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A History of the Medical Disaster, Viewed Through Newspaper Clippings

News Clippings – 1984-1990: The Unfolding Medical Disaster

New Clippings – 1991-1996: The Medical Crisis Continues

News Clippings – 1997-2004: The Medical Crisis Continues

List of Medical Headlines 1984-2004

Introduction

This chronicle of the ongoing medical disaster in Bhopal is taken from newspaper clippings from local, national and some international newspapers, kept at the Sambhavna Trust Documentation Center. The newspaper articles date from December 1984 until December 2004, and portray the twenty years of struggle for medical care for gas survivors. All the headlines of stories on medical issues are listed and from each year three to five stories have been summarized to give an idea of what was being reported throughout the two decades that have passed since the gas disaster.

What is striking is that the same stories appear year after year with the same complaints and the same issues. Every year there are stories about the relief work being insufficient and that survivors are not getting any better, there are stories about the treatment of symptoms instead of a long-term treatment and the unknown long-term affect of MIC and lack of research. There are also stories about random or casual prescribing of drugs, some of them potentially harmful. These, among other issues, continue to be reported throughout the years. From over 500 headlines there are only a couple of stories that praise the medical response. Other reports are unanimous in their complaints.

Raghu Rai took this picture on the morning after the disaster.
Note the young woman in the black shawl.

What is striking is that the same stories appear year after year with the same complaints and the same issues. Every year there are stories about the relief work being insufficient and that survivors are not getting any better, there are stories about the treatment of symptoms instead of a long-term treatment and the unknown long-term affect of MIC and lack of research. There are also stories about random or casual prescribing of drugs, some of them potentially harmful. These, among other issues, continue to be reported throughout the years. From over 500 headlines there are only a couple of stories that praise the medical response. Other reports are unanimous in their complaints.

Rallies against the tragedy are reported in the early years and in 1986 there are numerous reports about the government’s harassment and persecution of relief workers and volunteers. There are stories about arrests and police intolerance against any legitimate questioning of the relief work provided by the government. Two men were arrested and accused of illegal trespassing after recording a meeting of Indian Council of Medical Research with local doctors to discuss the mode of treatment for the gas victims. The stories about the early protests focus on rehabilitation and compensation and mostly take place outside the courts. In the early nineties women activists begin demanding proper medical care and they shed their veil to claim their rights. In the mid-nineties the focus of the demonstrations has shifted, the reports are about women and children protesting, and more emphasis is put on the continuing health problem, the inadequate treatment at the gas hospitals, as well as lack of research and long-term treatment.

Following the 10th anniversary, there is more focus in newspapers on the medical disaster and the condition of the gas affected people than before. A decade has gone by and the survivors have still not received proper medical care. Reports claim that ten years later medical research into the gas tragedy is shockingly inadequate and there is hardly any authoritative scientific work on the consequences of exposure to MIC. Also, in 1994 several stories are written about the arrival of the International Medical Commission, and they condemn Union Carbide not only for its responsibility for the deadly gas leak but also for its behavior later.

Stories about toxic water being found around the Union Carbide factory appear fairly early on and as the years go by more stories about victims drinking contaminated water are published. Reports claim that several toxic chemicals and cancer causing agents have been found in water samples and this poses a serious health threat to gas survivors who are forced to drink contaminated and poisonous water.

In the later years, new issues — the high incidence of gynecological disorders and that exposure to MIC may cause cancer — receive more attention. Women also bring to attention that despite high incidence of menstrual disorders among gas affected women, the government hospitals have neither gynecologists nor effective treatment for the range of menstrual problems and there are no facilities for proper screening and treatment of cervical cancer despite scores of women dying of this disease. Also, there are stories about genetic disorders and mental health. More stress is on awareness and there are news items about seminars and medical camps being held in the late nineties. News about the Sambhavna Trust Clinic and its plans for long term projects for the welfare of the gas survivors are frequent.

In 2002 Raghu returned to Bhopal and photographed the same
woman again. She is still ill, the Carbide factory is still killing.

During the years leading up to the 20th anniversary there is more general news about the long term impact, and the usual stories on how people are still suffering and survivors are being denied treatment. Survivors demonstrate and demand a comprehensive health care plan to ensure proper treatment. They claim the situation is no better, if not actually worse, than the day after the disaster. Greenpeace organises a protest urging Dow Chemical and the Indian government to stop the medical disaster. Amnesty International also gets involved and faults the government of India for failing to fight for the rights of survivors. In 2004, the 20th anniversary year, many articles are written about Bhopal. These articles claim that the situation has not improved despite all the protests, requests and even legal action.

The history of the medical disaster can be read in these newspaper clips. Over the twenty years, journalists reporting on the medical issues have generally been sympathetic towards the gas victims and their claims. They have continued to report on the mismanagement and corruption in government gas hospitals, and on the lack of medical treatment for gas survivors and their struggle in the fight for adequate medical care — a fight that is still going on and can still be read in newspaper articles published to this day.

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Bhopal faces risk of ‘poisoning’: BBC

BY PAUL VICKERS, BBC

Thousand of Indians around Bhopal remain at risk of poisoning 20 years after a major disaster in the city, an investigation by the BBC has revealed.

Four thousand people died after a gas leak at a pesticide factory owned by US company Union Carbide in 1984.

Union Carbide India Limited was responsible for cleaning up the site.

But thousands of tonnes of toxic waste are still stored around the plant in inadequate conditions, so chemicals leak into the town’s water supply.

We took a sample of drinking water from a well near the site.

It had levels of contamination 500 times higher than the maximum limits recommended by the World Health Organisation.

The local people who drink this water every day are exposing themselves to a substantial chemical hazard associated, over time, with liver and kidney damage.

Union Carbide disputes the test results and says there was no evidence of ground water contamination outside the plant when they handed the site back to the state government in 1998.

Listen out for Paul Vickers’ report on BBC Radio 5 Live today at 11am Greenwich Mean Time.

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Pallone slams Dow in Congress

Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr.
Extension of Remarks
“Bhopal Resolution”
September 29, 2004 

Mr. Speaker, I introduced a resolution today in recognition of the 20th anniversary of the Union Carbide Corporation gas leak that took place in Bhopal, India in December 2004.  This 1984 Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster is widely regarded as the worst peacetime environmental catastrophe in world history, and this important resolution expresses the commitment of the United States Congress to work with the Government of India and others to ensure that Union Carbide provides environmental and medical rehabilitation in Bhopal and is held responsible for its actions.

On the night of December 2, 1984, 27 tons of poisonous gas including methyl isocyanate leaked from a storage tank at the Union Carbide Corporation’s pesticide plant in Bhopal and quickly spread to the surrounding residential areas.  Official estimates indicate a death toll of 3,000 lives in the aftermath of the disaster, with unofficial estimates putting the toll much higher at 8,000.  To date, the death toll has climbed to more than 20,000 lives.

Although it is now 20 years since the disaster, approximately 10-30 people continue to die every month in Bhopal from toxic exposure and 150,000 people continue to suffer long-term health consequences from the disaster.  The effects of the toxic gases also appear to be harming the next generation, as more overwhelming evidence is surfacing that points to higher incidence of health effects and birth-defects among children born to gas-affected people.

A host of international organizations and independent investigators have concluded that Union Carbide’s inadequate technology, double standards in safety and emergency-preparedness compounded by a reckless cost-cutting drive at the plant were the principal causes of the disaster.

Based on these investigations and other evidence, the authorities in India brought criminal charges against Union Carbide, its Indian subsidiary as well as local managers in 1987 for criminal negligence and reckless indifference leading to death.

In 1989, Union Carbide negotiated a settlement of $470 million with the Indian government that was based on inaccurate statistics about the scale and magnitude of the disaster in addition to being widely condemned by the media and responsible jurists in India as insufficient, even when compared to compensation awards provided for under Indian law. The Supreme Court of India in its judicial review of the settlement in October 1991 held that the criminal charges could not be overturned or dismissed based on the civil settlement and directed that the criminal prosecution against Union Carbide and the Indian accused must proceed in the courts of India.

When Union Carbide was served with a summons in the criminal case by the Bhopal District Court in 1992, and a notice to appear for trial was published in the Washington Post, Union Carbide’s spokesmen responded with a public statement that the company was not subject to the jurisdiction of India’s courts in disregard of universally accepted international law regarding criminal jurisdiction acknowledged by both the United States and India.  Based on its refusal to appear to face criminal charges against it, the Bhopal District Court issued non-bailable arrest warrants for Union Carbide, ordered that its remaining properties in India be attached to secure its appearance and declared that the company was a “proclaimed absconder” or fugitive from justice.

Union Carbide has recently become a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Corporation, which made the decision to acquire the company with full knowledge, according to its own public statements, of the criminal charges pending against it and Union Carbide’s status as an absconder or fugitive from justice.  Despite repeated public requests and protests around the world, Dow
Chemical has refused to make its new subsidiary appear before the Bhopal District Court to face the criminal charges pending against it for the disaster.

Like Union Carbide before it, Dow Chemical has, to date, continued to refuse to release all scientific research on the leaked gas, claiming that this information constitutes a commercial  “trade secret”.

Like Union Carbide before it, Dow Chemical has also continued to refuse to release all of its own medical research on the toxicology of the leaked chemicals and gases to date.  The lack of information on the gas has not only hindered the study of the long-term health and medical effects of exposure, but has left doctors with few options besides symptomatic treatment of the hundreds of thousands of gas-affected individuals and children.

The devastating health effects of the gas, the birth defects of their children and inability to work because of illness have forced many Bhopali families in desperate need of medical help into insurmountable debt.

Since 1999, at least three independent environmental surveys, including one conducted by state authorities in India, have shown that the former Union Carbide plant has badly polluted the soil and groundwater aquifer beneath it resulting in severe contamination of the drinking water supply of as many as 20,000 people living in residential colonies near the plant. One study found the presence of a large number of highly toxic pollutants in drinking water samples tested by the University of Exeter in the U.K. that were matched with chemicals found in soil samples from the Bhopal plant, including one carcinogenic chemical whose presence in the drinking water exceeded by 1,705
times the maximum limit allowed by the World Health Organization.

Another environmental survey was able to trace chemicals from the former Union Carbide plant in the breast milk of mothers living in the residential areas in the vicinity of the badly polluted site, which continues to leach pollutants into the groundwater aquifer to date. The land for the plant was leased from the State of Madhya Pradesh in India which stipulated that, upon termination, the land would be returned to the State in the condition that it was first leased and suitable for the use prescribed by the zoning regulations.  The state discovered that clean-up of the site until 1998 had been insufficient leaving thousands of metric tons of toxic wastes, chemical by-products, effluents, and other hazardous materials both above-ground on the premises of the factory and below ground in burial pits and landfills, all of which posed a grave threat to the surrounding population.

At least 10 residential areas in the vicinity of the former Union Carbide plant were found to have severely polluted drinking water according to these environmental studies and no substantive effort has been undertaken for environmental remediation of the area leaving water that has high levels of
mercury, dichlorobenzenes, chloroform, carbon tetrachloride, and other pollutants, toxins, and heavy metals. Soil samples from the area have found abnormal amounts of lead, nickel, copper, chromium, hexachlorocyclohexane, and chlorobenzenes.  Tainted water and the generally toxic living environments have lead to premature cancer, deformities, chromosomal aberrations, and other
disorders for Bhopali children.

There is a “polluter pays” principle enshrined in the domestic laws of both India and the United States as well as both domestic and international law which states that the polluter rather than the public agencies or taxpayers should be held responsible for its environmental pollution in its entirety.

International trade and ethical practices compel Dow Chemical to treat this matter very seriously and ensure that equitable treatment be afforded to the victims and their progeny.

Mr. Speaker, India is the largest democratic country in the world and enjoys a close and mutual friendship with the United States based on common values and common interests, and as a result, our countries should come together to recognize the gravity of the Bhopal disaster and the ongoing environmental problems in Bhopal caused by Union Carbide’s policies and practices.

I encourage my colleagues in the U.S. Congress to support this resolution and commit to working together with the Indian government, Dow Chemical Corporation, and the victims to ensure that Union Carbide provides complete medical, social, and economic rehabilitation to the victims of the disaster.  In addition, we should work together to ensure that Union Carbide undertakes a complete environmental remediation that restores the badly polluted plant site affected by this disaster to a habitable condition and fully remediates the drinking water supply of affected residential communities.  Lastly, we need to ensure that Union Carbide appears before the Bhopal District Court for prosecution on the criminal charges pending against it there, in accordance with principles of international law regarding criminal jurisdiction accepted by the world community including India and the United States.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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Bhopal gas victims still gasping for breath

TIMES OF INDIA [MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 13, 2004 02:35:53 AM]

NEW DELHI: On a cold wintry night of December 2-3, 15,000 people were killed in Bhopal when 41 tonnes of Methyl Isocyanate, a poisonous gas leaked from one of the tanks of Union Carbide Corporation’s plant.

An initial survey on the after-effects of the gas leak done by The Journal of Post-Graduate Medicine reported 1,07,249 were disabled and 60,000 others were severely disabled in the incident.

Another survey done later by an NGO said over 20,000 people were killed and 1.20 lakh were left chronically ill.

Though Union Carbide authorities paid Rs 470 crore to the Indian government in 1989 as the final compensation, the Centre and Madhya Pradesh government are still defying their constitutional obligation of providing basic treatment to the victims of the ghastly tragedy.

Several children born after the tragedy still carry the legacy of the deadly cocktail.

Dr S Murlidhar, a noted lawyer who has been fighting for the victims confirmed that children born after the tragedy are suffering from chest and respiratory problems as well as deformities.

However, what has been more painful for the victims is the overall neglect of the victims. A whopping Rs 300 crore was spent on setting up an advanced hospital in Bhopal to treat the victims.

Costly equipment and ultra advanced gadgets were imported to help diagnose the ailments. The Indian Council of Medical Research started a project to investigate the after-effects of the MIC leak.

But the black Italian marble hospital with fountains on its pathway remain out of bounds for the victims because authorities demand proof that they are suffering from the MIC leak.

Medicines, which had crossed their expiry dates were put on the hospital’s shelves. This forced patients to buy the costly medicines from nearby private drug stores.

The Comptroller and Auditor General’s reports later revealed that too much money was spent on programmes started for the gas victims. It is never too late to do justice or do good.

A high-powered committee has now been set up under the aegis of the Supreme Court to enforce and regulate treatment of of victims, who have been gasping for breath for two decades.

With proper accountability of the aid programmes, it is still possible to provide medical assistance to the victims and check more deaths.

For more information about the medical situation in Bhopal and the work of the free Sambhavna Clinic, please visit our sister site bhopal.org

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US Government Shields Anderson

Though we at bhopal.net can’t claim to have encountered it personally, there apparently exists a widely held belief that all stand equal before the law. On March 2nd, US Attorney General John Ashcroft declared the US government to be a guarantor of this equality. “It is the honor, the duty, and responsibility of the United States Department of Justice to ensure that no one stands above the law”, he intoned solemnly, “regardless of power, position, or privilege.” At precisely the same time, a considerably less hypocritical Ashcroft, resident of an altogether more candid parallel dimension, added, “oh yeah, with the exception of anyone named Warren Martin Anderson.”

Continue reading US Government Shields Anderson

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