Impact of a man-made disaster

The Hindu, Monday, Aug 20, 2007
An investigator of Bhopal gas leak tragedy recalls his experiences
COIMBATORE: The tragedy of the loss of humans and animals were brought alive by one of the key members of the investigation of the Union Carbide of India Limited, otherwise known as the Bhopal gas leak tragedy that occurred in 1984, here on Sunday.
S. Sriramachari, Indian National Science Academy Honorary Scientist and Advisor of the Indian Council of Medical Research, New Delhi, reminisced about his experiences as an investigator in his lecture on “Bhopal Gas Disaster – Scientific Challenges and Spectrum of Investigations” at the Kongunadu Arts and Science College. He termed it as one of the largest chemical disasters that came in the category of Hiroshima, a man-made disaster – one that happened due to negligence.
He showed visuals of the bodies of hapless victims in morgues and carcasses of animals on the roads. There were also pictures of gruesome autopsies showing organs damaged due to the effect of the poisonous gases.
Since his team dealt with toxicology and pathology, he touched upon the immediate deaths, the delayed deaths, the partial blindness (eye sight got restored after a few months), long-standing illnesses that developed in the aftermath, and others, from that point of view.
A picture of how eight lakh people of the town of Bhopal had to be evacuated because of a single ‘negligent’ act on December 3, 1984 that claimed thousands of lives over a period of time, moved the audience. Besides the thousands killed, there were thousands of others who were maimed in the ensuing months and years.
A mention of the various pathological, patho-physiological, clinical toxicological and forensic toxicological studies that his team had carried out to arrive at conclusions regarding the disaster was made.
He categorized the effects as immediate, delayed and late. Though various organs were affected due to inhalation of compounds, the worst affected was the lung.
An appreciative mention was made of the doctors and other support staff, a few of whom had lost their lives saving others’.
“The analyses of residues from the tank (Tank 610) from which the gas Methyl Isocyanate (major component) leaked showed traces of 28 other compounds, few of which could be identified, others that could not be. Twenty-one were detected including MIC Dimers, Trimers and Hydrogen Cyanide”, he said.
Based on the inferences, he mentioned certain lessons for the future that could help to avert such disasters.
He also suggested that maintaining international reference material on world disasters was an important measure that should be followed to handle such situations.

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