *

“We are aware that the day we succeed in holding Dow Chemical liable for the continuing disaster in Bhopal it will be good news for ordinary people all over the world. From that day chemical corporations will think twice before producing and peddling poisons and putting profits before the lives and health of people.”
Gas survivor Rashida Bee, who lost five gas-exposed family members to cancers

* * * * *

“UCC abetted the crime. The sabotage theory was a bloody lie – UCC listened too much to their PR company.”
Kamal Pareek, Chief Safety Officer at the Bhopal plant until Dec. 1983

* * * * *

”It never occurred to anyone that this would happen…I didn’t want to get in the Guinness Book of World Records for the worst industrial accident in history.”
Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson, quoted in the January 21, 1985 issue of U.S. News & World Report. No doubt the thousands of dead and injured in Bhopal would agree

* * * * *

“We should never lose sight of the fact that Bhopal can happen in the United States.”
Al Cholger, an international representative for the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers Union (PACE), speaking in the July, 2003, edition of “Labor Notes”

* * * * *

“Well, that’s always a potential and you have to worry about it. That’s why you need the redundancy… Built into the safety system are a whole series of capabilities that can take care of whatever inadvertent action or co-mission has taken place so you’re not all dependent on just one item to either make it safe or make it unsafe.”
Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson, quoted at a March, 1985 press briefing, referring to the possibility of industrial sabotage. Ironically, this later became Carbide’s PR mantra

* * * * *

Carbide Chairman Warren Anderson told the congressional panel [House Health & Environment Subcommittee, Chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman] yesterday that the company had “no evidence whatsoever that sabotage was behind” the Bhopal incident. 
March 27 1985, The Washington Post

* * * * *

“Suppose we were a 40 percent owned company or 35 percent owned company, raises some inquiries on our part, do we want to participate around the world where you have less than absolute control?” 
Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson, testifying before the Waxman Committee, 1985

* * * * *

Not used yet:


“Union Carbide lives on and waits for us to die.”
Unnamed survivor of the gas disaster

* * * * *

“Many have been forced into destitution, some of the world’s poorest people beggared by one of the world’s richest corporations, from which came platitudes and evasions but no help.” 
Indra Sinha, Bhopal Medical Appeal

* * * * *

“One such ‘expedient’ was the MIC unit; they built it in order to retain control, they used untried technology to keep control, they under-funded it to keep control. When it turned Bhopal into a gas chamber, they said they’d had no control.”
Satinath Sarangi, a longtime bhopal activist, on the discovery of Union Carbide documents that ordered under-investment in the Sevin/MIC units of the Bhopal plant. The under-investment helped Union Carbide retain control of its Indian subsidiary, UCIL, in the face of Indian regulations that required a dilution of foreign equity

* * * * *

“Women are the worst affected from any kind of violence – be it domestic, development-related or that caused by corporate polluters like Union Carbide. It is up to us, the women, to join hands across the world and keep the fight for justice and against violence alive and unwavering.”
Rashida Bee, Bhopal Gas Affected Women’s Stationery Union, and winner of the Goldman Environment Prize 2004

* * * * *

“We are not against business. We are against business without morality.”
Champa Devi Shukla, Bhopal Gas Affected Women’s Stationery Union, and winner of the Goldman Environment Prize 2004

* * * * *

“In its timing and in the composition of the principal actors, Bhopal is a curtain raiser to the sordid drama of Globalisation. Bhopal is a window to what lies at the end of Globalisation.” 
Satinath Sarangi, Genoa, July 2001

* * * * *

“I have gone to various places and asked people to come and join me in the fight against this company [and] I got great support from people. Plenty of people from all over the world have joined us. They told us they didn’t realize what the situation was in Bhopal. ‘Only after listening to you do we realize what a big problem Bhopal is in,’ [our supporters said.] ‘We are with you and the fact is that what’s happening in Bhopal can happen anywhere, because this company is all over the place. We think your demand that this company should be accountable to the law is justified.'”
Bhopal survivor Rasheeda Bi, speaking to the India-West news network from Washington, D.C., a few hours after ending her 12-day hunger strike.
* * * * *

“Since December 1984, I have personally witnessed how broken widows with no future, or children who were forced to become heads of their orphaned families at the age of 9, and day-labourers who lost their ‘ability to work’, all turned into strong human beings, great activists, tireless campaigners and capable organisers. This self-empowerment through collective struggle is the single greatest achievement of the people of Bhopal and their transformation from victims to victors.”
Praful Bidwai, July 2004

Other Quotes

“The disaster in Bhopal continues, and is likely to worsen if Dow Chemical does not step forward to fulfill its responsibilities. It is disheartening to note that a company such as Dow, who professes to lead the chemical industry towards ‘responsible care’ shies away from its obligations when truly responsible care can be demonstrated. More disturbing is the manner in which Union Carbide and Dow Chemical have ignored the summons of the Bhopal court. This exposes a blatant disregard for the law. By refusing to address the liabilities it inherited in Bhopal via its acquisition of Union Carbide, Dow Chemical is party to the ongoing human rights and environmental abuses in Bhopal.”
A Congressional letter to Dow, signed by 18 representatives, sent in July, 2003
* * * * *

“Pursuant to the “polluter pays” principle recognized by both the United States and India, Union Carbide should bear all of the financial burden and cost for the purpose of environmental clean up and remediation.”
The Government of India, in a June 28, 2004 letter to the US Southern District Court in New York

* * * * *

“Massive suffering resulted from the UCC leak, yet Dow-Carbide continues to evade its responsibilities under the law. Dow must ensure that Union Carbide appear before the Bhopal Court. Victims have the right to be heard in court, and multinational companies shouldn’t be able to skip town or hide behind subsidiaries or mergers. This case tragically demonstrates that transnational companies need to be better regulated to eliminate corporate complicity in human rights abuses.”
Amy O’Meara, Amnesty International, May 9, 2005

* * * * *

“Dow made the mistake in February 2001 of buying Union Carbide, the company that owned 51% of an operation in India that suffered a catastrophic poison gas leak in 1984 in Bhopal.” 
Forbes Magazine, “Dow’s Pocket Has A Hole,” March 13, 2003

“Till the start up of the plant there was an absolute understanding and a very high level of communication between UCC and UCIL. Our people going there and their people coming here. The designs, the drawings. Any design change made in India had to be approved because, you see, they had experience of dealing with MIC – we didn’t. We were dependent on them for recommendations. So I feel that if at this point in time they say that they really did not know what was going on it means they are trying to hide something.”
Kamal Pareek, Chief Safety Officer at the Bhopal plant until Dec. 1983

* * * * *

“I have been deeply moved by the suffering, by the stories and by the voices of the people of Bhopal. I am extremely honored, therefore, to add my voice to the growing chorus of voices from around the world demanding justice for the victims of one of the world’s largest industrial disasters. I consider it unconscionable and obscene that 18 years and some 20,000 deaths later we are still even having a discussion about just compensation, particularly, for the thousands of innocent men, women, and children who have been left scarred, disfigured, and maimed by this example of corporate negligence. However, this is not just about Bhopal, this is about all of us since it could happen to any of us. …I also want to applaud the courage, the caring, and the compassion of people around the world, like Diane Wilson, who are currently engaged in prolonged hunger strikes in order to focus world-wide attention on the fact that–despite the boundaries and oceans that divide us–we are still one people. Their courageous actions are a reminder that we all inhabit one planet and we all breathe the same air. As I join with them in fasting for the next five days, I also join with them in urging Dow Chemicals to justly compensate the people of Bhopal.”
Danny Glover, US Actor

* * * * *

“Thousands of people in Bhopal were denied their right to life, and tens of thousands of people have had their right to health undermined. Those struggling for justice and the right to a remedy in Bhopal have been frustrated in their efforts. Thousands of poor families have suffered illness and bereavement, further impairing their ability to realize their right to a decent standard of living. These and other fundamental human rights are explicitly guaranteed in international treaties, which are legally binding on the Indian state. The Indian Constitution guarantees the right to life, and the Indian Supreme Court has held that this includes the right to health and to protection from environmental pollution. The Court has also determined that companies are responsible for environmental damage and for compensating anyone harmed by their activities.”
Amnesty International, Clouds of Injustice, Nov. 2004

* * * * *

“I visited Bhopal soon after the gas leak in 1989. The horror was hard to endure. On my return to the UK I spoke out against those responsible. It is unconscionable that after nearly 18 years, Union Carbide and its CEO Warren Anderson have not had to face charges. How has Union Carbide Corporation managed to escape with total impunity? How has Mr. Anderson managed to avoid extradition for the 11 years in which he and his Corporation have been thumbing their noses at the Bhopal Court, thus breaking the legally-binding undertaking they gave to a US court? Why does the Indian government now seek to reward him by diluting the charges against him?

“These are questions that will be asked in Bhopal on Wednesday. People who lost loved ones and have been living with terrible illnesses for nearly 18 years will want to know, ‘how did the Corporation get away with paying us such obscenely miniscule compensation?’ ‘Would this have happened if 8,000 people had been gassed to death in the US or the UK on one single night?’ ‘Why is human life in developing countries so devalued?’ What answers shall we give them? Should we hold up our hands and talk about the importance of multinational investment in India? Or legal technicalities? Should we say that when President Bush talks about corporate accountability, he specifically excludes Union Carbide and its new owners Dow Chemicals?

“What happened in 1984 was an unspeakable tragedy, what has happened since is a travesty of justice, an abuse of fundamental human rights on a contemptuous scale. It cannot be allowed to continue. Whether or not the Indian government has its way on Wednesday, the fight for justice must go on. I call upon decent people all round the world who believe in fairness and justice to join us in supporting the poor, the helpless, and the abused gas survivors of Bhopal.”
Bianca Jagger, speaking in 2002 as the Indian Government attempted to reduce the criminal charges against Warren Anderson.


Dow Criminal/Union Carbide

“$500 is plenty good for an Indian”
Dow Public Affairs Specialist Kathy Hunt, 2002, referring to the average compensation received by the Bhopal victims

* * * * *

“Clearly, we’re enormously aware of Bhopal and the fact that particular incident is associated with Union Carbide, [but Union Carbide has] done what it needs to do to pursue the correct environment, health, and safety programs.” 
Dow CEO Michael Parker, Nov. 2000, in his first media briefing

* * * * *

“The only criminal charges that we are aware of is the one against the former CEO of Union Carbide, which has retired many many many years ago. So we don’t know of any other criminal charges.”
Dow CEO William Stavropoulos, denying at the 2003 Dow Shareholder’s Meeting that Union Carbide faces criminal charges. Dow Spokesperson John Musser later clarified: “Actually, our chairman did misspeak. We are fully aware that Union Carbide and Anderson were both named in the criminal charges in India. It wasn’t said with malice, it was a mistake.”

* * * * *

“There are no…criminal…actions, suits, claims, hearings, investigations or proceedings pending…No investigation or review by any Government Entity with respect to it or any of the subsidiaries is pending.” 
Dow’s pre-merger filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, in which it claims that Union Carbide has no pending liabilities in Bhopal or elsewhere. See Registration Statement by The Dow Chemical Company and Union Carbide Corporation, as filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on October 5, 1999, Article V: Representations and Warranties

* * * * *

“Dow was not named in the criminal lawsuit. Union Carbide and Mr. (Warren) Anderson, the former CEO, are named in it. They have not come forward. Their position on the matter is that the Indian government has no jurisdiction over Union Carbide or Mr. Anderson; therefore, they are not appearing in court.” 
Dow Spokesman John Musser, quoted in the December 4, 2003 issue of the Michigan Daily

* * * * *

”The Indians are very technically capable, but for safety procedures, U.S. multinationals should insist on having American employees as well as local nationals.”
Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson, delicately attempting to shift the blame for the disaster without sounding too racist. Quoted in the December 24, 1984, issue of Time Magazine

* * * * *

“The comparative risk of poor performance and of consequent need for further investment to correct it, is considerably higher in the UCIL operation than it would be had proven technology been followed throughout. CO and I-Naphthol processes have not been tried commercially and even the MIC-to-Sevin process, as developed by UCC, has had only a limited trial run. Furthermore, while similar waste streams have been handled elsewhere, this particular combination of materials to be disposed off is new and, accordingly, affords further chance for difficulty. In short, it can be expected that there will be interruptions in operations and delays in reaching capacity or product quality that might have been avoided by adoption of proven technology”.
UCC 04206 – third paragraph

* * * * *

“Safety is the responsibility of the people who operate our plants. You can’t be there day in and day out.”
Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson, quoted in the April 1, 1985 issue of Time Magazine

* * * * *

“Protecting the environment must be part of everything we do and every business decision we make. We have set aggressive [environmental] goals that must be on equal standing with our economic profit goals.”
Dow CEO Michael Parker, 2002

* * * * *

“Environment, health and safety, and economic performance are not mutually exclusive, or even limiting. Being environmentally responsible makes good business sense.”
Spoken like a man who knows. William Stavropoulos, Dow’s Chairman and CEO, in a July 1st, 2003 Dow press release

* * * * *

“Companies that don’t meet their responsibilities to all their constituencies will have a difficult time. Responsible customers won’t want to buy their products. Talented people won’t want to work for them. Enlightened communities won’t want them as neighbors, and wise investors won’t entrust them with their economic futures.”
William Stavropoulos, Chairman and CEO of Dow Chemical, quoted in “The Business of Business Managing Corporate Social Responsibility: What Business Leaders are Saying and Doing 2002-2007”

* * * * *

“When all this is over, I don’t think anyone will accuse Union Carbide of stonewalling or running away from the issue.”
Wishful thinking from Warren Anderson, Union Carbide’s former CEO. Quoted in The Washington Post, February 24, 1985

* * * * *

“Union Carbide remains as a subsidiary of Dow, with its own board of directors, and its own assets and liabilities,” he said. “Stock ownership does not equal responsibility for those who acquired the stock. … For example, if you own stock in Ford, and someone rolls over in a Ford and sues Ford, you cannot be sued because you hold stock in Ford, regardless of whether or not negligence occurred.”
Dow Spokesman John Musser, quoted in the May 12, 2003 issue of the Michigan Daily

* * * * *

“Union Carbide has a moral responsibility in this matter, and we are not ducking it.”
Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson, quoted in Time Magazine, December 24, 1984

* * * * *

When asked what the consequences to Dow would be if it were to meet the demands of opposition groups, Musser said “I wouldn’t speculate on that because it won’t ever happen.”
Dow Spokesman John Musser, quoted in the May 12, 2003 issue of the Michigan Daily

* * * * *

“We have a stigma. We can’t avoid it.” 
Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson, discussing his poor little rich corporation. December 24,1984, Business Week

* * * * *

”Those first two months were tough, tough, tough. But my health is good. My blood pressure improved. I used to spend 100 percent of my time on Bhopal. Now it’s maybe 10 percent.”
Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson, sharing some wise words on the first anniversary of the Bhopal disaster. Quoted December 3, 1985, The New York Times

* * * * *

“This is most inconvenient. We’ve got people coming to dinner.” Pressed to ask her husband to say what his current feelings were on the continuing suffering of more than 130,000 people in Bhopal, Mrs Anderson snapped, “I told you, we are giving a dinner party, and it isn’t even catered.”
Lillian Anderson, shortly after her husband, the wanted fugitive Warren Anderson, was found living a life of luxury in the Hamptons in 2002




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“Bhopal Lives” – Personal Accounts of the Disaster and its Aftermath

Next Tuesday, December 3, the International Medical Commission-Bhopal (IMCB) will release its final report on the current medical, social, and economic status of the survivors of the Union Carbide disaster, a leak of toxic gas that claimed around 10,000 lives in Bhopal, India, 12 years ago.

The report, the culmination of a three-year study by a group of doctors affiliated with prestigious institutions in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, is the first comprehensive, peer-reviewed study of the chronic effects of the disaster that has been released publicly.
The commission found that up to 50,000 survivors are suffering from partial or total permanent disability as a consequence of the gas disaster. In addition to the widely recognized lung and eye injuries, its report details medical conditions that have never been identified before, such as neurotoxicological effects (damage to the brain and central nervous system). They affect short-term memory, balance, and motor skills-they affect the survivors’ ability to hold jobs, their children’s ability to read and write.

The study documents, for the first time, post-traumatic stress syndrome in the survivors. “People were buried alive,” says Dr. Rosalie Bertell, one of the commissioners. “Some of them actually were in a pile of bodies to be burned, and came to-you can imagine the nightmares and panic attacks after that”. According to earlier studies done by the Indian Council of Medical Research, descendants up to the third generation of survivors may sustain genetic damage leading to cancer and abnormalities in offspring. The new findings were not available to the Supreme Court of India when it imposed a settlement for damages in 1989, which the commission found to be “decidedly inadequate.” The report, therefore, should provide new grounds to reopen the case.

BHOPAL HAS JOINED THE roster of internationally recognized symbol-placesalong with Hiroshima, Auschwitz, Chernobyl-whose very names have become synonymous with the tragedies that have taken place within their precincts. Mention the word Bhopal to a person outside India, and they won’t think of a graceful city on the hills above two lakes with some of the most glorious Muslim architecture in India. They will think about what happened on the night of December 2 and the early morning of December 3, 1984, when an accident at a chemical plant owned by Union Carbide of Danbury, Connecticut, led to history’s worst industrial disaster.

There is a pornography of images of disaster in the Third World-famine, floods, war, earthquakes. Quick television interviews with the victims reinforce those images. And, as with all pornography, the net effect is this: the affected people lose their individuality, their humanity, and we, the viewers, who have no idea about their lives, begin to distance ourselves from them. As it is, they all look so foreign to us: all these brown or black people, poor things. A lot has been written about the bare facts of the Bhopal disaster: how it might have happened, how many died, how many were injured. This article, the first of twc parts, examines what has rarely been portrayed: the complexity of people’s individual response. to an enduring disaster.

The Night of the Gas

In May 1982, a Union Carbide inspection team from the Danbury headquarters visited the Bhopal plant and found 61 safety and maintenance problems, 30 of them major. A series of gas leaks had already resulted in the death of one factory worker and injuries to several others. Five months before the night of the accident, vital refrigeration and cooling systems had been shut down. Around the same time, the maintenance crew was reduced from six to two workers as part of a cost-cutting drive. Local lawyers and journalists had been warning Union Carbide for months that the plant could be dangerous to its neighbors. The company responded that such fears were “absolutely baseless”

In the early morning hours of December 3, 1984, water entered under still-disputed circumstances an underground storage tank containing 90,000 pounds of methyl isocyanate, a highly toxic chemical used to make pesticides. This set off the following reaction: CH3 NCO + H20 CH3 NH2 + C02

Forty-one tons of methyl isocyanate along with a stew of other highly toxic gases possibly including hydrogen cyanide boiled over and burst through the tank at a temperature of over 200 degrees Celsius and at a rate of over 40,000 pounds an hours This was the birth of what the scientists later named “Bhopal Toxic Gas” The gas rose from the plant, then sedately, unhurriedly, floated out over the sleeping city.

Bhopalis have very personal relationships with “the gas” Accounts of that night-again, when in Bhopal someone says “that night,” they mean the night of December 2-3, 1984describe how the gas was going toward Jahangirabad or Hamidia Road; how it hovered a few feet above the ground at some places or how it hugged the wet farm earth in others; how it killed buffalo and pigs but spared chickens and mosquitoes; how it made all the leaves of a peepul tree turn black and how it had a particular hunger for the tulsi plant; how it would travel down one side of a road but not the other, like rain falling a few feet from you while you’re standing in the sunshine. People know the gas like a member of their family-they know its smell, its color, its favorite foods, its predilections. One thing everybody remembers is the smell of chilies burning. Chilies are normally burned to ward off the evil eye, when, for example, a child is sick. People woke up and thought: it must be a powerful evil eye that’s being driven away, the stink is so strong.

As people ran with their families, they saw their children falling beside them, and often had to choose which ones they would carry on their shoulders and save. This image comes up again and again in the dreams of the survivors: in the stampede, the sight of a hundred people walking over the body of their child.

Iftekhar Begum went out on the morning after the gas to help bury the Muslim dead. There were so many that she could not see the ground-she had to stand on the corpses to wash them. As she stood on the bodies, she noticed that manv of the dead women had flowers in their hair. The gas had come on a Sunday, a night when people had dressed up to go out to a film or to someone’s house for dinner. The women had, as is common all over India, braided their hair with jasmine or mogra-small, fragrant flowers.

When Iftekhar Begum came back from the graveyard, all her fingertips were bleeding, she had sewn so many shrouds.

Arun’s Story

What would you do if you woke up one night when you were 13 years old and by the morning, seven of the 10 members of your immediate family were dead? How would your life change?

When I first meet the young man I will call Arun, to whom this happened, he is busy writing a wedding invitation card. Not his own. Not anybody’s, in fact; there will only be one copy of this invitation, and it will be shown to the judge in the gas victims’ claims court. There is a Muslim woman with him. She was allotted 50,000 rupees ($1429) in compensation for her injuries, which the government has kept in a fixed-deposit bank account to prevent her from spending it all at once. To withdraw funds from her account, she has to demonstrate to the judge that she has some compelling need, like the wedding of a daughter. Arun is wise to the inscrutable ways of the authorities; for a consideration, he will help her get her money out. So he sits next to me making up this invitation to a wedding that will never be.

Arun’s fee for writing up the affidavit and printing up one copy of the wedding card at a printing press (which costs him 100 rupees, or $3) is 3000 rupees ($86). This, he points out, is less than what a lawyer would charge, which is 10 per cent, or 5000 rupees ($143). “The lawyers hate me, he crows.

The gas victim Arun loves his life. He wakes up at noon, massages himself with mustard oil, and spends the afternoon sitting on the newly constructed balcony of his house, chatting with friends. In the evenings, he drinks, or goes to the Hotel International and asks to see the “special menu,” which consists of several pages of pictures of the women they have for sale upstairs. On an occasional Sunday, he’ll get partridges, which he kills with his own hands, cooks, and shares with his friends, who seem to be in awe of him. Three or four times a month, he goes to the claims courts on behalf of someone, and that’s enough money for him, mostly.

Arun first learned of the deaths of his parents and five siblings when he saw their photos stuck up on the wall by the side of the road. Till then people would tell him but he didn’t believe them. Looking at the pictures the government had put up to alert survivors, Arun did not cry. Arun claims he has never once cried. “There were so many corpses. Who will you cry over? After a while, the heart becomes quiet”
On the night of the gas, Arun fell in love. As Arun and his family ran, as one by one his parents, brothers, sisters dropped to the ground or got separated from him, Arun felt someone holding his hand and leading him. On they ran, through the chaotic streets.
That was the beginning of Arun’s first love. The girl holding his hand lived in his neighborhood, and later on, she fed him and took care of him.

That girl was the first of his neighbors to adopt Arun and take care of him, but she was by no means the last. There were other families in the slum, his extended family in Lucknow, a rickshaw driver and his wife, and finally, the activ ist Satinath Sarangi, known with much love as “Sathyu” among the survivors. Arun moved into Sathvu’s house and became a poster child of the activist movement; his story was widely used, and he was recruited by all manner of groups, including the youth wing of the Communist Party of India, the state’s major political parties, and almost all of the activist groups working on Bhopal. Arun became a kind of traveling victim, going on tours to talk about the tragedy that had devastated his family, not only all over India but also, twice, to the United States. He was a natural. “At the age of 15 I learned to give such good answers that the journalists loved me,” he recalls gleefully. On one of his trips to the U.S., Arun and a couple of the other survivors, while attempting to distribute literature in the Houston hotel where the annual meeting of Carbide’s shareholders was being held, were arrested by the police and spent 10 hours in jail. An was impressed by the fact that the American jail was air-conditioned.

But gradually, Arun went from being a victim to something of a predator. Sundry scam inevitably pop up in any community where a large amount of money enters the scene all at once, and Arun has learned how to profit from them. So, for a commission, using an efficient system of bribes paid to everyone from clerks to judges, An will extract the gas victims’ compensation money from the clutches of the government. He is also a loan shark; he advances money at exorbitant rates of interest to illiterate migrants from the countryside, actively assists them in spending it in the Bhopal bars, and beats them soundly if they cannot pay him back. He has a gang, which will assault people’s enemies for a price. He points to my knee-300 rupees ($9) for breaking that-and then to my arm-360 rupees ($10) for that.

Once, when Sathyu was remonstrating with Arun about his misdeeds, Arun responded, “Look at Warren Anderson [then Union Carbide’s chairman]. He got away with killing so many people. If he can get away, so can I: Besides, Arun sometimes puts his potential for violence to good use. Though he is Hindu, he put his life on the line during the bloody HinduMuslim riots of 1992, when he stood guard outside Muslim homes with a sword.

Every year, on the anniversary of the gas leak, the chief minister holds a big commemorative public meeting and invites a number of victims. Arun will go this year and ask him for a favor-a coveted license to sell kerosene, which he’ll divert to the black market. The chief minister, he tells me with a laugh, will never refuse such a famous orphan anything when there are so many journalists present.

Arun hates the term “gas victim” Once, in 1987, when he and other survivors were traveling to a demonstration, the train stopped at a station and the loudspeakers boomed out: “Now, all the gas victim children from Bhopal, go and play in the special waiting room” An sought out the government officer responsible for the announcement and swore: “Your mother’s cunt”

“Is it stamped on my forehead, `gas victim’?” he asks me. “Should I beg for pity, Hai Allah, help me, give me some food, I’m a gas victim?” Arun instructs his kid brother: “Ifa man thinks himself to be weak, he will be weak.” Accordingly, he insists the 12-year-old boy get up at six every morning to do calisthenics. There is a reason, Arun believes, that he himself has remained strong. “Gas? I shit gas out of my ass. You drink enough, you smoke enough, and there won’t be any gas.” To prove that he is stronger than anybody, gas-affected or not, Arun steps in front of a passing minibus and looks at me. “Shall I beat up the driver?” he asks.

But Arun also tells me, matter-offactly, that he’s been having gabrahat. This is a condition that is commonly reported by survivors, and there’s no exact English translation. All of a sudden, Arun’s heart will beat wildly, he’ll start sweating, and his mind will flood with anxiety. This lasts for about 10 minutes. Since most of the people affected by the gas lived in the poorer part of Bhopal, they were, by and large, not deemed worthy of psychiatric treatment or counseling. It’s certainly not anything the government will give Arun, or anyone, compensation for.

One night, three of us-Arun, his sidekick Ramdayal, and I-sit in the gas victims’ beer bar, a shed off the housing colony. Around us are gas victims, all of them men, drinking with the compensation money they should be spending to get treatment for their wives, education for their kids. As the evening progresses, Arun and Ramdayal are getting a lot more drunk than I am because they are drinking whisky-and-beer cocktails. Presently, they get into a theological argument: Was God present on the night of the gas?

On the night of the gas, as his family was dying, as he was falling in love, Arun lost his faith in God. “Mother’s prick, six, seven people died-where the fuck was Ganesh? If I met him, I’d beat him with shoes and chase him off, mother’s prick, sister’s prick. The gas came, Ganesh fucked my mother, then ran away. If my mother were here I wouldn’t have a history.’ I’ve never seen him so angry; he’s almost shouting, and finally he becomes completely incoherent and the gaps between the obscenities vanish and it’s all just obscenities: mother’s prick, sister’s prick. When he calms down, he says, “Only work is karma, work is the fruit” Later I realize what he’s just said, in a single sentence: Krishna’s teaching to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita.

The Lifting of the Veils

In the years after the poison cloud came down from the factory, the veils covering the faces of the Muslim women of Bhopal started coming off. The Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan (the Bhopal Gas-Affected Women Workers’ Organization), or BGPMUS, is the most remarkable and, after all these years, the most sustained movement to have sprung up in response to the disaster. The BGPMUS grew out of a group of sewing centers formed after the event to give poor women affected by the gas a means of livelihood. As they came together into the organization, the women participated in hundreds of demonstrations, hired attorneys to fight the case against Carbide as well as the Indian government, and linked up with activist movements all over India and the world.

On any Saturday in Bhopal, you can go to the park opposite Lady Hospital and sit among an audience of several hundred women and watch all your stereotypes about traditional Indian women get shattered. I listened as a grandmother in her sixties got up and hurled abuse at the government with a vigor that Newt Gingrich would envy. She was followed by a woman in a plain sari who spoke for an hour about the role of multinationals in the third world, the wasteful expenditure of the government on sports stadiums, and the rampant corruption to be found everywhere in the country.
As the women of Bhopal got politicized after the gas, they became aware of other inequities in their lives too. Slowly, the Muslim women of the BGPMUS started coming out of the veil. They explained this to others and themselves by saying: look, we have to travel so much, give speeches, and this burkha, this long black curtain, is hot and makes our health worse.

But this was not a sudden process; great care was paid to social sensitivities. When Amida Bi wanted to give up her burkha, she asked her husband. “My husband took permission from his older brother and my parents Assent having been given all around, Amida Bi now goes all over the country without her veil, secure in the full support of her extended family.

Her daughters, however, are another matter. Having been married out to other families, they still wear the burkha. But Amida Bi refuses to allow her own two daughters-in-law, over whom she has authority, to wear the veil at all. “I don’t think the burkha is bad, she says. “But you can also do shameful things while wearing a burkha”
Half of the Muslim women still attending the rallies have folded up their burkhas for ever.

Sajida Bano’s Story

Sajida Bano never had to use a veil until her husband died. He was the first victim of the Carbide plant: In 1981, three years before the night of the gas, Ashrat was working in the factory when a valve malfunctioned and he was splashed with liquid phosgene. He was dead within 72 hours. After that, Sajida was forced to move with her two infant sons to a bad neighborhood, where if she went out without the burkha she was harrassed. When she put it on, she felt shapeless, faceless, anonymous: she could be anyone’s mother, anyone’s sister.

In 1984, Sajida took a trip to her mother’s house in Kanpur, and happened to come back to Bhopal on the night of the gas. Her four-yearold son died in the waiting room of the train station, while his little brother held on to him. Sajida had passed out while looking for a taxi outside. The factory had killed the second of the three people Sajida loved most. She is left with her surviving son, now 14, who is sick in body and mind. For a long time, whenever he heard a train whistle, he would run outside, thinking that his brother was on that train.

Sajida Bano asked if I would carry a letter for her to “those Carbide people; whoever they are. She wrote it all in one night, without revision. She wants to eliminate distance, the food chain of activists, journalists, lawyers, and govements between her and the people in Danbury. Here, with her permission, are excerpts that I translated:

Big people like you have snatched the peace and happiness of us poor people. You are living it up in big palaces and mansions. Moving around in cars. Have you ever thought that you have wiped away the marriage marks from our foreheads, emptied our laps of children, bathed us in poison, and we are sobbing, but death doesn’t come. Like a living, walking corpse you have left us. At least tell us what our crime was, for which such a big punishment has been given. If with the strength of your money you had shot us all at once with bullets, then we wouldn’t have to die such miserable sobbing deaths.

You put your hand on your heart and think, if you are a human being: if this happened to you, how would your wife and children feel? Only this one sentence must have caused you pain.

If this vampire Union Carbide fictory would be quiet after eating my husband, if heartless people like you would have your eyes opened, then probably I would not have lost my child after the death of my husband. After my husband’s death my son would have been my support. But before he could grow you uprooted him. I don’ know myself why you have this enmity against me.

– Why have you played with my life so much? What was I, a poor helpless woman, spoiling of yours that even after taking my husband you weren’t content. You ate my child too. If you are a human being and have a human heart then tell me yourself what should be done with you people and with me. I am asking you only, tell me, what should I do?


The gas changed people’s lives in ways big and small. Harishankar Magician used to be in the negative-positive business. It was a good business. He would sit on the pavement, hold up a small glass vial, and shout, “Negative to positive!” Then, hollering all the while, he would demonstrate. “It’s very easy to put negative on paper. Take this chemical, take any negative, put it on any paper, rub it with this chemical, then put it in the sun for only 10 minutes. This is a process to make a positive from a negative.” By this time a crowd would have gathered to watch the miraculous transformation of a plain film negative into an image on a postcard. In an hour and a half, Harishankar Magician could easily earn 50, 60 rupees ($2) in this business. Then the gas came.
It killed his son and destroyed his lungs and his left leg. In the negative-positive business, he had to sit for hours. He couldn’t do that now with his game leg, and he couldn’t shout with his withered lungs. So Harishankar Magician looked for another business that didn’t require standing and shouting. Now he wanders the city, pushing a bicycle that bears a box with a hand-painted sign: “ASTROLOGY BY ELECTRONICE MINI COMPUTER MACHIN”.

Passersby, seeing the mysterious box, gather spontaneously to ask what it is. He invites them to put on the Stethoscope, which is a pair of big padded headphones attached to the Machin. Then the front panel of the Machin comes alive with flashing Disco Lights, rows of red and yellow and green colored bulbs. The Machin, Harishankar Magician tells his customers, monitors their blood pressure, then tells their fortune through the Stethoscope. The fee is two rupees (six cents). Harishankar doesn’t like this business; with this, unlike his previous trade, he thinks he is peddling a fraud. Besides, he can only do it for an hour and a half a day, and clears only about 15 rupees (43 cents).

Harishankar Magician is sad. He yearns for the negative-positive business. Once the activist Sathyu took a picture of Harishankar’s son, who was born six days before the gas came. He died three years later Harishankar and his wife have no photographs of their dead boy in their possession, and they ask Sathyu if he can find the negative of the photo he took. Then they will use the small vial of chemical to make a positive of their boy’s negative, with only 10 minutes of sunlight.

The Plague of the Lawyers

AImost immediately after the disaster, the American lawyers started corning, by the dozens. Out they stepped from the plane, blinking and squinting in the strong Bhopal light, covering their noses with handkerchiefs as they stepped gingerly through the dung-strewn lanes of the slums, glad-handing the bereaved, pointing to their papers and telling their translators to tell the victims, “MILLIONS of rupees, you understand? MILLIONS!” And so the people signed, putting their names down in Hindi, or just with their thumbprints.

In the Oriya slum, 11 years later, word spreads that a visitor from America has come, and a cluster of people come to meet me. A young man, Bhimraj, and his mother, Rukmini, approach me hesitantly, holding out a carefully preserved piece of paper. -The American government gave us this, he says. “Can you tell me what it says?”
I look at the document. It is a legal contract.

“Contract between law office of Pat Maloney, PC, of the city of San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, and Suresh.

“Client agrees to pay attorney as attorney’s fee for such representation one third (33%) of any gross recovery before action is filed, forty percent (40%) of any gross recovery after the action is filed but before the commencement of trial, and fifty percent (50%) of any gross recovery after commencement of trial.

“This contract is performable in Bexar County, Texas.”

On the night of the gas, Rukmini abandoned her three-year-old son, Raju, who was dead, and ran with her five-year-old daughter, Rajni, who died three days later. When the lawyers came, they got Rukmini’s husband, Suresh, to put his name down in Hindi on this document. They took the family’s pictures. “They didn’t even send us a copy,’ says Rukmini. That was the last the family heard from the man they believed came on behalf of “the American government.” So now they ask me, what should they do with this paper that they’ve been holding on to for II years?

“Tear it up and throw it away, I tell them. “It’s junk” They look at me, their faces blank, not understanding.

(When I returned to America, I tried to contact attorney Pat Maloney. He did not return phone calls.)

Responding to such abuses, the Indian parliament passed a law declaring itself the sole legal representative of all of the Bhopal gas victims. It sued Carbide in federal court in New York. The court held that the proper venue for the case should be in India; spectators were treated to the uniquely edifying spectacle of hearing the Indian government’s lawyers argue the inadequacy of its own legal system, countering Carbide’s lavish testaments to the excellence of the very same system. The reason was simple: everybody knew that any potential damage award given out by an Indian court would be considerably smaller than one awarded by a U.S. court. Had the victims succeeded in suing the company in its home country and winning, they would probably have bankrupted the giant corporation, much as the asbestos liability cases bankrupted the Manville Cor)oration and breast-implant litigation bankupted Dow Corning.

As it transpired, after prolonged legal wrangling, the Indian Supreme Court unilaterally, without giving the victims a chance to make their case, imposed a settlement to the amount of $470 million, with the government to make up any shortfall. The government had asked for $3 billion from Carbide. Carbide executives vere delighted; they speedily transferred the money to the government. That was in 1989. The first victim did not see the first rupee of Carbide s money until Christmas of 1992, eight years after the night of the gas. A total of 597,000 claims for compensation have been filed. As of May 1996, the government has passed rulings on only about half of them302,422-and awarded compensation for injuries to 288,000 Bhopalis. Out of the total settlement amount of $470 million plus interest since 1989, the government had, by May of 1996, only disbursed some $241 million.

The Quantification of Loss

A government psychiatrist who has done a close study of the minds of the gas victims has come to this conclusion: they don’t want to work. “You can’t get domestic help in Bhopal nowadays;’ the doctor complained to me. “If a family has five affected people who get 200 rupees $6] each [in interim relief], that’s a thousand rupees a month, so they don’t want to work”

There is a widespread belief that the people destroyed by the gas-who tended to come from the poorer sections of Bhopal-aren’t receiving deserved compensation for grievous injuries that they are legally and morally entitled to, but some sort of unearned windfall that’s made them indolent. This belief is prevalent among the rich in new Bhopal, government officials, and Carbide executives.

J. L. Ajmani is the secretary of the gasrelief department of Madhya Pradesh state, and he won’t give me an interview. Ajmani is a man of the 21st century. In his luxurious office, he has a computer, a bank of three phones, a sofa, a huge desk, and an executive chair in which he reposes under a big picture of Mahatma Gandhi. While brushing me off, he keeps tapping into his digital diary. I ask him about allegations of corruption in his department. He laughs fearlessly. “It’s been 11 years. Volumes have been written. You also write.”

Although the government isn’t releasing figures about the average amount of awards, the welfare commissioner’s office told me that the maximum compensation awarded for deaths is 150,000 rupees ($4286), except in a handful of cases. Mohammed Laique, a local lawyer who has been representing claimants from the beginning, gave me the standard rates of compensation. For most deaths, the amount awarded is 100,000 rupees ($2857). For personal injury cases, 90 per cent get 25,000 rupees, or $714 (the award bestowed on most of the survivors I spoke to directly).

Of these amounts, says Laique, “claimants lose between 15 per cent and 20 per cent at the outset in bribes. To get money out early, you pay another 10 per cent” Then there are sundry small bribes. Clerks in government offices demand anywhere from 100 to 2000 rupees ($57) to move papers, depending on the size of the awards. The payments the government has been disbursing since 1990 for interim relief (200 rupees, or $6 a month) are also deducted from the awards. This means that from an award of 25,000 rupees, the maimed survivor in September 1995 could expect to receive as little as 7600 rupees. Two hundred and seventeen dollars.

Union Carbide claims that the compensation is “more than generous by any Indian standard”Is it really? For comparison, Laique pulls out the schedule of standard compensation set by Indian Railways for railway accidents. The schedule is gruesomely specific: In case of death: 200,000 minimum ($5714).

For disability of 1 leg: 120,000 ($3429) If one or two hands are cut off: 200,000 If one or two legs are severed: 200,000 Thumb cut off: 60,000 ($1714) If four fingers cut off from one hand: 100,000 ($2857) 3 fingers cut off: 60,000 2 or 1 fingers cut off: 40,000 ($1143) Breast cut off: 180,000 ($5143) For problem with 1 eye: 80,000 ($2286) Hip joint fracture: 40,000 Minimum for bodily injury: 40,000.

“And the railways give very fast decisions, plus interest after three months,” adds Laique. During the bloody communal rioting that followed the destruction of the Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya in 1992, the government gave a minimum of 200,000 rupees ($5714) to the families of each person killed; these were people of the same socioeconomic status as Carbide’s victims. It’s clear that, if a Bhopali had any choice in the instrument of his death, it would be financially much more advantageous to be killed or maimed in a train wreck or at the hands of a religious fanatic than through an American multinational’s gas cloud.

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