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Bhopal Disaster 20 Years Later: A Look at One of the Worst Industrial Disasters in History

StoryDecember 02, 2004
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On the night of December 2nd, 1984, tons of lethal gases leaked from Union Carbide’s pesticide factory in Bhopal, India. Clouds of suffocating gases blanketed the city of half a million people. 7,000 people lost their lives within days. 15,000 more lost died in the following years. 100,000 others are still suffering chronic and debilitating illnesses. Today to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal tragedy, we take an in-depth look at one of the worst industrial disasters of the 20th Century. [includes rush transcript]

On the night of December 2nd, 1984 in the city of Bhopal, India, 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. 7,000 people lost their lives within days. 15,000 more lost died in the following years. Around 100,000 others are still suffering chronic and debilitating illnesses. It was one of the worst industrial disasters of the 20th Century. These are the personal stories of some of the victims.

  • "Scared Sacred"–Excerpt of documentary narrated and produced by Velcrow Ripper.

The factory that caused the disaster 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. A large portion of those funds have been held by the Indian government. In total, the average pay out for personal injury was around $400 per person. In 2001, Union Carbide was bought out by US multinational Dow Chemical.

Today on the 20th anniversary of the tragedy, we will spend the rest of the hour taking a look at Bhopal, one of the worst industrial accidents of the 20th Century.

  • Satinath Sarangi, 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 a member of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal. Link: http://www.bhopal.net
  • Jack Doyle, author of the new book Trespass Against Us: Dow Chemical & the Toxic Century (Common Courage).
  • Ryan Bodanyi, coordinator of Students for Bhopal, which is organizing events at colleges around the world.
  • Vijay Nagaraj, consultant with Amnesty International in India and author of the report: "Clouds of Injustice: Bhopal Disaster 20 Years On".
  • Union Carbide audio press releases–Spokesperson Tomm Sprick.

READ TRANSCRIPT HERE


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