"When I saw the leaves on the trees curl and turn
black and birds fall dead out of the sky, I knew that this was Death,
come among us as foretold. My regret is that I survived."
On December 3rd, 1984, thousands of people in Bhopal, India, were
gassed to death after a catastrophic chemical leak at a Union Carbide
pesticide plant. More than 150,000 people (1)
were left severely disabled - of whom
22,000 (2) have since died of their injuries
- in a disaster now widely acknowledged as the world’s worst-ever
More than 27 tons (3) of methyl isocyanate
and other deadly gases turned Bhopal into a gas chamber. None of
the six safety systems at the plant were functional, (4)
and Union Carbide’s own documents prove the company designed
the plant with “unproven”
and “untested” technology, and cut
corners on safety and maintenance in order to save money.
Today, twenty-five years after the Bhopal disaster, at least 50,000
people (5) are too sick to work for a living,
and a recent study in the
Journal of the American Medical Association confirmed that the
children of gas-affected parents are themselves afflicted by Carbide’s
Carbide is still killing in Bhopal. The chemicals that Carbide
abandoned in and around their Bhopal factory have contaminated
the drinking water of 20,000 people (6).
Testing published in a 2002 report revealed poisons such as 1,3,5
trichlorobenzene, dichloromethane, chloroform, lead and mercury
the breast milk of nursing women living near the factory.
Although Dow Chemical acquired Carbide’s
liabilities when it purchased the company in 2001 (7),
it still refuses to address its liabilities in Bhopal - or even
admit that they exist. Till date, Dow-Carbide has refused to:
1) Clean up the site, which continues to contaminate
those near it, or to provide just compensation for those who have
been injured or made ill by this poison;
2) Fund medical care, health monitoring and necessary research studies,
or even to provide all the information it has on the leaked gases
and their medical consequences;
3) Provide alternate livelihood opportunities to victims who can
not pursue their usual trade because of their exposure-induced illnesses;
4) Stand trial before the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court
in Bhopal, where Union Carbide faces criminal charges of culpable
homicide (manslaughter), and has fled these charges for the past
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Death came out of a clear sky. Midnight, a cold wind blowing, the
stars brilliant as they are in central India, even through the thin
pall of cooking-fire smoke that hung above the city. Here and there,
braziers were burning to warm those who were obliged to be out late.
From the factory which so many had learned to fear, a thin plume
of white vapor began streaming from a high structure. Caught by
the wind, it became a haze and blew downward
to mix with smokes coming from somewhere nearer to the ground. A
dense fog formed. Nudged by the wind, it rolled across the road
and into the alleys on the other side. Here the houses were packed
close, ill-built, with badly-fitting doors and windows. Those within
were roused in darkness to the sound of screams with the gases already
in their eyes, noses and throats. It burned terribly, it felt like
Remembers Aziza Sultan, a survivor: "At about 12.30 am I woke
to the sound of my baby coughing badly. In the half light I saw
that the room was filled with a white cloud. I heard a lot of people
shouting. They were shouting 'run, run'. Then I started coughing
with each breath seeming as if I was breathing in fire. My eyes
Another survivor, Champa Devi Shukla, remembers that "It felt
like somebody had filled our bodies up with red chillies, our eyes
tears coming out, noses were watering, we had froth in our mouths.
The coughing was so bad that people were writhing in pain. Some
people just got up and ran in whatever they were wearing or even
if they were wearing nothing at all. Somebody was running this way
and somebody was running that way, some people were just running
in their underclothes. People were only concerned as to how they
would save their lives so they just ran.
"Those who fell were not picked up by anybody, they just
kept falling, and were trampled on by other people. People climbed
and scrambled over each other to save their lives – even cows
were running and trying to save their lives and crushing people
as they ran."
In those apocalyptic moments no one knew what was happening. People
simply started dying in the most hideous ways. Some vomited uncontrollably,
went into convulsions and fell dead. Others choked to death, drowning
in their own body fluids. Many were crushed in the stampedes through
narrow gullies where street lamps burned a dim brown through clouds
"The force of the human torrent wrenched children's hands
from their parents' grasp. Families were whirled apart," reported
the Bhopal Medical Appeal in 1994. "The poison cloud
was so dense and searing that people were reduced to near blindness.
As they gasped for breath its effects grew ever more suffocating.
The gases burned the tissues of their eyes and lungs and attacked
their nervous systems. People lost control of their bodies. Urine
and feces ran down their legs. Women lost their unborn children
as they ran, their wombs spontaneously opening in bloody abortion."
More than half a million people were exposed to Carbide's
poison gases. (10)
When dawn broke over the city, thousands of bodies lay in heaps
in the streets. Even far from the factory, near the lake, at Rani
Hira Pati ka Mahal the ground was so thick with dead that you could
not avoid treading on them. The army dumped hundreds of bodies in
the surrounding forests and the Betwa river was so choked with corpses
that they formed log-jams against the arches of bridges. Families
and entire communities were wiped out, leaving no one to identify
them. According to Rashida Bi, who survived the gas but lost five
family members to cancers, those who escaped with their lives “are
the unlucky ones; the lucky ones are those who died on THAT
thousands died, no one knows. Carbide says 3,800. Municipal
workers who picked up bodies with their own hands, loading them
onto trucks for burial in mass graves or to be burned on mass pyres,
reckon they shifted at least 15,000 bodies. Survivors, basing their
estimates on the number of shrouds sold in the city, conservatively
claim about 8,000 died in the first week. (8)
The official death toll to date (local government figures) stands
at more than 20,000 and even now, twenty years later, at least one
person per day dies in Bhopal from the injuries they sustained on
THAT NIGHT. (9)
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Disaster by Design
NONE of the safety systems designed to prevent
a leak - six in all - were operational on THAT
1. Flare Tower (disconnected)
2. Vent Gas Scrubber (out of caustic
soda and inadequate for unsafe volume of gas)
3. Water Curtain (not functional;
designed with inadequate height)
4. Pressure Valve (leaking)
5. Run Off Tank (already contained
6. Mandatory Refrigeration for MIC Unit
(shut down for 3 months to save money)
Bhopal is not only a disaster, but a corporate crime. It began
as a classic instance of corporate double-standards: Union Carbide
was obliged to install state-of-the-art technology in Bhopal, but
instead used inferior
and unproven technology and employed lax
operating procedures and maintenance and safety standards compared
to those used in its US 'sister-plant'. The motive was not simply
profit, but also control: the company saved $8 million, and through
this deliberate under-investment managed to retain a majority share
of its Indian subsidiary. (11) It should
have come as no surprise to Carbide’s management when its
factory began to pose a chronic threat to its own workers and to
the people living nearby.
On December 25, 1981, a leak of phosgene killed one worker, Ashraf
Khan, at the plant and severely injured two others. On January 9,
1982, twenty five workers were hospitalized as a result of another
leak at the plant. During the "safety week" proposed by
management to address worker grievances about the Bhopal facility,
repeated incidents of such toxic leakage took place and workers
took the opportunity to complain directly to the American management
officials present. In the wake of these incidents, workers at the
plant demanded hazardous duty pay scales commensurate with the fact
that they were required to handle hazardous substances. These requests
were denied. Yet another leak on October 5, 1982 affected hundreds
of nearby residents requiring hospitalization of large numbers of
people residing in the communities surrounding the plant. After
the release – which included quantities of MIC, hydrochloric
acid and chloroform – the worker’s union printed hundreds
of posters which they distributed throughout the community, warning:
Union Carbide's 50.9% share in
UCIL enabled it to maintain total management control: control
of UCIL's board, budgets and the proprietary MIC technology
in Bhopal. Carbide's engineers oversaw design, build and operations
until the end of 1982; after, they provided ongoing technological
know-how and safety reviews. A US executive management team,
the 'Bhopal Task Force', oversaw fatal cost-cutting at the
plant, reducing staff numbers, training and maintenance from
1982 onwards. Poor training, maintenance and design were all
key factors in the disaster.
"As early as 1972, an internal
Union Carbide report said, after a study of the Institute
plant, that almost every item in the MIC unit there had 'failed
and been replaced since start up'. 'If another facility is
built to produce MIC, based on the process used in Institute,
materials of construction at least as good as those presently
used in the facility at Institute will be required', the report
added." (from Sanjoy Hazarika's 'Bhopal, Lessons of a
Tragedy', p.59, and the quotes are from Carbide engineer Warren
Woomer's deposition in New York)
What was actually provided was
as far from state of the art as possible.
The Vent gas scrubber, the chief
safety system, was designed to take a feed rate of 190 pounds
per hour at 35 degrees C, with a maximum working pressure
of 15 psig. At the time of the disaster, MIC poured through
it at 40,000 pounds per hour and at over 200 degrees C, with
an average pressure of 180 psig.
The flare tower also would have
been utterly useless, even if connected. Its piping was too
small to handle a large flow of gas. The works manager estimated
that if workers had tried to light it with that amount of
MIC pushing through it would have created a huge explosion
that would have
Immediately after Bhopal, while
Carbide management claimed not to know what had caused the
disaster, the MIC plant at Institute, shut down in Jan 1985,
quietly received a bunch of changes to its safety devices
before reopening. $5 million was invested on increasing the
capacity of the Vent gas scrubber (there were two at Institute
- one normal as in the Bhopal one, and one emergency, with
a capacity of 60,000 pounds per hour) by 2.5 times and larger
vent headers were built. The flare tower was improved. Also
added was a 'rate-of-rise temperature monitor and other instrumentation
to insure earlier warning of any temperature rise in the storage
tank' and a computerised vapour emission tracking and warning
In Bhopal, the workers eyes and
noses and lungs were the leak detectors. There were few gauges
and indicators, and those were often failing without being
replaced. There were only indicators of temperatures and flows,
not recorders that could have chronicled the behaviour of
critical parameters: hence when the evening shift changed
on Dec 2nd the next operator didn't know that the pressure
in Tank 610 had risen by 8 psig in 30 minutes. There were
only eight 'shut down' devices, whereas there should have
been three times as many.
Installing safety devices can
cost between 15-30 % of outlay at a plant's inception. In
respect of Carbide's $20 million investment in Bhopal, this
amounts to $3-6 million. Carbide’s own documents show
that the company trimmed $8 million at the outset of the Bhopal
plant build simply in order to keep managerial control of
When the additional cost-cutting
hit, aside from leaky valves and malfunctioning gauges not
being replaced, carbon steel piping also replaced stainless
steel under the new financial strictures – these pipes
are more corrosive and were the probable source of the metal
contaminants that entered tank 610 and fuelled the speed of
the exothermic reactions.
At Institute, and in Carbide's
French plant, the safety devices were automatically controlled
with manual back-up devices - at Bhopal they were manual.
Even in 1984 at other similar sized hazardous plants in Europe,
computerized early warning systems sensed leaks, monitored
their rates and concentration and even evaluated weather conditions
to determine where a leak might go. These systems were often
linked to a telephone system to automatically dial out alerts.
In Bhopal, there weren't even any emergency planning measures
and local authorities knew nothing about the dangers of MIC.
At Institute, however, emergency
planning involved all of the emergency services and public
broadcast systems. A 30,000 gallon 'dump' tank was kept empty
and ready to receive any run-off MIC, there was also a 'sump
system' with a capacity of 42,000 gallons.
Despite the fact that "the
demand is on the human out there - the plant relies heavily
on manual control and checking of levels" (CS Tyson,
author of a '82 safety audit conducted by the US parent company),
the work force was brought down by half from 1980 to 1984.
150 operatives were taken off their jobs and used as floating
labour. The work crew for the MIC plant was cut in half from
twelve to six workers. The period of safety-training to workers
in MIC plant was brought down from 6 months to 15 days. The
position of MIC supervisor on the night shift was axed.
Extensive instrumentation, back-up
systems and redundancies are all critical responsibilities
in running a hazardous facility. Carbide abandoned these responsibilities
in Bhopal then blamed the catastrophic fall out on a single,
unnamed worker - a lie elaborated in a pseudo-scientific
'independent' report that Carbide itself commissioned and
of Fatal Accidents"
..........• "Lives of thousands
of workers and citizens in danger because of poisonous gas"
..........• "Spurt of accidents
in the factory, safety measures deficient." (11.5)
Opposition legislators raised the issue in the State Assembly and
the clamor surrounding these incidents culminated in a 1983 motion
that urged the state government to force the company to relocate
the plant to a less-populated area. Starting in 1982, a local journalist
named Rajkumar Keswani had frantically tried to warn people of the
dangers posed by the facility. In September of 1982, he wrote an
article entitled "Please Save this City." Other articles,
written later, bore grimly prophetic titles such as "Bhopal
Sitting on Top of a Volcano" and "If You Do Not Understand
This You Will Be Wiped Out." Just five months before the tragedy,
he wrote his final article: "Bhopal on the Brink of a Disaster."
In the midst of this clamour, in May 1982, Union Carbide sent a
team of U.S. experts to inspect the Bhopal plant as part of its
periodic safety audits. This report, which was forwarded to Union
Carbide's management in the United States, speaks unequivocally
of a "potential for the release of toxic materials" and
a consequent "runaway reaction" due to "equipment
failure, operating problems, or maintenance problems." In fact,
the report goes on to state rather specifically: "Deficiencies
in safety valve and instrument maintenance programs.... Filter cleaning
operations are performed without slipblinding process. Leaking valves
could create serious exposure during this process." In its
report, the safety audit team noted a total of 61 hazards, 30 of
them major and 11 in the dangerous phosgene/MIC units. It had warned
of a “higher potential for a serious incident or more serious
consequences if an accident should occur.” Though the report
was available to senior U.S. officials of the company, nothing was
done. (12) In fact, according to Carbide's
internal documents, a major cost-cutting effort (including a reduction
of 335 men) was undertaken in 1983, saving the company $1.25 million
Although MIC is a particularly reactive and deadly gas, the Union
Carbide plant’s safety systems were allowed to fall into disrepair.
Between 1983 and 1984, the safety manuals were re-written to permit
switching off the refrigeration unit and shutting down the vent
gas scrubber when the plant was not in operation. Cost-cutting measures
directed by the Danbury Headquarters of Union Carbide included reducing
the MIC plant crew from 12 to 6. In the control room, there was
only 1 operator to monitor 70+ panels. Safety training was cut from
6 months to 15 days. On the night of the deadly MIC leak, none of
the safety systems designed to prevent a leak - six in all - were
operational, and the plant siren had been turned off.
The process safety system included a design modification installed
in May 1984 on the say-so of US engineers. This ‘jumper line’,
a cheap solution to a maintenance problem, connected a relief valve
header to a pressure vent header and enabled water from a routine
washing operation to pass between the two, on through a pressure
valve, and into MIC storage tank 610. Carbide’s initial investigation
agreed that the pressure valve was leaking but declined to mention
the jumper line. Exposure to this water led to an uncontrolled reaction;
a deadly cloud of MIC, hydrogen cyanide, mono methyl amine soon
settled over much of Bhopal, and people began to die.
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The Second Tragedy
Yet when the Independent
speaks of "rape", the Guardian
of "disgrace" and Jon Snow of "a crime against humanity",
they are not talking about THAT NIGHT - but
of what has happened since to those who survived it. Today, 25 years
after the disaster, Bhopal remains a humanitarian disaster. Their
breathless bodies no longer able to push handcarts and lift heavy
loads, thousands have fallen into destitution and their families
have learned the lessons of the abyss, binding cloths round their
middles to give an illusion of fullness, giving children unable
to sleep from hunger water to fill their empty bellies. (13)
by Carbide's PR/BS?
Learn the TRUTH behind Carbide's lies. Visit
The factory, which killed so many, lies empty now and derelict,
with the weather battering at it. Union Carbide left without cleaning
it up. Tanks full of toxic chemicals have corroded and burst, dumping
their contents onto the ground. Winds batter at loose metal sheets
and gradually the buildings come apart. Worst of all, twenty-five monsoons
(three months of heavy rain each year) have washed the toxins Carbide
left behind deep into the soil, poisoning the drinking water of
the same people Carbide gassed 25 years ago.
According to former workers of the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal,
while the factory was in operation, massive amounts of chemicals
- including pesticides, solvents, catalysts and wastes - were routinely
in and around the factory grounds. These include deadly substances
such as aldicarb, carbaryl, mercury, and several chlorinated chemicals
and organic poisons. In 1977, Carbide constructed Solar Evaporation
Ponds (SEPs) over 14 hectares 400 meters north of its factory. Toxic
effluents and toxic wastes were routinely dumped there. Two tube
wells dug in the vicinity of the SEPs were abandoned because of
the noxious smell and taste of the water.
A 1990 study by the Bhopal Group for Information and Action found
di- and trichlorobenzenes in water samples taken from wells being
used by communities living near the factory fence lines, and phthalates,
chlorinated benzenes and aromatic hydrocarbons in the soil samples
taken from the SEPs. In 1996, the State Research Laboratory conducted
its own tests on water and concluded that the chemical contamination
found is “due to chemicals used in the Union Carbide factory
that have proven to be extremely harmful for health. Therefore the
use of this water for drinking must be stopped immediately.”
In 1999, Greenpeace and Bhopal community groups documented
the presence of stockpiles of toxic pesticides (including Sevin
and hexachlorocyclohexane) as well as hazardous wastes and contaminated
material scattered throughout the factory site. The survey found
substantial and, in some locations, severe contamination of land
and water supplies with heavy metals and chlorinated chemicals.
Samples of groundwater from wells around the site showed high levels
of chlorinated chemicals including chloroform and carbon tetrachloride,
indicative of long-term contamination. Over the years, the groundwater
supplying an estimated 20,000 Bhopal residents has become heavily
contaminated by Union Carbide’s toxic by-products.
Lead, nickel, copper, chromium, hexachlorocyclohexane and chlorobenzenes
were also found in soil samples. Mercury in some sediment samples
was found to be between 20,000 and 6 million times the expected
levels. According to a 2002
study by the Fact Finding Mission on Bhopal, many of Union Carbide’s
most dangerous toxins can now be found in the breast milk of mothers
living around the factory. Yet Dow Chemical, Union Carbide's new
owner, has suggested that the polluted, not the polluter, should
pay for any cleanup. (14)
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"Union Carbide lives on and waits for us to die."
In March 1985, through the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing
of Claims) Act, the Indian Government arrogated to itself the sole
powers to represent the victims in the civil litigation against
Union Carbide. It then filed a $3 billion compensation suit on behalf
of the victims in US federal court, but the case was sent to Indian
courts in May 1986 on grounds of forum non-convenience,
under the condition that Union Carbide would submit to the jurisdiction
of Indian courts.
Carbide’s lawyers devised a plan to delay all legal proceedings
in order to squeeze the Indian government into accepting a low settlement.
It contested the legitimacy of courts it had asked to be tried before.
It pleaded to have ‘illiterate’ victims’ claims
denied. It threatened to summon every individual survivor and appeal
all Indian decisions in US courts. It denied it was a multinational.
It claimed the gas was not ultra-hazardous. It blamed an unnamed
saboteur. It appealed court orders for humanitarian relief,
while professing its concern for the victims. Their first settlement
offer was a paltry $100 million dollars, less than half the company’s
liability insurance cover. By 1989, Carbide had spent at least $50
million on legal fees alone. How much they spent on PR companies
such as Burson Marsteller, who they hired from Dec. 20 1984, has
not been disclosed.
It wasn’t until 1989 that a settlement was reached between
Carbide and the Indian Government – one made without the consultation
or consent of the survivors themselves. The victims were awarded
an average of $500 in compensation (a total of $470 million), falling
far below international compensation standards and the standards
set by Indian Railways for accidents. In exchange, Carbide was to
be absolved of all civil liabilities; criminal cases against the
company and its officials were to be extinguished; and the Indian
government was to defend the corporation in the event of future
Many survivors found the settlement insulting. Indeed it was. It
awarded them an average of 7 cents a day – the cost of a cup
of tea – for a lifetime of unimaginable suffering. At Union
Carbide, by contrast, “restructuring” - or asset stripping
- in the immediate aftermath of Bhopal landed its managers and major
shareholders huge windfalls in stock payments and golden parachutes.
It paid only $200 million (or 43 cents a share) of its own money
to settle the world’s largest peacetime massacre. In fact
its annual report described 1989, the year of the settlement, as
its ‘best financial year on record’.
After having waited five long years for compensation, the Bhopal
victims nevertheless filed suit to overturn the settlement in a
case that went all the way to the Indian Supreme Court. Citing inaccurate
statistics for the number of dead and injured victims, the court
ruled in 1991 that the settlement amount would stand, simultaneously
reinstating the criminal cases against Carbide, its CEO Warren Anderson,
and other officials.
Despite the settlement, two court cases remain pending: one civil,
heard in the Southern District federal court in New York; the other
criminal, heard before the
Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court in Bhopal.
The civil case - which is unrelated to
the disaster itself - was filed in United States federal court in
1999 by Bhopal residents against Union Carbide. When it fled India
after Bhopal, Carbide left tons of chemical wastes behind, and these
have poisoned the groundwater and thousands of Bhopal residents.
The civil case seeks a comprehensive cleanup of the contaminated
site and the properties around the factory, and compensation and
medical monitoring for those poisoned by Carbide’s chemical
waste. The lawsuit, Bano
v. Union Carbide, has survived four motions to dismiss,
and has been reinstated twice by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.
The case is currently in the discovery process, and will soon proceed
The criminal case - which is related to
the 1984 Bhopal disaster – was originally filed in 1987, and
reinstated in 1991. Both Warren Anderson, the former CEO of Union
Carbide, and the Union Carbide Corporation itself face
criminal charges in India of “culpable homicide” (or
manslaughter). Both Anderson and Carbide have repeatedly ignored
summons to appear in India for trial,
and are officially considered “absconders” (fugitives
from justice) by the Indian Government. While Anderson, if extradited
and convicted, would face ten years in prison, Carbide faces a fine
which has no upper limit.
For more information about Dow's pending liabilities
in Bhopal, see Dow's Liabilities.
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From the start, the medical response ranged from inadequate to
catastrophic. On THAT NIGHT, hospital officials
frantically called Union Carbide, seeking a treatment protocol.
When they finally got through, they were blithely assured that the
gas which was killing thousands was “nothing more than a potent
tear gas” and that victims merely had to “wash their
eyes with water.” In a show of publicity as the bodies stacked
up, Carbide flew a series of “top medical experts” to
Bhopal to sing a chorus of reassurance. Dr. Hans Weil - reprimanded
for unethical conduct by a US court for fudging medical data on
behalf of the Johns-Manville corporation - predicted that ‘most
victims would fully recover’. Pulmonary specialist Thomas
Petty, also flown to Bhopal by Carbide, said that victims were ‘recovering
rapidly’. No report made by Carbide-sponsored doctors was
made available to the Indian government.
Other ‘expertise’ included Carbide’s Dr. Bipin
Awasia, who sent a telex to Bhopal recommending treatment with sodium
thiosulphate. When in Bhopal, flanked by lawyers, he said he’d
been mistaken. As a result, tens of thousands of ailing victims
were denied a treatment that double blind clinical trials had shown
to be effective. Success of the treatment would have proven that
the gases had crossed into the bloodstream, thus generating more
expensive damages against Carbide.
The Indian Supreme court directed Carbide to build a 500 bed hospital
from its own money. Instead, Carbide put £1000 into a trust
in London and tried to transfer into this its shares in UCIL that
had been seized by the Bhopal court due to Carbide’s non-appearance
to face manslaughter charges. In 1994 it succeeded, thus evading
the Bhopal court where the judge declared the transfer ‘malafide’.
The 350 bed hospital took nearly ten years to build and within a
year of opening was found to be profiteering with private patients,
despite being bound to treat gas victims for eight years ‘in
the first instance’.
To this day, the treatment of the Bhopal victims is impeded because
Dow-Carbide callously refuses to share all its medical information
on the toxic effects of the gases released that night, regarding
the information as a “trade
secret”. (15) As a result, effective
long-term medical treatment has been hampered. Even worse, the effects
of the gases on future generations remains unclear even as health
effects manifest themselves with disturbing regularity among
the children of gas-exposed parents. Since the disaster, the
city has been plagued with an epidemic of cancers, menstrual disorders
and what one doctor described as "monstrous births.”
Today, the failure of the official system of health care contributes
largely to the medical disaster in Bhopal. All research and monitoring
of the long-term health effects of Union Carbide's gases were abandoned
in 1994; they were only recently
restarted in response to years of pressure from Bhopal survivors.
So far no treatment protocols for symptom complexes associated with
toxic exposure have been established and symptomatic treatment remains
the mainstay of medical response. The indiscriminate prescription
of steroids, antibiotics and psychotropic drugs is compounding the
damage caused by the gas exposure.
is a Sanskrit / Hindi word which means "possibility".
Read as "sama" and "bhavna" it means:
"similar feelings" or "compassion".
In the prevailing situation of despair, the Sambhavna
Trust believes in creating possibilities by generating compassion.
At Sambhavna, survivors are offered free medical care through allopathy,
ayurveda [an indigenous system of medicine based on herbs] and Yoga.
The 21 staff members of the Sambhavna clinic [among whom 9 are survivors
themselves] include five physicians, two yoga and two Panchakarma
therapists and five community health workers who carry out health
surveys, health education and community programs for better health.
Clinic healing garden. Pastels by Jeff
Stride, used with permission.
The work carried out by the Sambhavna Trust since 1996 has shown
that it is possible to evolve simple, safe, effective, ethical and
participatory ways of treatment monitoring and research for the
survivors of Bhopal. However, Sambhavna is small compared to the
magnitude and complexity of the disaster. While an estimated 120,000-150,000
survivors of the disaster are today chronically ill, the clinic
run by this trust has provided direct treatment to little over 16,000
people and provided support to about the same number through its
health initiatives in 10 communities close to the Union Carbide
On April 27, 2005, a new building for the Sambhavna Clinic was
inaugurated in Bhopal. Designed by the eminent Indian architects
Shri Kishore Charavarti, Shri Yatin Choudhary, and Vishnu Chilotre,
a civil engineer, the new clinic building incorporates many aspects
of healing and environmental design. One of its most prominent features
is a healing garden, in which organic herbs and ayurvedic medicines
will be grown for use in the treatment of gas illnesses. For more
information about Sambhavna and the new clinic, see www.bhopal.org.
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A Struggle for Justice
By Adriane Raff-Corwin
In the wake of the disaster, the survivors assembled to fight for
justice. In January 1985 a petition was circulated by Mr. Syed Irfan,
leader of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangarsh Morcha organization,
and other survivors addressing the heads of the Madhya Pradesh government
for medical and monetary aid.
Few people were healthy enough after the disaster to do the sort
of manual labor they had done beforehand. Many needed to be taught
new crafts. The Indian Government initially set up lessons for survivors
to learn trades, but did not provide decent jobs. The women at one
stationary factory decided to unionize, forming the Bhopal Gas Peedit
Mahila Stationary Karamchari Sangh or “Bhopal Gas-Affected
Women’s Stationary Worker’s Union”. Led by future
Goldman Award Winners
Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla, the union tried for months to
negotiate with the government for decent wages. Finally, they marched
from Bhopal to Delhi to petition the Prime Minister of India. It
took them thirty-three days to reach Delhi, and even after having
received some promises of support, little was done. Although the
BGPMSKS struggle lasted for more than a decade, it was ultimately
successful. Meanwhile, the union became deeply involved in the broader
campaign for justice in Bhopal, becoming one of four key survivors
organizations to spearhead the International
Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.
In one of their first acts in the newly-formed ICJB, survivors
protested against Dow’s purchase of Union Carbide by traveling
to Dow’s Indian Headquarters in Mumbai. There they popped
balloons filled with red paint to illustrate that Dow now has Bhopal’s
blood on their hands.
In 2002 the women went on hunger strike in Bhopal in protest against
an attempt to water down the charges being pressed against the former
CEO of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson. Thousands of people worldwide
joined the fast in solidarity, including Diane Wilson of Texas,
who spent 30 days in the bed of a pickup truck, fasting in front
of Carbide’s Seadrift, Texas plant.
Today, the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal is stronger
than ever before. Within the past two years the campaign has won
several significant victories, improving the lives and the condition
of the people of Bhopal.
Despite the horror of THAT NIGHT and the
chemical terror that its survivors have endured, the people of Bhopal
continue their struggle for justice, for corporate accountability,
and for their basic human right to an environment free of chemical
poisons. The outcome of their struggle holds vast
implications for all of us; if corporations aren't held accountable
for their crimes, they're destined to be repeated. We all live in
The only memorial ever built in Bhopal was privately funded, designed
by the daughter of Holocaust victims. In bold letters, the inscription
reads, “No Hiroshima, No Bhopal, We Want To Live.” With
your help and that of others, the justice that has been so long
delayed in Bhopal cannot be denied.
- top -
Are you ready to Get Active? Find
More information about Bhopal can be found in
International report on the disaster, this comprehensive
series of fact finding reports by the Fact Finding Mission on
Bhopal, and this
interview with Sathyu Sarangi of the International Campaign
for Justice in Bhopal.
(1) The Washington Post. “India
Seeks to Reduce Charge Facing Ex-Union Carbide Boss.” Rama
Lakshmi, July 8, 2002. According to The International Medical Commission,
Bhopal, “it is our opinion that, if properly defined, categories
of permanent damage, partial or total disability, could include
about 200,000 survivors.” International Perspectives in
Public Health, 1996, Volumes 11 and 12, p. 27.
(2) Amnesty International "Clouds
of Injustice". 2004, p. 1. Available online at http://web.amnesty.org/pages/ec-bhopal-eng.
See also The Hindu, available at http://www.hindu.com/thehindu/mp/2004/05/10/stories/2004051001720100.htm.
(3) This figure is quoted both by VR
Dhara (Dhara, VR; Dhara, Rosaline. “The Union Carbide Disaster
in Bhopal: A Review of Health Effects.” Environmental Health
Sept./Oct. 2002; Vol. 57, No. 5, pp. 391-404. Available here
and Ward Morehouse (Morehouse W, Subramaniam MA. The Bhopal
Tragedy: What Really Happened and What it Means for American Workers
and Communities at Risk. New York: Council on International
and Public Affairs, 1986), but alternate figures do exist. According
to the Bhopal Methyl Isocyanate Incident Investigation Team Report,
published by the Union Carbide Corporation (Connecticut, March 1985),
plant inventory documents show that there were 41 metric tonnes
of methyl isocyanate (MIC) in the tank that ruptured, #610. Union
Carbide’s Team Report concludes that 24.5 metric tonnes of
unreacted MIC escaped from tank 610 along with 11.79 tonnes of reaction
products, and that 4.5 to 9.5 metric tonnes of solid reaction products
were left behind in tank 610. The Report on Scientific Studies on
the Factors Related to Bhopal Toxic Gas Leakage (Council for Scientific
and Industrial Research, New Delhi, December 1985), a report produced
by a team of Indian government scientists, similarly concludes that
there were 42 metric tonnes of MIC in tank 610 at the time of the
gas leak. However the report also concludes that only about 12 tonnes
of MIC were used up to produce the 12.5 tonnes of solid residue
estimated to be present.
(4) These were: 1. flare tower (disconnected);
2. vent gas scrubber (out of caustic soda and inadequate for unsafe
volume of gas); 3. water curtain (not functional; designed with
inadequate height); 4. pressure valve; 5. run off tank (already
contained MIC); 6. mandatory refrigeration for MIC unit (turned
off to save money). See Dominique Lapierre and Javier Moro. Five
Past Midnight in Bhopal. (Warner Books, 2002)
(5) The Bhopal Gas Tragedy, 1984
- ? a report from the Sambhavna Trust, Bhopal, November 1998,
pgs. 11-13. The Sambhavna Trust provides free clinic and community
based medical care to Bhopal gas survivors: see www.bhopal.org.
(6) The Bhopal Legacy, Greenpeace
Research Laboratories, University of Exeter, November 1999, available
(7) See “Considerations in Taxable
Corporate Acquisitions”, Thomas C Lacey, Jr., October 29th,
1998, p. 2. Available at: http://www.butlersnow.com/library_pdfs/1998_v1n5_pn.pdf.
(8) Figure of 8,000 cited in New
Scientist Magazine. “Fresh evidence on Bhopal disaster.”
December 2, 2002. Available at: http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99993140.
Estimates come from independent relief organizations working in
Bhopal immediately after the gas leak, and were based on evidence
such as the number of funeral shrouds (kafans) sold by the local
Cloth Merchant Association. See Five Past Midnight in Bhopal,
Javier Moro & Dominique Lapierre, 2001, pgs. 365-366.
(9) According to The Centre for Rehabilitation
Studies’ (an office of the Madhya Pradesh government’s
Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation Dept.) 1998 Annual
Report, the mortality rate among the exposed community in 1997
was 6.70/1000, whereas in the unexposed community it was 5.37/1000,
producing a figure of 665 deaths above the mortality rate in the
exposed community - or approximately 50 gas related deaths per month.
No official figures exist for subsequent years. Further, according
to a 1987 ICMR report, the mortality rate in the exposed community
was 9.98/1000 and in the unexposed community was 6.03/1000, meaning
approximately 150 gas related deaths per month in 1986. Assuming
a steady ratio of depreciation in mortality of 6% per year, in 2003
there were therefore over 30 deaths per month due to gas exposure.
However, it is worth noting that six monthly morbidity studies conducted
by the ICMR between 1987-1991 show that the number of people with
gas related symptoms actually increased in that period.
(10) Exactly 521,262 according to the
Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR). See Five Past Midnight
in Bhopal, Javier Moro & Dominique Lapierre, 2001, p 366.
Figure of 500,000 cited in The New York Times. “Bhopal
Seethes, Pained and Poor 18 Years Later.” Amy Waldman, September
(11) According to Union Carbide’s
own documentation, obtained through discovery in the New York civil
suit. Much of this documentation is available online, at http://www.bhopal.net/poisonpapers.html.
See also New Scientist Magazine. “Fresh evidence
on Bhopal disaster.” December 2, 2002. Available at: http://www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99993140.
And: The Financial Express. “Global Funds Tell Union
Carbide To Settle Bhopal Gas Leak Claims.” Ajay Jain, December
5, 2002. Available at: http://www.financialexpress.com/fe_full_story.php?content_id=23259.
(12) See The New York Times.
“Union Carbide Had Been Told of Leak Danger.” Philip
Shabecoff, January 25, 1985. See also The New York Times.
“1982 Report Cited Safety Problems at Plant in India.”
Thomas J. Lueck, December 11, 1984. Also: The Christian Science
Monitor. “Confidential Indian report blames both US firm
and subsidiary for Bhopal disaster.” Mary Anne Weaver, March
26, 1985. And: Time Magazine. “Clouds of Uncertainty;
For Bhopal and Union Carbide, the tragedy continues.” Pico
Iyer, December 24, 1984.
(13) Nearly 80 percent of those exposed
to the poison gases come from poor, working class families, of which
nearly 50,000 people are today too sick to work and are thus driven
to destitution. See The Bhopal Gas Tragedy, 1984 - ? a
report from the Sambhavna Trust, Bhopal, November 1998, pgs. 11-13.
The Sambhavna Trust provides free clinic and community based medical
care to Bhopal gas survivors: see www.bhopal.org.
(14) Dow has argued that since it does not own the
former Union Carbide factory site in Bhopal (the site was only leased
from the Madhya Pradesh government, and that lease has expired),
it cannot be held responsible for the contamination there. This
stand is contradicted by the Hazardous Waste (Management and Handling)
Rule of 1989 594(E), Section 3 Sub section (1) and Section 4(1),
which stipulates that the producers of the contaminated waste are
responsible for decontamination. The “polluter pays”
principle is also enshrined in the Environmental Protection Act,
passed in India in 1986. Ruling in Vellore Citizens' Welfare Forum
v. Union of India (1996) 5 SCC.647, the Indian Supreme Court declared
that, “. . .Once the activity carried on is hazardous or inherently
dangerous, the person carrying on such activity is liable to make
good the loss caused to any other person by his activity irrespective
of the fact whether he took reasonable care while carrying on his
activity. The rule is premised upon the very nature of the activity
carried on.” Elaborating on the “polluter pays”
principle in MC Mehta v. Union of India (1997) 2 SCC 353, the Supreme
Court ruled that “polluter pays” principle as interpreted
by the Court means that “the absolute liability for harm to
the environment extends not only to compensate the victims of pollution
but also of restoring the environment degradation.” Nevertheless,
Dow continues to argue that the Madhya Pradesh government is responsible
for the cleanup (see the Daily Environment Report, No.
144, Monday, July 28, 2003). Additionally, an estimated $300 million
of Union Carbide’s 1989 settlement remains undistributed to
the victims. Although these funds exist solely to compensate the
Bhopal victims for the loss of their health, their livelihoods,
and their loved ones, Dow has suggested that the balance of these
funds could be used to pay for a cleanup—turning the “polluter
pays” principle entirely on its head. In summary, Dow has
said both that local government should pay for the clean up AND
that gas survivors should pay—the first is in contravention
of lawful principle and common sense, while the second contradicts
all notions of human decency. See The Midland Daily News.
“Annual Meeting Draws Protests, Questions.” Beth Medley
Bellor, May 10th, 2002.
(15) Cited in The New York Times.
“Bhopal Seethes, Pained and Poor 18 Years Later.” Amy
Waldman, September 21, 2002. This refusal is inexplicable, as ‘trade
secret’ provisions do not, in fact, apply. This was revealed
in a Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA) meeting shortly after
the Bhopal disaster, at which Union Carbide representatives were
present: “Trade secret protections under the federal standard
extend only to chemical identity, not hazard information. …Chemical
identity information which is a trade secret is made available to
those who have a legitimate need for it, such as treating physicians.”
See page 34 of the CMA Executive Committee Meeting Agenda, January
28, 1985, available at: http://www.chemicalindustryarchives.org/search/pdfs/cma/19850128_00000473.pdf.