Bhopal, the “Hiroshima of the chemical industry,” is the world’s worst-ever industrial disaster. “During the trial, Carbide’s lawyers had argued, shockingly, that an American life was worth more than an Indian life”.
The Union Carbide India, Limited (UCIL) plant was established in 1969 and had expanded to produce carbaryl in 1979; MIC is an intermediate in carbaryl manufacture.
The chemical accident was caused by the introduction of water into methyl isocyanate holding tank E610, due to slip-blind water isolation plates being excluded from an adjacent tank’s maintenance procedure. The resulting reaction generated a major increase in the temperature of liquid inside the tank (to over 200°C). The MIC holding tank then gave off a large volume of toxic gas, forcing the emergency release of pressure.
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 were left severely disabled – of whom 22,000 have since died of their injuries – in a disaster now widely acknowledged as the world’s worst-ever industrial disaster.
More than 27 tons of methyl isocyanate and other deadly gases turned Bhopal into a gas chamber. None of the six safety systems at the plant were functional, 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 three years after the Bhopal disaster, at least 50,000 people 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 poison.
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. Testing published in a 2002 report revealed poisons such as 1,3,5 trichlorobenzene, dichloromethane, chloroform, lead and mercury in the breast milk of nursing women living near the factory.
Although Dow Chemical acquired Carbide’s liabilities when it purchased the company in 2001, 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 20 years.
Now according to the latest reports the government is preparing to remove the hurdles to the entry of Dow Chemical, which has bought Union Carbide into India in a big way. The Chemical & Fertilisers Ministry has filed an affidavit in the tragedy case, seeking Rs 100 crore as initial compensation for Union Carbide India’s liability for cleaning up the contamination at the factory site. But, the Industries Department wants an out-of-court settlement and a withdrawal of this affidavit.
There is a consensus in the highest echelons of the Congress that it is India’s best interests for the US chemical multinational to invest in the country by getting rid of the obstacle that is Bhopal.
“It is not as if Dow Chemical has an impeccable record when it comes to manufacturing lethal chemicals. It was the sole supplier of the highly inflammable chemical, napalm, which the US used in Vietnam. For some years, despite widespread protests in the US and elsewhere against the use of this deadly weapon, Dow continued production of this profitable product, arguing that the US Department of Defence had to take responsibility for its deployment. As controversially, it (and Monsanto) produced Agent Orange — the toxic defoliant which was dropped widely over Vietnam to flush out the Viet Cong. It derived its name from the orange-striped barrels in which it was shipped out and is a cocktail of different herbicides. When it degrades, it produces dioxin, one of the most toxic substances ever known. In 1976, a chemical plant in Seveso, Italy, suffered a leak and a few kilograms of dioxin were released. The town has gone down in environmental history as one of the worst cases of accidents, along with the Sandoz chemical plant warehouse fire in Basel, Switzerland, the Three Mile nuclear incident in the US and Chernobyl in the Soviet Union”.(Hindustan Times dated 29/10/07)
It will be a tragedy if, in the attempt to be pragmatic in seeking a massive US investment, the government caves in and lets Dow off the hook.
For More details on tragedy and latest happenings visit: http://www.studentsforbhopal.org/