What Happened in Bhopal?
The night of December 2nd marked a tragic event in Bhopal, as thousands of residents suddenly succumbed to the effects of highly poisonous gases, primarily methyl isocyanate (MIC) and its derivatives. The source of this catastrophe was traced back to the Union Carbide factory nestled in the heart of the old city of Bhopal. The incident unfolded with many awakening to a disorienting cloud of smoke, inducing coughing and throat irritation among the population.
However, the repercussions of the incident didn’t end with that. It affected many generations of families which were exposed to these highly toxic gases. According to Guardian, twin sisters Shazia and Fouziya live in their home in the Nawab area of Bhopal, near the factory, where toxins leaked into the water supplies. They both have severe mental development issues, which doctors believe was due to genetic damage.
Rashida Bi, a survivor who has lost five members of her family to a variety of cancers over the past three decades, considers those who escaped with their lives “the unlucky ones”. She adds: “The lucky ones are those who died on that night.”
Why did it Happen?
The root cause of this disaster lay in the inadequate and improper safety systems installed at the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) plant (now taken over by Dow Chemicals). Over 27 tons of lethal gases, including MIC, escaped into the atmosphere due to the malfunction of all six safety systems at the facility. Disturbingly, internal documents from Union Carbide revealed that the company knowingly utilised "unproven" and "untested" technology in the plant's design, compromising safety standards to cut costs.
The consequences were severe, not only affecting the human population but also causing significant harm to the surrounding flora and fauna. The Bhopal gas tragedy left an indelible mark on the city's landscape.
In 2001, the Michigan-based Dow Chemical Company bought Union Carbide, acquiring its assets and liabilities. Dow, however, has steadfastly refused to clean up the Bhopal site. Nor has it provided safe drinking water, compensated the victims or shared with the Indian medical community any information it holds on the toxic effects of MIC.
What is the situation now?
Fast forward to the present, and the aftermath of the tragedy still haunts Bhopal. While a legal fight for compensation goes on, the disaster that occurred on the 2nd December still continues. In August 2023, The Hindu reported a concerning situation — 337 metric tonnes of hazardous waste, remnants of the 1984 gas tragedy, remain stored on the premises of Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL). This revelation came from a report by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB), submitted to the National Green Tribunal (NGT), highlighting the persistent failure to dispose of the hazardous waste despite prior warnings and directives.
The NGT had previously appointed a committee in 2022, which identified the "possibility of contamination of soil" around the UCIL premises and recommended the "speedy disposal" of the waste. However, as of 2023, the situation remains unresolved, underscoring the enduring environmental and health challenges stemming from the Bhopal gas tragedy.
However, this is not the first time that the issue of contamination of groundwater came to the forefront. In 1989, Union Carbide Corporation’s scientists reported severe contamination of local groundwater but the report was suppressed by the Corporation. Post this many civil society organisations including Bhopal Group for Information and Action sent the water samples from near the area to different labs to get it tested. Many highly toxic materials were found out, findings were presented before union carbide and clean up was demanded. By the 2000s, toxins were found in vegetables grown near the site as well as in breast milk of women.
While there are other demands from survivors such as accessible healthcare, additional compensation and economic rehabilitation to name a few, this campaign focuses on chemical waste that has been pending on factory site and has been polluting the soil and groundwater in the region. According to an article from The Hindu, dating 1/08/23 there is still 337 MT of waste deposit from the Gas Tragedy. We therefore, demand effectively and promptly decontaminate the factory site and groundwater in Bhopal from Dow Chemicals. The campaign consists of an email campaign as well as a week of action:
Email Campaign- a pre-generated email–people can simply scan the code or click on the link and send the email to Dow Chemicals to effectively and promptly decontaminate the factory site and groundwater in Bhopal. This campaign will be live on Nov 26th.
Week of Action- This week will be a series of coordinated and distributed actions in solidarity of Bhopal Gas Tragedy survivors digitally and on-ground across India from November 27th to December 3rd. You can read more about here.
https://thewire.in/rights/why-victims-of-the-1984-bhopal-gas-tragedy-are-yet-to-find-closure (Published in The Wire on January 22, 2023)
https://www.bhopal.net/what-happened-in-bhopal/ (Published on bhopal.net on August 14, 2014)
https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Delhi/337-mt-of-undisposed-toxic-waste-at-bhopal-disaster-site/article67143619.ece (Published in The Hindu on August 1, 2023)
https://www.bhopal.net/what-happened/contamination/timeline-water-contamination/ (Published on bhopal.net)
https://www.iema.net/articles/bhopals-never-ending-disaster (Published in IEMA, on October 13, 2011)
https://reliefweb.int/report/india/undisposed-toxic-waste-still-haunts-bhopal-s-groundwater (Posted on reliefweb on December 4, 2015)
Groundwater Contamination near the Union Carbide Plant at Bhopal- A Draft Research Report (Published by Environmental Quality Monitoring Group PSI Dehra Doon in 2001-02)
https://www.livemint.com/Politics/765bka9vVaQAiFxKRGtqRL/The-endless-wait-for-a-cleanup-in-Bhopal.html (Published in the Mint on December 3, 2014)
https://www.deccanchronicle.com/nation/current-affairs/041219/35-years-on-bhopal-awaits-toxic-waste-disposal.html (Published in the Deccan Chronical on December 4, 2019)