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The Bhopal Tragedy



A child victim is buried.



Some of the victims are prepared for burial.


The Tragedy


Late one evening, on December 2nd 1984, in Bhopal, India, a Union Carbide plant that manufactured insecticides and pesticides had an accident.  During that night, 27 tons of methyl isocyanate vaporized into the air, becoming a deadly gaseous cloud that would kill 20,000 people, expose half a million, and maime 120,000 victims.  None of the plant's six safety systems were successful in shutting off the gas, because none were operational.


One of the survivors, Aziza Sultan, described how she awoke at approximately 12:30 am to the sound of her baby coughing badly.  She then recounts how a white cloud of gas which had entered her home, caused her eyes to tear, and cough violently as a result of a burning sensation in her throat and lungs.  As she ran from her home she faced a cloud so thick that she found it difficult to see.  People fled dropping the scarves and shawls that covered their faces.  Soon many fell unconscious never to wake again.  She herself, who was two months pregnant, had a miscarriage as she was running, and also fell unconscious.  Many of the survivors found themselves blinded as a result of being exposed to the gas.


After the accident no cleanup of the site was ever performed.  In December 1999, Greenpeace, an environmental activist group, found that the soil and groundwater were still heavily contaminated with heavy metals and organochlorides.  A later study found mercury and lead in mothers' milk, and many children of affected mothers, were suffering from gruesome ailments and birth defects years after the accident.


Union Carbide and Dow Chemical


The company in 1989 arrived at a partial settlement with the Indian government without any discussions with any of the victims.  It paid $470 million as a compensation, roughly a payment of $400 to each victim.  Shortly after the accident, Union Carbide severed its operations in India. The plant has never been cleaned up, much less the surrounding town of Bhopal.  As you read this, the contamination continues to spread.


Sacks of pesticides still on site, gradually spread poison in the wind and leech into the ground when it rains.


In 1991, Warren Anderson, Union Carbide's CEO was charged with manslaughter by an Indian Court.  Subsequently an international warrant for his arrest was issued.  Neither Anderson nor Union Carbide showed any interest in entering a plea before the court.  The U.S. Supreme Court on October 4th, 1993 declined to review a U.S. Appeals Court decision that reaffirmed that the victims of the Bhopal tragedy lacked  legal standing to seek damages in the United States court system.  In 2001, Dow Chemical acquires Union Carbide. 



A deformed fetus, evidencing genetic damage.



Children born after the accident bear the effects of genetic damage.


The Campaign to Help the Victims


On September 27th, 2004, Congressman Frank Pallone (D-NJ), introduced Congressional Resolution 503 which seeks to hold Dow Chemical responsible for the Bhopal chemical disaster, on this the 20th anniversary of the accident.  The resolution asks that Dow Chemical and the Indian government work together to ensure that Union Carbide clean up the site, provide adequate water supply to the populace, and provide complete medical, social and economic rehabilitation to the victims. An international network of activists who have dedicated their time and energy to tell the world what happened in Bhopal are asking the American people to support Frank Pallone's resolution, by contacting both Senators and Representatives in the House


The Bhopal accident has been the worst chemical disaster in history, it has claimed thousands of victims, and continues to do so.  To date neither Union Carbide, nor Dow Chemical have attempted to clean up the factory or the surrounding contamination. Twenty years later the silence of many politicians, both Indian and American, has contributed to a tragedy that refuses to go away. 


L.M. / Contributing Correspondent


Posted  October  10, 2004

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