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The Bhopal Disaster


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.