In the early morning of December 3, 1984 a Union
Carbide pesticide producing plant leaked a highly toxic cloud of
methyl isocyanate onto the densely populated region of Bhopal,
central India. Of the 800,000 people living in Bhopal at the time,
2,000 died immediately, 300,000 were injured and as many as 8,000
have died since. The leak was caused by a series of mechanical and
human errors. A portion of the safety equipment at the plant had
been nonoperational for four months and the rest failed. When the
plant finally sounded an alarm--an hour after the toxic cloud had
escaped--much of the harm had already been done.
The city health officials had not been informed of
the toxicity of the chemicals used at the Union Carbide factory.
There were no emergency plans or procedures in place and no
knowledge of how to deal with the poisonous cloud.
A series of studies made five years later showed
that many of the survivors were still suffering from one or several
of the following ailments: partial or complete blindness,
gastrointestinal disorders, impaired immune systems, post traumatic
stress disorders, and menstrual problems in women. A rise in
spontaneous abortions, stillbirths, and offsprings with genetic
defects was also noted.
Although Union Carbide denied liability, in 1989
the Indian Supreme court agreed to a settlement payment of $470
million by Union Carbide to the survivors of the disaster. One of
the world's worst industrial accidents, the Bhopal tragedy clearly
demonstrates the inequalities between human rights and safety in
developed and underdeveloped countries. In response to that, the
Chemical Manufacturing Association has created the Responsible Care
Program that is now being implemented worldwide. The Program's aim
is to improve community awareness, emergency response and employee
health and safety.