25th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster
Twenty-five years ago this week, in the early hours of Dec. 3, 1984, large amounts of water entered a tank at the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, India. That water reacted with the 42 tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC) inside, raising temperature and pressure so high that it began venting massive amounts of gas made up of methyl isocyanate, phosgene (PH3) , hydrogen cyanide (HCN) and more. The poisonous cloud swept through neighborhoods near the boundary wall, waking sleeping residents with burning throats and eyes, killing about 4,000 people in the first few hours. Over the next few years, the lingering effects increased that toll to about 15,000 dead, according to government estimates. A quarter-century later thousands of people are still grappling with the effects of the world’s worst industrial accident and the continued contamination. Union Carbide was bought by Dow Chemical in 2001, and Dow claims the legal case was resolved in 1989, with responsibility for continued cleanup now falling to the local state government.
Burial of an unknown child. This unknown child has become the icon of the
world’s worst industrial disaster, caused by the
US multinational chemical company, Union Carbide.
Survivors of the disaster stand in front of the Union Carbide factory one day after
the lethal gas leak. Their eyes and lungs have been badly damaged by exposure to the gas.
Man carries the body of his wife past the deserted Union Carbide factory,
the source of the toxic gas that killed her the night before.
Children awaiting cremation. A crowd watches as a man pastes identification labels onto
dead children’s foreheads. So many thousands had died so suddenly that these sorts of
drastic measures were necessary to identify and document as many bodies as possible.
Burial of young Leela. Had her body not been recognised and claimed,
she would have joined thousands of others on the mass cremation pyres.
Rehana Bi has carefully preserved the picture of her with bandages around her eyes
that appeared in an international news magazine after the disaster.
The eyes of her son, Chand, then a year old, were also damaged.
Until 3 December 1984, Nanko (76) was independent and able to provide comfortably
for his family. After the gas disaster, he became a beggar. The tragedy left in its wake
loss of job opportunities, mounting medical bills and lack of support structure from the state.
Born on the day the toxic gas swept across the city,
this girl was named Gas Devi – ‘gas goddess’ – by her parents.
The Death Doctor. ‘I must have performed more than 20,000 autopsies so far.
No relative of a gas victim can get a compensation claim for a death without
my certificate. It has been a nightmarish experience.’ Dr. Sathpathy, the
forensic expert at the state government’s Hamidia Hospital, the
only one functioning on the night of the disaster.
Foetuses which were aborted by pregnant women escaping from the gas,
or shortly after the gas leak, were preserved at the state government’s
Hamidia Hospital, to establish the cause of death.
Rubeda Banu’s three sons have stunted growth. Shakeel, who was a week old when
the tragedy occurred, Raes Ahmed who was 18 months and Muzaffar who
was born a year later, are all less than five feet tall. Her mother has
severe problems related to breathing and mental depression.
Gumanilal is a familiar figure in Jayaprakash Nagar, an area opposite the
Union Carbide factory. Some, like Gumanilal, received inadequate compensation
after the disaster, which helped them to pay medical expenses for a
short time. Others have received no financial assistance at all.
Mohammad Arif has a sick heart and damaged lungs which provoke violent
coughing fits that rack his fragile body. Doctors say he has pulmonary fibrosis,
a condition that can only be cured by replacing his lungs.
Hasan Ali has seven grown-up daughters. ‘Our education has suffered because
of our father’s illness, and the fact that we too have been ill at different times.
Because of this, there are several problems related to our marriages,’
says Kishwar, one of the seven daughters.
A view of the abandoned pesticide plant. Union Carbide fled the scene in 1984
and for the last 17 years virtually nothing has been done to clean up the highly polluted site.
Union Carbide left hundreds of tonnes of toxic waste on the site. Until mid-2001,
the factory grounds were inaccessible without special permission from the
government. Now the perimeter walls are broken and local
children play in the area, which remains dangerously contaminated.
Contamination from the plant pollutes the soil and ground water of local
communities. Hundreds of people, still drink and wash with the contaminated ground water.
I was the man in charge of law and order that night. Everyone else had fled to safety,
leaving the city and its people to their own devices. But I have paid a heavy price.
I have survived, but with a clutch of ailments.’ says Swaraj Puri, as he tends to his eyes.
The suffering continues in Bhopal but not in silence. Sunil Kumar (right)
calls for justice. He was given up for dead when the disaster struck.
Now he is dedicated to the struggle against corporate crime.
Will this crime ever be rectified by the world’s biggest chemical firm, Dow chemicals?
A policeman points to the gas tank which vented its contents into the atmosphere in 1984, at the site of the deserted Union Carbide factory on November 28, 2009 in Bhopal, India. Twenty-five years after a massive gas leak at the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal killed thousands, toxic material from the ‘biggest industrial disaster in history’ continues to affect Bhopalis. A new generation is growing up sick, disabled and struggling for justice. The effects of the disaster on the health of generations to come, both through genetics, transferred from gas victims to their children and through the ongoing severe contamination, caused by the Union Carbide factory, has only started to develop visible forms recently.
In a file picture taken on December 4, 1984 soldiers guard the entrance of Union Carbide
factory in Bhopal after a deadly poison gas leak. Survivors of the world’s worst
industrial disaster in India’s Bhopal city were outraged by (now cancelled) plans to throw
open the site to visitors 25 years after the tragedy that killed thousands.
This December 4, 1984 photograph shows blinded victims of the Bhopal tragedy
as they sit in the street and wait to be treated at Bhopal hospital after a deadly
poisonous gas leak from the Union Carbide factory.