Bhopal Gas Leaks Kills Thousands - History

Bhopal Gas Leaks Kills Thousands - History



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On December 3, 1984, the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal India leaked methyl isocyanate gas. The gas is highly toxic, and as a result, a minimum of 3,787 died. Some estimates put the number as high as 16,000.


The Union Carbide India plant was built in 1969 to produce the pesticide, Sevin. As part of the process, methyl isocyanate was used to create the gas. The plant had three tanks that housed the gas. One of the three tanks became inoperable, and it was not possible to remove the gas from the tank.

On December 2 an attempt was made to clean the drain of the tank and instead resulted in water getting into the tank. This began a runaway reaction. By 12:40 Am December 3, 1984, the temperature in the tank that was supposed to be kept cold had reached 77 degrees and rising and a PSI of 40. The safety systems that were in place to protect tank all failed. At 12:50 AM the tank began emitting a toxic cloud.

It is estimated that 520,000 were affected by the gas. Of those 3,928 people officially died from the gas and over 50,000 more were injured. It was the worse industrial accident in history.


Dec. 3, 1984: Bhopal, 'Worst Industrial Accident in History'

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1984: Poison gas leaks from a Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal, India. It spreads throughout the city, killing thousands of people outright and thousands more subsequently in a disaster often described as the worst industrial accident in history.

Union Carbide chose Bhopal, a city of 900,000 people in the state of Madhya Pradesh, because of its central location and its proximity to a lake and to the country's vast rail system.

The plant opened in 1969 and produced the pesticide carbaryl, which was marketed as Sevin. Ten years later the plant began manufacturing methyl isocyanate, or MIC, a cheaper but more toxic substance used in the making of pesticides.

It was MIC gas that was released when water leaked into one of the storage tanks late on the night of Dec. 2, setting off the disaster. Gas began escaping from Tank 610 around 10:30 p.m., although the main warning siren didn't go off for another two hours.

The first effects were felt almost immediately in the vicinity of the plant. As the gas cloud spread into Bhopal proper, residents were awakened to a blinding, vomiting, lung-searing hell. Panic ensued, and hundreds of people died in the chaotic stampede that followed.

An exact death toll has never been established. Union Carbide, not surprisingly, set the toll on the low end at 3,800, while municipal workers claimed to have cleared at least 15,000 bodies in the immediate aftermath of the accident. Thousands have died since, and an estimated 50,000 people became invalids or developed chronic respiratory conditions as a result of being poisoned.

Regardless of the numbers, all evidence pointed to Union Carbide and its Indian subsidiary (as well as the Indian government, its partner in the factory) being responsible for what occurred -- mainly through negligence. Despite the extreme volatility and toxicity of the chemicals in use at the factory, safeguards known to be substandard were ignored rather than fixed.

In the subsequent investigations and legal proceedings, it was determined, among other things, that:

  • Staffing at the plant had been cut to save money. Workers who complained about codified safety violations were reprimanded and, occasionally, fired.
  • No plan existed for coping with a disaster of this magnitude.
  • Tank alarms that would have alerted personnel to the leak hadn't functioned for at least four years.
  • Other backup systems were either not functioning or nonexistent.
  • The plant was equipped with a single backup system, unlike the four-stage system typically found in American plants.
  • Tank 610 held 42 tons of MIC, well above the prescribed capacity. (It is believed that 27 tons escaped in the leak.)
  • Water sprays designed to dilute escaping gas were poorly installed and proved ineffective.
  • Damage known to exist to piping and valves had not been repaired or replaced, because the cost was considered too high. Warnings from U.S. and Indian experts about other shortcomings at the plant were similarly ignored.

The aftermath of the disaster was almost as chaotic. Union Carbide was initially responsive, rushing aid and money to Bhopal. Nevertheless, faced with a $3 billion lawsuit, the company dug in. It eventually agreed to a $470 million settlement, a mere 15 percent of the original claim. In any case, very little money ever reached the victims of the disaster.

Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson went before Congress in December 1984, pledging his company's renewed commitment to safety. That promise rang hollow in India -- and probably to Congress as well.

Anderson was subsequently charged with manslaughter by Indian prosecutors but managed to evade an international arrest warrant and disappeared. Investigators from Greenpeace, which has kept up an active interest in the case, found Anderson in 2002, alive and well and living comfortably in the Hamptons. India issued an arrest warrant for Anderson in 2009, but the United States has shown no inclination to hand him over to Indian justice.

Union Carbide, meanwhile, was acquired by Dow Chemical in 2001, which refused to assume any additional liability for Bhopal, arguing that the debt had already been paid through various court settlements. It did go on to settle another outstanding claim against Union Carbide, this one for $2.2 billion made by asbestos workers in Texas.

In June 2010, seven former employees of Union Carbide's Indian subsidiary were found guilty of death by negligence. They were fined about $2,000 each and sentenced to two years' imprisonment, then released on bail.

The victims of the disaster, those who live on, continue dealing with various health problems — including chronic respiratory problems, vision problems and an increased incidence of cancer and birth defects — and an environment that remains contaminated to this day.

Photo: Wahid Khan, pictured here 10 years after the 1984 Bhopal disaster, survived the toxic gas exposure but was left permanently blind.
Reuters/Corbis


Immediate results

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the deadly methyl isocyanate leaked from the plant and instantly killed thousands of people who were living closest to the source of the leak. In large doses, the chemical will kill people almost immediately. Those who were living in the city nearest to the plant had no chance.

The Bhopal locals knew that the plant could pose a hazard and when people began to feel the symptoms of a gas leak, they panicked and began fleeing the city in droves.

The symptoms felt by those who did not receive a fatal dose included coughing, eye irritation, a feeling of suffocation, burning in the lungs, blepharospasm, stomach pain, nausea, and vomiting.

The city quickly emptied out with tens of thousands of people running in the immediate aftermath leaving the corpses of thousands of victims behind in their houses.


Bhopal Gas Leaks Kills Thousands - History

It may have caused some industrial safety procedures to improve, but the survivors of the tragic Bhopal gas disaster are still fighting for compensation

It may have caused some industrial safety procedures to improve, but the survivors of the tragic Bhopal gas disaster are still fighting for compensationThe Bhopal gas leak is one of the worst industrial disasters in history. It demonstrates what can happen when safety measures are overlooked.

On December 3 1984, methyl isocyanate or MIC, an extremely toxic gas, started leaking from a chemical plant majority-owned by Union Carbide in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh state, India. Within hours, deadly MIC clouds engulfed the city.

Union Carbide says 3,800 people died and thousands became permanently or temporarily disabled by the toxic gas, a figure that the government of India does not dispute.

But more than a dozen NGOs campaigning for justice on behalf of victims for 25 years say the real number of deaths is much larger. “At least 7,000 people were killed within the first 72 hours of the leak,” says Karuna Raina, a Greenpeace India campaigner who leads the Bhopal gas campaign. She says more than 25,000 people have since died of exposure-related illnesses.

The ground and water contamination has led to increased incidents of births of deformed babies in the area. Bhopal Medical Appeal, a UK-based charity that supports a clinic in Bhopal to treat the victims, says that more than 120,000 people still suffer from ailments caused by the accident and the subsequent pollution at the plant site.

Union Carbide, which is now owned by The Dow Chemical Company, and the activists offer diametrically opposite accounts of what led to the deadly disaster.

The company claims that a disgruntled employee sabotaged the plant. An investigation by the consulting firm Arthur D Little, hired by Union Carbide, also concluded that sabotage may have caused the gas leak. The theory was never proven and no suspect was ever named.

A central piece of Union Carbide’s defence rests on the ownership structure of Union Carbide India Limited, as the Indian entity that owned the Bhopal plant was known. Union Carbide says it only had slightly over 50% stake in UCIL while the rest was owned by Indian public and local institutional investors. The company says it never controlled daily operations of the plant and hence is not legally liable for the disaster.

Activists put the blame squarely on the company. “There is ample evidence that Union Carbide monitored day-to-day operations from the US headquarters,” says Rachna Dhingra, coordinator of Bhopal Group for Information and Action, a leading NGO campaigning to seek justice for the victims.

She also says the parent company Union Carbide sold to its Indian arm an unproven technology to produce MIC.

Bhopal-based activist groups point to a number of reported health and safety lapses at the plant, poor maintenance of equipment and management negligence as responsible for the accident. They say their own investigations and thousands of documents, including the company’s internal memos submitted by various parties in courts in the US and India in the course of multiple lawsuits, indicate the company ignored and even hid safety risks.

Reports of safety lapses in the plant had started surfacing in 1981, three years before the disaster, when a minor gas leak killed a Union Carbide employee inside the plant.

A local journalist Rajkumar Keswani started investigating the killing of the employee and made secret visits to the plant. He published a series of reports between 1982 and June 1984 exposing safety lapses in the plant. The headline of his first article in September 1982 screamed: “Save, please, this city.”

His last report was published in a national Hindi newspaper Jansatta and local newspapers in June 1984 in which he warned of the impending disaster. Six months later catastrophe struck.

Cutting costs and safety

A principal lesson from the Bhopal disaster is the stark danger of cutting costs where industrial safety is concerned.

Activists say the company not only denied reports of safety lapses, but it also started cutting costs including downsizing the maintenance department as the company was losing money. At the beginning of 1984, the Bhopal plant reported a loss of $4m while Union Carbide’s global profit fell from $800m three years earlier to just $79m.

Documents obtained by campaign groups such as the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal and several others, and submitted in various courts, paint a horrifying picture in the run-up to the final disaster.

Plagued by losses, Union Carbide decided to sell the parts of the plant except the MIC unit. Activists claim that the company increased the volume ceiling of MIC storage from 60% to a dangerous level of 80% by amending the safety manual in April 1984.

Dhingra says the company also cut training for MIC plant operators from the original six months to only 15 days. “They shut down the MIC refrigeration plant to save $70 a day.”

In August 1984, the plant union wrote to the management threatening to sue the company for pollution from the MIC plant. The plant general manager rejected their claims. But an internal safety report, now in the possession of activists, from September 1984 cast serious doubts of the effectiveness of the company’s safety programme.

In October, Union Carbide asked the local management to close the plant and sell it to any available buyer. The company also appointed a local safety officer to study the feasibility of dismantling the MIC plant for selling to overseas buyers. In November, the officer warned against dismantling because of a “high level of corrosion at several points”.

On November 26, the company eliminated the position of maintenance supervisor on the second and third shifts. On the night of December 2, operators noticed a small leak from the MIC plant and reported to supervisors. Apparently, no action was taken. The tank exploded the next night releasing the deadly gas into the air.

But Union Carbide denies these claims of campaigners. Campaigners say the company has been using its financial muscle to hire a battery of expensive lawyers to block cases in courts on technical grounds.

Four months after the disaster, Union Carbide offered $7m as relief after the government of India filed a lawsuit in a US court seeking $3bn in damages. The company raised the offer to $350m in 1986.

In the meantime, the government of India enacted the Bhopal Gas Leak Act in March 1985 that enabled the government to act as legal representatives of the victims.

Finally, the company and the government settled for $470m in 1989 immediately after a Bhopal court issued arrest warrants against the Union Carbide chairman and chief executive Warren Anderson. The settlement absolved the company of all future civil and criminal liabilities in the case.

The final $470m settlement included $270m paid by Union Carbide’s insurers in claims.

The government of India has released only a small part of the settlement sum to the victims. Even today, the government is sitting on $370m while victims and their families continue to campaign to receive the compensation. Bureaucratic hassles have delayed the disbursement, campaigners say.

In 1994, Union Carbide eventually sold its entire 50.9% stake in the Indian plant to McLeod Russell, an Indian company which renamed Union Carbide India Limited as Eveready Industries.

Mysteriously, in 1998 the Madhya Pradesh government, which had leased the land for the plant, repossessed it and assumed all accountability for the facility, including the site clean-up.

In 1999, Dow Chemical acquired Union Carbide, making the merged entity the largest chemicals company in the world. Union Carbide is still in operation, but as a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow.

Campaigners allege that Union Carbide sold the plant without cleaning up the site. The chemical spill, they say, has seriously contaminated the ground water in the area leading to increased birth defects and rise in other diseases.

A Greenpeace report in 1999 said it found 12 volatile organic chemicals and mercury in quantities up to six million times higher than World Health Organisation levels in the water and soil samples collected near the site.

Union Carbide says it engaged in the site clean-up after the incident until it sold the unit to Eveready Industries in 1994. The company says responsibility for the clean-up of the site lies with the Madhya Pradesh state government, which today controls the site.

Campaigners now want Dow Chemical to assume all liabilities for the site clean-up under the “polluter pays” principle as it now owns Union Carbide. India’s ministry of chemicals has asked Dow Chemical to pay $22m for the cleaning up of the site. The company has rejected the demand and refused to accept any liability.

Union Carbide spokesman Tomm Sprick says such efforts are misdirected. “Dow acquired shares of Union Carbide in 2001, seven years after UCIL became Eveready Industries and more than 10 years after Union Carbide settled its liabilities with the Indian government in 1989 by paying $470m,” he says.

“Union Carbide never owned or operated the UCIL plant site and, therefore, there were no liabilities for Dow to inherit through Union Carbide on the Bhopal issue,” Sprick says.

Dhingra disagrees that Dow has no liability. “Dow accepted the asbestos liability of Union Carbide in the US. But when it comes to India, they have a complete double standard,” she says.

Sprick says Union Carbide accepted “moral responsibility” for the tragedy and provided immediate and continuing aid to the victims.

He says the $470m legal settlement with the Indian government in 1989 settled all claims arising from the incident. “The government took responsibility for the Bhopal victims’ short-term needs, negotiating a settlement and distributing funds, and addressing future needs.”

Dhingra argues that $470m is a paltry sum – it translates to just over $1,000 per victim.

Raina from Greenpeace points out that the $470m settlement does not recognise inter-generational rights. The second generation victims with birth defects or illnesses due to continuing contamination cannot claim compensation from the settlement fund, she explains.

As for campaigners, they are still fighting the legal battle against the company and hope to prove these charges in courts one day. A civil case in the New York district court and a criminal case in a Bhopal court are still pending against Anderson and nine other Union Carbide executives. Another case is pending in Madhya Pradesh high court against Dow Chemical.

Sprick says Union Carbide and the rest of the chemicals industry learnt valuable lessons from the Bhopal disaster. These include the need to develop contingency plans to deal with emergencies, involving the public in risk management, reducing inventories of hazardous chemicals at the site, finding safer substitute chemicals, evaluating measures to reduce the seriousness of an accident and establishing threat-of-violence programmes.

“Union Carbide, together with the rest of the chemical industry, has worked to develop and globally implement its ‘Responsible Care’ programme, designed to prevent any future events through improving community awareness, emergency preparedness and process safety standards,” Sprick says.

Responsible Care, a certification scheme launched in 1988, remains the chemical industry’s flagship programme on environment, health, safety and security.

Campaigners say India, however, has learnt no lessons from the disaster. They give the example of the currently proposed nuclear liability bill. The bill fixes the maximum amount of liability in cases of each nuclear accident at 5bn rupees (£76m) to be paid by the plant operator. The bill also exempts suppliers of nuclear plant equipment from any liability in case of an accident.

Recently submitted to the Indian parliament, the bill is being opposed by all major opposition parties and environmental and human rights activists. They argue that the government is including such provisions under pressure from the global nuclear industry lobby.

“The nuclear liability bill is a stark example that the government of India has learnt nothing from the Bhopal disaster,” Dhingra says.

This is the third part of our series of classic examples of corporate irresponsibility and mistakes. Next month we examine the McLibel case.

The Bhopal disaster timeline

December: A gas leak kills a worker at the Union Carbide’s Bhopal plant.

February: The plant union writes a letter to management protesting at danger posed by poor maintenance of the plant equipment.

March: A Bhopal lawyer serves a legal notice on the company stating that the plant poses a serious health and safety risk to workers and community. The company denies the charge.

A local journalist published a series of investigative reports exposing serious safety lapses in the plant, warns of impending disaster between 1982 and June 1984. The company keeps denying.

December 3: Shortly after midnight, methyl isocyanate gas leaks from a tank at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal. Thousands of people are killed by the toxic gas and tens of thousands experience permanent disability.

December 4: Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson rushes from company headquarter in Connecticut to Bhopal with a technical team.

Anderson is detained upon arrival and charged with culpable homicide, or manslaughter, causing death by negligence and released on bail. He is asked by the Indian government to leave the country within 24 hours to save him from the angry public.

February: Union Carbide establishes a relief fund for victims of the tragedy that collects $120,000.
March: A Union Carbide technical team concludes that a large volume of water was introduced into the MIC tank and triggered a reaction that resulted in the gas release.
April: The government of India files suit against Union Carbide for $3bn in a New York court.
April: Company offers $7m relief. The government of India rejects the offer.

March: Union Carbide proposes $350m as settlement for victims and families.

May: Independent investigation by the consulting firm Arthur D Little, hired by Union Carbide, concludes that the gas leak could only have been caused by sabotage.
November: India’s supreme court asks the government and the company to arrive at a settlement.

February: A Bhopal court issues arrest warrants against Warren Anderson for failing to appear before the court in spite of several summons. A few days later the company and the government agree to a $470m final settlement.

Activists challenge the settlement and file a petition in the Indian supreme court.

October: The supreme court rejects petitions and confirms the settlement but revokes the criminal immunity granted to Union Carbide and its officials
November: A Bhopal court revives the criminal proceedings against Anderson and others.

A Bhopal court declares Anderson a fugitive as he fails to appear before court, the judge asks the government to seek extradition of Anderson from the US.
Union Carbide wants to sell its entire stake (50.9%) in the Indian subsidiary and put the money in a charitable trust. Activists challenge the decision.

The US supreme court declines to hear appeals by activists implying that victims cannot sue the company in the US.

The Indian supreme court allows Union Carbide to sell its stake in its Indian subsidiary. $90m from the sale goes to a trust to build a hospital in Bhopal. The hospital opens in 2001.

Dow Chemical Company acquires Union Carbide to become the world’s largest chemical company merger completed in 2001.

Government of India makes a formal request to the US to extradite Anderson.

The US government turns down India’s request to extradite Anderson.

2007
New class action suits filed in New York federal court seeking damages from water contamination in the neighbourhood of the Bhopal plant, still under review.

Sources: Union Carbide website and International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.


Bhopal gas tragedy: What had happened this day 33 years ago that killed thousands?

Bhopal is known for its historical records, artificial lakes and greenery but most of all, the city is remembered across the globe for the worst industrial mishap of the world.

Post-midnight on December 3, 1984, poisonous gas that leaked from the factory of Union Carbide in Madhya Pradesh capital Bhopal killed thousands of people directly. The incident is now known as the Bhopal disaster or Bhopal gas tragedy.

As per official records, the Bhopal gas tragedy killed 3,787 people. The figures were updated by the Madhya Pradesh government later as the immediate official estimate had put the death toll due to gas leak from Union Carbide factory at 2,259.

However, activists fighting for justice for Bhopal gas tragedy victims put the figures of death between 8,000 and 10,000. In an affidavit, submitted in 2006, the government said that the Bhopal gas leak caused 5,58,125 injuries that included approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries.

The gas leak in the Union Carbide (now known as Dow Chemicals) was reported after midnight on the intervening night of December 2 and 3. The incident had taken place at the Plant Number C of the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal.

As the cool morning breeze picked up pace, it carried the poisonous gas leaking from the Union Carbide factory to rest of the city and killing people - both awake and asleep. As per government's affidavit, about 3,000 people died of poisonous gas within a few hours of the incident.

It is estimated that about 40 tonnes of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas and other chemicals leaked from the Union Carbide factory. Methyl isocyanate is extremely toxic and if its concentration in air touches 21ppm (parts per million), it can cause death within minutes of inhaling the gas. In Bhopal, the level was multiple times higher.

WHAT CAUSED MIC LEAKAGE?

The leakage of gas was reported from Plant Number C. As per official record, methyl isocyanate got mixed with water used for cooling the plant. The mixture led to generation of volumes of gases, which put tremendous pressure on Tank Number 610.

The tank cover gave way to building gaseous pressure releasing tonnes of the poisonous gas, which diffused over large area. Approximately 5 lakh people were exposed to the leakage of methyl isocyanate gas.

Bhopal had a population of about 8.5 lakh back in 1984 and more than half of its population was coughing, complaining of itching in eyes, skin and facing breathing problems. The gas caused internal hemorrhage, pneumonia and death. The villages and slums in the neighbouring areas of the factory were the worst affected.

The alarm system of the Union Carbide did not work for hours. No alarm was raised by the factory managers. Suddenly thousands of people started running to hospitals on the morning of December 3 with their complaints.

Unlike today, Bhopal of 1984 did not have too many hospitals. Two government hospitals could not have accommodated half of the population of the city. People were suffering, finding it difficult to breathe and confused. So were doctors, who did not immediately know the reasons for the sudden illness that afflicted every new rushing patient.

Patients complained of dizziness, breathlessness, skin irritation and rashes, some others reported sudden blindness. Doctors of Bhopal had never faced a situation like this. They had no experience in dealing with industrial disaster.

Symptoms of methyl isocyanate exposure were not immediately known to them. And, the two hospitals reportedly treated around 50,000 patients in first two days of the Bhopal gas leak. Officially, the government declared that the gas leakage was contained in eight hours, but the city has is still finding it difficult to come out of its grip even 33 years later.


What Was Bhopal Gas Tragedy In 1984? Worst Industrial Disaster

India was still asleep when one of the largest industrial disasters struck in the form of a gas leak. Bhopal Gas Tragedy is still considered one of the worst industrial disasters. People were running out on the streets, vomiting, and dying. Find more interesting topics from History

What Was Bhopal Gas Tragedy?

Bhopal Gas Tragedy was an accident involving gas leakage at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India on the night of 2–3 December 1984. Chemical mainly methyl isocyanate (MIC) from Union Carbide India Ltd’s (UCIL) pesticide factory converted Bhopal ‘s city into a gigantic gas chamber. Approximately 45 tons of hazardous gas of methyl isocyanate escaped from a pesticide plant owned by the Indian subsidiary of the American firm Union Carbide. The gas spread through the heavily populated neighborhoods surrounding the factory, immediately killing thousands of people and causing panic as tens of thousands of others tried to escape Bhopal.

Why Bhopal Gas Tragedy?
  • The methyl isocyanate production was in progress months before the tragedy and the tanks were being filled.
  • No more than 50% of a tank’s capacity could not be filled and inert nitrogen gas was used to pressurize the tank.
  • The pressure cycle allowed the pumping of liquid methyl isocyanate from each tank.
  • However, one of the tanks (E610) was unable to withstand nitrogen gas pressure, which prevented the pumping of the liquid MIC.
  • According to the regulations, no more than 30 tonnes of liquid MIC should be loaded with each tank.
  • Yet that tank had 42 tons of MIC.
  • This failure forced UCIL to stop the production of MIC in Bhopal and part of the plant was shut down for maintenance.
  • On the 1st of December, an attempt was made to return the defective tank functional.
  • At that time, most of the protection mechanisms associated with MIC were not working.
  • Water entered the malfunctioning tank, which led to a fluid chemical reaction, according to reports by December 2nd evening.

Julian Nyča / CC BY-SA
Impact Of Bhopal Gas Tragedy

The impact of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy was severe. Many people died instantaneously and it has very long term health effects on peoples.

  • Nearly 16000 people died due to the gas leak.
  • 8000 people died within two weeks.
  • And more 8000 people died due to gas related diseases.
  • The leakage caused 558,125 injuries, including 38,478 partial temporary injuries
  • About 3,900 seriously and permanently disabling injuries.
  • The gas leak also affects trees and wildlife. Within a few days, trees became barren in the surrounding field.
  • Due to large number of deaths, there was a shortage of cremation grounds.
  • The stillbirth rate increased by up to 300%.
Long term health impacts due to the tragedy
  • Conjunctivitis, corneal scars, complexity of the cornea, early cataracts in eyes.
  • Obstructive and restrictive diseases, lung fibrosis, TB worsening and chronic bronchitis
  • Memory impairment, bad motor skills, numbness
  • PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Impact of Bhopal Gas Tragedy In Present Day

More than 400 tons of toxic waste is already present on the site in the early 21st century. Neither the Dow Chemical Company, which purchased the Union Carbide Corporation in 2001, nor the Indian Government had adequately cleaned the site amid ongoing protests and litigation attempts. Soil and water contamination in the region was blamed for chronic health conditions and high birth defects in the population of the city.


Legal Battle of UCC

The Union Carbide Corporation, faced severe legal consequences in the US Courts, and all the cases were transferred to Indian Courts. While in India, several suits were filed, demanding compensation. A PIL, was filed in the Supreme Court, (Charanlal Sahu v Union of India)[10] demanding remuneration for the victims in the case.

Meanwhile, in the M.C Mehta v Union of India[11] , the judiciary has interpreted the Bhopal Gas Leak, and therefore formulated the concept of “Absolute Liability

Criminal Proceedings were initiated too, before the magistrate of Bhopal. The proceedings were initiated on the grounds of causing death by negligence, offences endangering lives of others, read along with the aspect of common intention.

The tragedy, is also responsible for the passing of the Public Liability Insurance Act, which ensures that that the company provides for a compulsory insurance policy for all the employees, also paving way for the new Nuclear Liability Bill, which aims at dealing with such nuclear accidents.[12]


Bhopal Gas Leaks Kills Thousands - History

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NEW DELHI, Dec. 3 -- Toxic gas leaking from an American-owned insecticide plant in central India killed at least 410 people overnight, many as they slept, officials said today.

At least 12,000 were reported injured in the disaster in the city of Bhopal, 2,000 of whom were hospitalized.

The death toll in the city and its environs, 360 miles south of New Delhi, was expected to rise as more bodies were found and some of the critically injured died.

United News of India put the death toll at 500, but the news agency&aposs figure could not be independently confirmed.

Underground Storage Tank

An Indian environmental official, T. N. Khushoo, called it the &apos&aposworst such disaster in Indian history.&apos&apos

The Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh State, where Bhopal is situated, told reporters that the gas had escaped from one of three underground storage tanks at a Union Carbide Company plant in Bhopal.

Witnesses said thousands of people had been taken to hospitals gasping for breath, many frothing at the mouth, their eyes inflamed.

The streets were littered with the corpses of dogs, cats, water buffalo, cows and birds killed by the gas, methyl isocyanate, which is widely used in the preparation of insecticides.

Doctors Are Rushed to City

Doctors from neighboring towns and the Indian Army were rushed to the city of 900,000, where hospitals were said to be overflowing with the injured.

Most of the victims were children and old people who were overwhelmed by the gas and suffocated, Indian press reports said.

Even in small amounts, the gas produces heavy discharge from the eyes and is extremely irritating to the skin and internal organs. Exposure can apparently lead to enough fluid accumulation to cause drowning. (Page A8.)

(In Danbury, Conn., a spokesman for Union Carbide said it was temporarily closing part of a nearly identical plant in West Virginia while it investigated the Bhopal disaster. &apos&aposWe don&apost know what went wrong,&apos&apos the spokesman said. Page A8.)

Valve Malfunction Suspected

The managing director of Union Carbide in India, Y. P. Gokhale, was quoted as saying that the incident occurred when a tank valve apparently malfunctioned after an increase in pressure, allowing the gas to escape into the air in a 40-minute period early today. It was not clear why the pressure had risen or how the leak was stopped.

Mr. Kushoo, the environmental official, said it was still unclear whether it would be necessary to evacuate parts of Bhopal. The poison gas spread through about 25 square miles of Bhopal, an area said to be populated largely by poor families.

Gandhi Announces Relief Fund

Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, calling the incident &apos&aposhorrifying,&apos&apos announced the creation of a $400,000 Government relief fund. At the same time, the Central Bureau of Investigati

Mr. Gandhi, traveling in southern India for the general election campaign, said that &apos&aposeverything possible will be done to provide relief to the sufferers,&apos&apos and added, &apos&aposSuch mishaps must never be allowed to recur.&apos&apos

Rewnath Chaure, the Health Minister of Madhya Pradesh State, told a reporter in Bhopal that 302 people had died in one hospital alone.

The state&aposs Chief Minister, Arjun Singh, reported that about 2,000 people overcome by the gas fumes were hospitalized. He said at least 10,000 others were treated for symptoms including vomiting, breathing problems and inflamed eyes.

Authorities said five factory officials had been arrested and charged with criminal negligence in the disaster. (In Danbury, Conn., the Union Carbide Company said the reports that the managers had been arrested were incorrect.)

The officials reportedly arrested were identified as J. Mukand, the works manager S. B. Chowdhury, the production manager, and three other officials. It was not known if all were Indian nationals.

Most of the initial reports on the leak, which began at 1 A.M. Monday (2:30 P.M. Sunday, New York time) were provided by India&aposs two independent news agencies, Press Trust of India and United News of India, which had reporters on the scene in the early hours of the disaster.

According to Press Trust of India, the gas spread over an area of about 200,000 people, many of whom awoke vomiting and complaining of dizziness, sore throats and burning eyes. Many could hardly talk, it reported, and some complained of brief spells of blindness.

United News of India said the factory siren did not sound to alert the neighborhood until two hours after the leak began, and it said the police and doctors did not come into the area until four hours after that.

Shutdown Is Announced

Mr. Singh, the Chief Minister, announced that he was ordering a shutdown of the Union Carbide plant and pledged not to allow it to resume production. He said the Government might demand that the company pay compensation to the victims.

Mr. Singh also ordered schools, colleges, offices and markets closed.

In a statewide radio broadcast later, Mr. Singh said the leak had been stopped and described the situation as &apos&aposfully under control.&apos&apos He urged people not to spread rumors.

Reports from Bhopal said thousands fled the city&aposs crowded districts as word of the leak spread.

The Bhopal plant was opened in 1977 and produces about 2,500 tons of pesticides based on methyl isocyanate annually. In 1978, six people were reported killed when they were exposed to phosgene gas, another lethal mixture produced in the plant.

According to a Union Carbide spokesman, the underground tank in which the leak occurred today contained 45 tons of methyl isocyanate in its liquid form.

The chemical is colorless, burns easily and has a low evaporation level. The spokesman said enormous pressure had built up inside the tank, forcing a rupture of a valve and allowing the gas to pass into the air.

Safety Features Noted

According to a Union Carbide statement in Bombay, the storage tanks had special safety features. The main emergency devices, according to the statement, were vent scrubbers, which it said were &apos&aposmeant to neutralize and render the gas harmless prior to its release into the atmosphere.&apos&apos

&apos&aposIn the accident,&apos&apos the statement added, &apos&aposthe rapid pressure built up resulted in a spurt of gas running unneu tralized which escaped into the atmosphere.&apos&apos


Bhopal trial: Eight convicted over 1984 India gas disaster

A court in the Indian city of Bhopal has sentenced eight people to two years each in jail over a gas plant leak that killed thousands of people in 1984.

The convictions are the first since the disaster at the Union Carbide plant - the world's worst industrial accident.

The eight Indians, all former plant employees, were convicted of "death by negligence". One had already died - the others are expected to appeal.

Campaigners said the court verdict was "too little and too late".

Forty tonnes of a toxin called methyl isocyanate leaked from the Union Carbide pesticide factory and settled over slums in Bhopal on 3 December 1984.

The Indian government says some 3,500 people died within days and more than 15,000 in the years since.

Campaigners put the death toll as high as 25,000 and say the horrific effects of the gas continue to this day.

The site of the former pesticide plant is now abandoned.

It was taken over by the state government of Madhya Pradesh in 1998, but environmentalists say poison is still found there.

The eight convicted on Monday were Keshub Mahindra, the chairman of the Indian arm of the Union Carbide (UCIL) VP Gokhale, managing director Kishore Kamdar, vice-president J Mukund, works manager SP Chowdhury, production manager KV Shetty, plant superintendent SI Qureshi, production assistant. All of them are Indians.

The seven former employees, some of whom are now in their 70s, were also ordered to pay fines of 100,000 Indian rupees (£1,467 $2,125) apiece.

Although Warren Anderson, the American then-chairman of the US-based Union Carbide parent group, was named as an accused and later declared an "absconder" by the court, he was not mentioned in Monday's verdict.

Rights groups and NGOs working with the victims of the gas leak said that the verdict was inadequate.

"It sets a very sad precedent. The disaster has been treated like a traffic accident. It is a judicial disaster, and it is a betrayal [of Indian people] by the government," activist Satinath Sarangi said.

Rashida Bee, president of the Bhopal Gas Women's Workers group, told the AFP news agency that "justice will be done in Bhopal only if individuals and corporations responsible are punished in an exemplary manner".

More than a dozen judges have heard the criminal case since 1987, when India's leading detective agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), charged 12 people with "culpable homicide not amounting to murder".

That charge could have led to up to 10 years in prison for the accused.

However, in 1996, India's Supreme Court reduced the charges to "death by negligence", carrying a maximum sentence of up to two years in prison if convicted.

Campaigners say Bhopal has an unusually high incidence of children with birth defects and growth deficiency, as well as cancers, diabetes and other chronic illnesses.

These are seen not only among survivors of the gas leak but among people born many years later, they say.

Twenty years ago Union Carbide paid $470m (£282m) in compensation to the Indian government.


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