After 25 years impact of Bhopal leak lingers

December 2, 2009

Controversy still surrounds one of the world’s worst industrial accidents 25 years after an estimated 8,000 people died in the immediate aftermath of a toxic gas leak in Bhopal, India.

At around midnight on December 3, 1984, a leak at a Union Carbide plant of methyl isocyanate gas — a chemical compound used to make a pesticide marketed as Sevin led to about 50,000 people being treated for severe injuries to their eyes, lungs, and kidneys.

An estimated 15,000 to 25,000 may have later died from exposure to the gas.

Union Carbide, now part of Dow Chemical, settled a lawsuit in 1989 by paying $470 million in compensation to the Indian government. In return, the government agreed to drop criminal charges against the company.

“Union Carbide worked diligently to provide immediate and continuing aid to the victims and set up a process to resolve their claims — all of which were settled 18 years ago at the explicit direction and with the approval of the Supreme Court of India,” a statement on the Union Carbide website says, adding that in 1998 the Indian state government of Madhya Pradesh took over full responsibility for the site.

A 1999 study found that the area around the plant site was still contaminated with toxic chemicals. Bhopal residents continue to contend with the effects of the disaster, which include health problems and contaminated groundwater.

The Bhopal Medical Appeal, launched in 1994 and based in Brighton, UK, argues that survivors have not yet received meaningful medical aid.

A new report commissioned by the group found at least 16 contaminants on the Union Carbide site at levels exceeding World Health Organisation safety guidelines.

Peter Finnigan, executive secretary at the Appeal, spoke with Reuters in London about Bhopal and the April 26, 1986, Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster in Ukraine.


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