December 3, 2004 by Allen George
Yesterday as I ate my lunch I watched a CBC report on Bhopal, perhaps the worst chemical disaster to have occurred in India to date. Although I’ve known the facts behind Bhopal, I’d never been exposed to the suffering its residents face daily. As pictures of disfigured infants with their eyes sealed shut, toddlers propped up, comatose, against supporting walls and the worn faces of adults who’ve lived with the aftereffects for twenty years flashed across the screen, I was speechless.
The human damage was – is – incalculable.
December 2nd/3rd, 1984.
It’s just before midnight and you’ve been asleep for an hour or two. Suddenly you wake up coughing; you can feel your lungs fill with fluid. Perhaps your eyes start burning. You hear people screaming outside and run out to hear scattered reports of problems at the Union Carbide pesticide factory. People are fleeing. You join them. If you’re lucky, you’ll be one of the 7000+* people who die within the following 3 days of cardiac or respiratory arrest.
I don’t know how the leak started. Or why. But on the night of the 2nd, methyl isocyanate (MIC) started leaking into the atmosphere. At 12:20 AM, the plant superintendent was notified of the release. At 12:50 AM, the loud toxic gas release siren was turned on.
A few minutes later, it was changed into a muted siren.
There’s no doubt that Union Carbide was responsible for the tragedy. 7000+ dead in three days; 15000+ in the following years; over 100,000 suffering from cancer, long term respiratory, neurological, cardiac and ocular problems. That’s what made the 470 million dollar settlement in 1989 ($500 or less per victim) a slap in the face. Not just that, but the Indian government, by callously ignoring the environmental disaster at the site, failing to clean up Bhopal and witholding most of the settlement money also has its hand in this tragedy.
Even now, children play in the abandoned warehouses, cows roam on the property, their milk poisoning even more residents and waste barrels rot in the open air. The groundwater is severly contaminated – a death knoll in an area where people rely on private wells for their water supply.
Union Carbide denied Bhopal residents further compensation for the past 15 years.
Dow Chemical – the world’s second largest chemical company – acquired Union Carbide in 1999 and it too refused to accept any liability for the disaster.
Until this morning.
This morning Dow Chemical assumed full responsibility for the Bhopal disaster. Dow Chemical spokesman Jude Finesterra announced a 12 billion dollar compensation plan for Bhopal, along with Dow’s intention to “liquidate Union Carbide … and this headache for Dow”.
If you have a few minutes…
*Dow Chemical claims only 3500 people died as a direct result of the accident.