Bhopal Gas Tragedy

Remembering world’s worst industrial disaster- Bhopal Gas Tragedy

Crowded hospitals, mortuary filled with thousands of corpses, and a mass funeral of nameless faces still horrifies the events of Bhopal Gas Tragedy. The disaster that took place on the night of December 2 and 3 1984, to date remains one of the world’s worst industrial disasters ever witnessed.  The Bhopal Gas tragedy that occurred in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh was a gas leak accident that took the lives of about 25,000 people and exposed 574,366 to lifelong health effects. Today, it’s been 38 years since the tragedy, and the victims still await justice.

What happened on the night of December 2 and 3, 1984?

The Bhopal UCIL facility housed three underground 68,000-litre (~18,000 gals) liquid MIC storage tanks: E610, E611, and E619. The E610 tank lost its ability to hold the toxic MIC gas pumped inside. The gas started leaking around 10:30 p.m. on the night of December 2nd and by the next one hour, workers were alarmed and reported to the MIC supervisor on duty at the time of the leak. Initially, the supervisor considered it a minor leak but within the next hour, Bhopal’s superintendent of police was informed by telephone of a possible gas leak. By then, 40 tonnes of the dangerous gas methyl isocyanate have already escaped from the plant.

The first few calls to the UCIL plant resulted in no concrete information and assurance of everything is fine but the situation became even more drastic in the coming minutes. The final call to the plant answered “we don’t know what has happened, sir”. This lack of timely information resulted in misinformation around the hospitals that the gas leak was suspected to be ammonia, then phosgene. It was much later confirmed the gas was actually toxic “MIC”, which the staff had no antidote for.

Citizens first exposed to MIC were made aware of the gas by opening their doors or windows to investigate the commotion, rather than provided with the instruction to shelter themselves. The factory public alarm system was too silenced quickly as per the company’s protocol to avoid alarming the public of minor leaks. The initial effects were coughing, vomiting, suffocation, rashes, and irritation in the eyes. People who suspected the toxic gas leak quickly fled from the premises either by running or in the vehicles. Those who ran inhaled more gas than the rest as methyl isocyanate gas is much denser and sticks to the ground.

Bhopal Gas Tragedy

Hospitals, clinics, and all the healthcare centres were flooded with thousands of people by 4 in the morning. Within minutes the hospital rooms turned into Morgue with hundreds of dead bodies stacked in rows one above another. Unlike the cities, the healthcare centres in the affected town had more than 70% of underqualified doctors. Thus, the medical staff was unprepared for thousands of casualties. Within a few days, the trees became barren and bloated with animal carcasses. There were mass funerals and cremations.

The early forensic reports indicated that apart from visible symptoms the bodies of the deceased also had engorged lungs and deoxygenated blood. This happens due to cyanide poisoning; this is what led to the finding of toxic MIC gas. Later, the forensics confirmed additional 10-20 toxic chemicals responsible for the casualties. As per the government affidavit in 2006, confirmed 3,787 casualties however organizations fighting for the victims claim that the death toll was more than 25,000.

The people who survived were exposed to cancers, blindness, disabilities, and loss of livelihood. 

Women exposed to the gas gave birth to physically or mentally disabled children. The kids born in the affected regions had shorter limbs, extra limbs, twisted arms or legs, brain damage along underweight issues. 40 tonnes of the dangerous gas methyl isocyanate were also an all-time high. People continue to suffer even today and haven’t been fairly compensated yet.

Bhopal Gas Tragedy

The initial aftermath resulted in the US-based firm offering a $5 million relief fund to India, however, the government declined. Eventually, an out-of-court settlement was reached in February 1989, Union Carbide agreed to pay $470 million for damages caused. As per the relief funds, the family of the deceased were to be given Rs 1-3 lakhs. Additionally, fully or partially disabled were to get Rs 50,000-500,000 with Rs 25,000-100,000 allotted to temporary injury, under Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti.

However, this amount was based on the assumption of 3,000 casualties. But over time, the number of the victims swelled to 5.73 lakh. This resulted in each victim receiving less than one-fifth of the sum initially allotted to them. To date, the victims of Bhopal Gas Tragedy awaits justice they truly deserved.

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