In the years that have passed since the original Bhopal pesticide plant disaster, 20,000 or more people (and 20,000 is a very conservative estimate) have died not just from the initial event but from the aftereffects such as the presence of residual poisons in the ground and water.
Basically, the surrounding area was destroyed, an area of land was made unlivable and the mortality figures don’t take into account those who are still alive but with severe incurable health problems as well as those whose lives are irrevocably damaged by the death of loved ones and also by the end of their livelihood (thousands of farm animals also perished)
Union Carbide agreed to pay 450 million in a onetime settlement with the Indian government as well as being required to set up medical facilities for ongoing treatment of those still struggling with effects of hazardous chemicals but that does not seem like a lot when you consider the damage, destruction, and loss of human life as well as the sheer amount of negligence that resulted in this tragedy.
But that is not end of the story according to Amnesty International
More than 25 years after the disaster, the site has not been cleaned up, the leak and its impact have not been properly investigated, more than 100,000 people continue to suffer from health problems without the medical care they need, and survivors are still awaiting fair compensation and full redress for their suffering.
Union Carbide has always stuck with the story that what happened was the result of sabotage but they refused to release the results of their own internal study and also indentify the saboteur or even provide evidence that would prove this theory.
The bottom line here is there were many things wrong at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal before the gas leak including (from Wikipedia):
- Factors leading to the magnitude of the gas leak include:
- Storing MIC in large tanks and filling beyond recommended levels
- Poor maintenance after the plant ceased MIC production at the end of 1984
- Failure of several safety systems (due to poor maintenance)
- Safety systems being switched off to save money—including the MIC tank refrigeration system which could have mitigated the disaster severity
Other factors identified by the inquiry included: use of a more dangerous pesticide manufacturing method, large-scale MIC storage, plant location close to a densely populated area, undersized safety devices, and the dependence on manual operations.
Plant management deficiencies were also identified – lack of skilled operators, reduction of safety management, insufficient maintenance, and inadequate emergency action plans
In 2001, Union Carbide was bought by Dow Chemical which has taken the position that it is in no way legally responsible for anything Union Carbide did before.
Now Union Carbide has been announced through Dow Chemical as a sponsor of the 2012 London Olympics. This is just disgusting. The message this sends is that it is okay for big corporations to place facilities that produce dangerous chemicals in poorer overcrowded areas in third world countries. In addition they have never really lived up to their responsibility in taking care of the victims, their families and cleaning up the site of the disaster. Former Union Carbide Chairman Warren Anderson remains a fugitive from Indian justice refusing to respond to the warrants for his arrest.
It’s a travesty that Dow is allowed to be an Olympic sponsor and I for one will not be watching the Olympics if that remains the case.