Bhopal Gas Tragedy Essay

1749 words - 7 pages

Disasters happen when multinational corporations though having enormous resources tend to look the other side when most of the people are uneducated and their governments do not care for them and their safety and laws are usually bent if not broken by the corporations for their benefit.On the night at around 1 a.m. on Monday, December 3, 1984, when most of the people were at home sleeping, a deadly toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leaked out from the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) plant in Bhopal, India. Senior factory officials who already knew about the lethal build-up in the tank before the leakage did not raise the alarm to warn the neighborhood until one hour after the leakage started. In only one hour the poisonous gas covered an area of 40 sq.kms. The people woke up choking their eyes and mouth burning and vomiting. Nobody knew what had happened. They started running away from there houses for their life but by then it was too late.Of the 800,000 people living in Bhopal, it had been estimated that 3000 people died immediately, and 300,000 were injured and about 1000 animals killed. The government's estimated figure was approximately 3,800 people died in this accident but no one knows how many thousands died that day. Those who fell were not picked up by anybody; they just kept falling, and were trampled on by other people. People climbed and scrambled over each other's to save their lives - even cows which were running trying to save their lives also crushed people as they ran. The whole area was covered with the fog of MIC gas. The Municipal worker's who picked up the bodies and loaded them onto the government trucks estimated that they shifted at least 15000 bodies. Survivors based their estimates on the number of shrouds sold in the city, claimed that about 8000 people died in the fist week of tragedy. Such body count kept on changing the figures regularly and continues to do so even today because till this date the dying has never stopped.Many studies made after the tragedy still show that the survivors are suffering from physical disorders like blindness, gastrointestinal disorders, impaired immune system, traumatic stress, and menstrual problems in women. Also there is a rise of abortion, still birth, and offspring with genetic defects. Current unofficial estimates suggest that at least 120,000 survivors suffer from one or more of these problems.Many investigations and studies were conducted after the incident to identify the cause of this accident, which includes Union carbide India limited, Engineering consulting firm Arthur D. Little, and Indian Government led by late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and Madhya Pradesh state Government. Almost every investigation reached the same conclusion that the gas leak could have been caused by deliberate sabotage though there are many facts which do not corroborate this conclusion. They concluded that large quantity of water entered the storage tank containing 40 cubic meters of MIC and when the water and MIC mixed, it caused a massive chemical reaction resulting in tremendous increase in temperature and pressure in the tank and due to this reaction and pressure the safely valve of the tank burst and 20 to 30 tons of MIC gas leaked out of the plant and spread over the atmosphere forming a poisonous gas fog killing many people. Union Carbide says that the tragedy took place when a plant employee, apparently bent on spoiling a batch of MIC, added water to a storage tank though this was never independently proved. The experts in industrial safety believe that the accident might have been avoided if proper safety equipments and trained workers had been used in the chemical industry. The Bhopal plant experienced six accidents prior to this accident from 1981 to 1984, but the accidents were small to have been noticed by the people in general. In 1981 one worker was also killed but no further action was taken to avoid the disaster which was brewing in the future.After waiting for months for the justice to be done the people of Bhopal started pressurizing the Indian government. In response to that the Indian government filed a compensation lawsuit against Union Carbide Corporation for $3 billion. And on the other hand, Union Carbide blamed the Indian Government for the accident and on December 1986 the Union Carbide corp., filed a countersuit against the Indian Government saying that Indian Government is equally responsible for the accident because they already knew about the toxicity of MIC but have not taken any steps to prevent the accident. In May 1989, Union Carbide and Union Carbide India limited entered into a $470 million legal settlement with the Indian government. The decision of settlement of $470 million was made and described the amount as reasonable for the victims and tried to settle all claims. Ten days after the decision was made, Union Carbide and Union Carbide India limited paid $470 million to Indian Government and the whole amount was covered by insurance. After receiving the whole amount of compensation Indian Government had not taken any effective action to make sure that this compensation money reached the people. To this day only $166 million of it has been given to the people of Bhopal and the rest sits in a bank account in Delhi, India. In 1991 state government of Madhya Pradesh charged culpable homicide on Chairmen of Union Carbide Warren M. Anderson, but he went back to USA and refused to appear before the Indian courts. If he is found guilty, he could serve up to 20 years in prison. This shows the apathy of the international community to make the corporations liable for the hazards they pose to the people and environment.India a predominantly agriculture based society needed pesticides for its agricultural production and MIC which is used to produce pesticides was imported from USA. Hence India invited Union Carbide to set up a plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh and the license was issued by the Government and people of Bhopal and Government thought that this new plant will provide new jobs and also increase the food production. But, nobody ever realized that this dream of jobs and added produce will come with such a price.In 1994, Union Carbide sold its entire interest in UCIL to Macleod Russell Limited; they renamed the company as Eveready Industries India, Limited (EIIL).In 1998, the state government of Madhya Pradesh revoked EIIL's lease and took possession of the facility and publicly assumed all accountability for the site, including the completion of further remediation. In 2001, Michigan-based chemical corporation Dow Chemical purchased Union Carbide. But Dow Chemical has refused to clean up the site, provide safe drinking water, compensate the victims, or disclose the composition of the gas leak, and information that doctors could use to properly treat the victims.According to Greenpeace report the site where disaster took place is still highly contaminated by toxic chemicals. Greenpeace is a non-profit organization and is present in more than 40 countries across the Europe, Asia and the Pacific. It is a global organizational which works against the environmental degradation since 1971. In its report entitled "Bhopal Gas tragedy" Greenpeace says that the factory site is still contaminated by toxic chemicals such as mercury and organochlorines. Some of organochlorines were also found in the ground water supplied to nearby area. The levels of mercury found in the sample taken from the factory were between 20,000 to 6 million times higher than normal levels. Greenpeace declared the Union Carbide as a Global toxic hotspot and called Union Carbide to clean up the toxic material left back in 1984. In an attempt to take the sample of water in the nearby site the Greenpeace has taken some samples of groundwater from a hand pump in Atal AYUB Nagar (neighborhood) along the northwest corner of the factory ,in which concentration of carbon tetrachloride was very high that it exceeded the limits set by World Health organization by 1705 times. Chloroform also found in the same sample exceeded the USEPA standards for drinking water by 260 times. Carbon tetrachloride a substance which can cause cancer was also found in drinking water. According to the report they also found chlorinated chemicals in well water near the Carbide plant and it happened due to long-term industrial contamination of surrounding environment by this plant. The report clarified that further consumption of this contaminated water will cause significant health problems. The contaminated condition of the Union Carbide site is a prime example of corporate irresponsibility and the inability or unwillingness of Governments to rein in corporations at the cost of public safety and environmental health. Some of the chemicals found at the Carbide factory are persistent organic pollutants (POPs) that do not degrade easily in the environment and are capable of causing long-term and debilitating damage to life. In a separate 2002 study, it was found that mercury, lead and organochlorines are present in the breast milk of women living near the plant. The children of gas-affected women are facing health problem like debilitating illnesses, including retardation, birth defects, and reproductive disorders.A further point to consider when judging the Government's record on Bhopal is its proposal to use $150 million of the original compensation payment on the richer non-gas-affected areas of Bhopal, populated mainly by wealthy Hindus presumably to gain votes for the ruling Hindu nationalist party, the BJP at the expense of the poor and disenfranchised gas victims. If it were not for mass demonstrations by the victims last July, both of these proposals would, no doubt, would have become reality.Yet, Campaigners and volunteers continue to work hard from 21 years after the disaster, to help the gas victims secure medical treatment and compensation.References:www.bhopal.comwww.hu.mtu.edu/hu_dept/tc@mtu/papers/bhopal.htmhttp://www.bhopal.org/whathappened.htmlhttp://www.corrosion-doctors.org/Pollution/bhopal.htmwww.ndtv.com/

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