Accident and incident

The Bhopal Gas Tragedy, 1984 was a catastrophe that had no parallel in the world's industrial history.

In the early morning hours of December 3, 1984, a rolling wind carried a poisonous gray cloud from the Union Carbide Plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. 40 tons of Methyl-Iso-Cyanate (MIC) was accidentally released from Union Carbide's Bhopal plant, which leaked and spread throughout the city. The result was a nightmare that still has no end, residents awoke to clouds of suffocating gas and began running desperately through the dark streets, victims arrived at hospitals; breathless and blind. The lungs, brain, eyes, muscles, as well as gastrointestinal, neurological, reproductive and immune systems of those who survived, were severely affected. When the sun rose the next morning, the magnitude of devastation was clear. Dead bodies of humans and animals blocked the street, leaves turned black and a smell of burning chili peppers lingered in the air. An estimated 10,000 or more people died. About 5,00,000 more people suffered agonizing injuries with disastrous effects of the massive poisoning. None can say if future generations will not be affected.

The lessons of Bhopal tragedy

For India's industrial sector, the run-up to the Bhopal disaster holds several lessons, considering that the deadly accident was preceded by several warning signs that should have set off the alarm bells well before the tragedy unfolded.

1976: Eight years before the accident, two trade unions complained of pollution inside the plant.

1981: A worker died after inhaling a large amount of phosgene gas.

1982: A phosgene leak forced 24 workers to be admitted to a hospital. A month later, a Methyl-Iso-Cyanate leak affected 18 workers.

1983-84: By 1982-end, during 1983 and the initial months of 1984, there were leaks of MIC, chlorine, and phosgene.

Dec 2, 1984: Water entered a side pipe that was missing its slip-blind plate and entered a tank that contained 40 tons of MIC. A runaway exothermic reaction forced the emergency venting of pressure from the MIC holding tank, releasing a large volume of toxic gasses. About 30 tons of MIC escaped from the tank into the atmosphere and were blown in southeastern direction over Bhopal by the winds.

The Environment (Protection) Act (EPA) of 1986 was the first major piece of legislation post-Bhopal. It gave authority to the Centre to issue direct orders to close, prohibit or regulate any industry. In 1987, amendments were made in the Factories Act, which empowers states to appoint site appraisal committees to advise on the location of factories using hazardous processes. It also sets up systems for the safety of workers and residents nearby and specifies emergency disaster control plans. By 1989, the country got the Hazardous Waste (Management and Handling) Rules. And in 1991, the Public Liability Insurance Act was enacted to provide immediate relief to persons affected by accidents while handling hazardous substances. Under the Act, an environment relief fund was set up to compensate affected people.

Last September 2014, the former chairman of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson, the main accused of the tragedy, died after leading his whole life in freedom in the United States, leaving permanent questions on Indian system of justice.


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