Tomorrow, the survivors of the worst industrial accident in world history will confront the company responsible at its annual shareholders’ meeting.
On the night of December 2nd, 1984 in the city of Bhopal, India, unknown tons of lethal gases leaked from a U.S. pesticide factory into the air. The factory’s safety systems were either malfunctioning or turned off. Clouds of suffocating gases blanketed the city of half a million people. Residents awoke with throats burning and tears streaming. They began a desperate flight through the dark streets. The gases produced so much fluid in people’s lungs that many drowned in their own body fluids. Many fell dead as they ran. No alarm ever sounded a warning and no evacuation plan was prepared. When victims arrived at hospitals breathless and blind, doctors did not know how to treat them because they had no idea what chemicals they were dealing with.
It was only when the sun rose that the magnitude of the devastation became clear. Dead bodies of people and animals lay in the streets. Leaves on trees had turned black. Thousands of people had died and unknown tens or hundreds of thousands injured.
To date, more than over 20,000 have lost their lives due to the Bhopal disaster.
The factory was owned by a U.S. company called Union Carbide. In 1987, the Bhopal District Court charged Union Carbide and its officials, including CEO Warren Anderson, with culpable homicide, grievous assault and other serious offences. Union Carbide and its officials have repeatedly ignored the Court’s summons.
In 1989, Union Carbide and the Indian Government arrived at a negotiated settlement of $470 million for all gas-disaster related injuries. The average pay out for personal injury was between some $400 per person.
In comparison, the penalty for the Exxon Valdez disaster, where no human lives were lost, was $5 billion.
In 2001, Union Carbide was bought out by US multinational Dow Chemical.
Dow Chemical is holding its annual shareholders meeting tomorrow in Midland, Michigan.
Well, a few days ago I had the opportunity to talk two people about the Bhopal disaster.
Rashida Bee survived the disaster. But she has lost members of her family to cancers from the gases. She is partially blinded by Carbide’s gases, suffers from psychiatric problems and is on continuous medication despite which she has been on several hunger-strikes over the past 18 years. In Bhopal, she is legendary for having once led over hundred women from her organization and children on a month-long march to India’s capital city, New Delhi, to present a petition to the Prime Minister.
And Satinath Sarangi is a metallurgical engineer turned activist who arrived in Bhopal a day-after the disaster and stayed on to become a key figure in the struggle for justice in Bhopal. He also translated Rashida Bee.
- Rashida Bee, is a survivor of the Union Carbide gas disaster in Bhopal. She has lost five gas-exposed members of her family to cancers. She is partially blinded by Carbide’s gases, suffers from psychiatric problems and is on continuous medication despite which she has been on several hunger-strikes over the past 18 years. In Bhopal, she is legendary for having once led over hundred women from her organization and children on a month-long march to India’s capital city, New Delhi, to present a petition to the Prime Minister demanding their rightful wages. Starting on June 1st 1989 in the middle of a brutal Indian summer they covered a distance of 750 kms (468.75 miles) on foot. (http://www.bhopal.net/longwalktodelhi.html) More recently, in October 2002 as a leading member of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, she went to Italy and Belgium to deliver brooms to Dow officials and in January 2003 to Netherlands to return tons of solid toxic waste from Carbide’s abandoned factory site to its new owner Dow Chemical which has till date refused to clean-up its mess in Bhopal.
- Satinath Sarangi, (known as Sathyu) is a metallurgical engineer turned activist who arrived in Bhopal a day after the disaster and stayed on to become a key figure in the struggle for justice in Bhopal. He is a founding trustee of the Sambhavna Clinic, a non-profit clinic dedicated to the holistic treatment of gas-affected persons in Bhopal. He is also an organizer with the Bhopal Group for Information and Action.