Groundwater Contamination near the Union Carbide Plant at Bhopal, Peoples Science Institute, 2001- 02

December 31, 2001

The world’s most devastating industrial disaster occurred on the night of 3rdDecember, 1984. Toxic MIC (methyl iso-cyanate) gas escaped into the ambient air ofBhopal city from the premises of the UCIL plant and resulted in an unprecedented publichealth emergency, the legacy of which stays on till date to haunt the surviving victimsand their future generations. On that night, people woke up with irritating cough andsevere burning sensation in the eyes, followed by suffocation that soon becameintolerable.

Thousands of people were killed instantly as the MIC gas clouded Bhopalcity. While the official death toll stands at 5000, voluntary organisations working atBhopal report a figure of about 20,000 (1). It is estimated that as many as 500,000 peoplehave suffered permanent, adverse health impacts due to the gas release (2). A joint studyconducted by researchers of ITRC and medical practitioners of Lucknow revealed thatthe immediate impacts of the exposed population were manifested mainly through threetypes of physiological problems; ophthalmological (eye-related), respiratory andneurological (3). The disaster not only claimed a large number of human, animal and plantlives, but also left a catastrophic imprint on the entire vegetation and soil biota of the area

(4). The legacy of the poisonous gas has even been passed over to the future generations,to the children (5) of the affected populace. Human rights activists, and survivororganisations have been fighting a relentless battle against both the government and theoffending company, the Union Carbide Corporation (now owned by Dow ChemicalsLtd.). The point they have been raising for almost two decades now is that the accidentoccurred due to improper operating conditions and inadequate safety arrangements in theplant, for which the residing population was made to bear the brunt. Hence, it is theresponsibility of the violators to take responsibility of this inexplicable act and tocompensate for the loss of human lives and property. An out of court settlement did grantthe victims some compensation, but till date they are faced with problems of unavailability of proper medical attention, unemployment (6) and are looking straightdown a dark tunnel of uncertainty.