Learn lessons from Bhopal gas tragedy: Scientist

New India Press, August 20, 2007
COIMBATORE: ‘We need to have worldwide reference materials of chemical disasters and establish a global specimen banking in India to meet the challenges, said scientist of Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) Padmashri Dr S Sriramachari, who was one of the chief investigators of the ‘Bhopal gas tragedy’, here on Sunday.
‘‘We need to learn from the past to be able to apply scientific methodology for prevention and management of man-made disasters in future,’’ he said, while addressing a gathering of research scholars and students of the Kongunadu Arts and Science College on the ‘Bhopal gas disaster – scientific challenges and spectrum of investigations.’
Terming the Bhopal gas tragedy of December 3, 1984, as one of the world’s greatest chemical disasters, Sriramachari said, ‘‘The past has taught us to have timely and meticulous multi-disciplinary scientific research in disaster medicine.’’
He stressed the need for expertise in specific detoxication measures to handle such situations. ‘‘The government should fund many research projects on this aspect. We should also set up poison detection centres near industrial areas,’’ he said.
As some dangers could be learnt only after many years, constant monitoring of rivers, air and environment was a must for future.
Recalling the tragedy, he said it took place in the pesticide plant of Union Carbide in Bhopal following a ‘run-away’ chemical reaction in which massive aerosol was released into the atmosphere. This aerosol, which contained many chemicals related to methyl iso-cyanate (MIC), spread rapidly over a densely populated area of the city within a short time.
‘‘People started dying within hours and more than 2,000 lives were lost in the first few days, while many others suffered long-term ill health,’’ he said. The victims were choked to death as their lungs stopped functioning and froth was formed in their noses and mouths. Over 90 percent of the people became temporarily blind.
The tragedy happened ‘‘due to negligence of maintenance’’ of the plant, he observed. In fact, 11 compounds traced in the bodies of victims could never be identified, though the chief agent was found to be MIC.
On the outcome of the scientific investigations, Sriramachari said compared with other chemical disasters, ‘‘it is satisfying that several new and challenging medical issues pertaining to cyanide poisoning and spread of MIC in the body were rapidly identified and dealt with medically.’’

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