Twenty-nine years have passed since a poison gas leak from the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal killed thousands of people. For the estimated 100,000 survivors and their children who cope with birth defects, illness and a variety of other health problems, it might as well still be the 1980s.
It was 12 a.m. on Dec. 3, 1984 when 40 tons of toxic methyl isocyanate leaked from the plant. In the J.P. Nagar neighbourhood that was worst affected, many people died instantly. The death toll is more than 5,295, according to the Indian government though projections based on an Indian Council of Medical Research study put the figure as high as 25,000. An estimated 574,372 people have been affected in some way by the gas; health activists say more than 150,000 have been seriously affected.
Lung and eye complications are common among people in this area. Many also suffer from loss of limb function along with severe palpitations and recurring chest pain.
“I do not have the strength left to do anything now,” said Mazid Khan, 52, who was employed as a security guard at the Union Carbide Corporation factory. Mazid was exposed to the gas, and now suffers from weak eyesight and swelling in his limbs.
Most victims have received 25,000 to 50,000 rupees ($400 to $800 at today’s conversion rates) in compensation, an amount that is far too small for effective medical treatment or as restitution, said Rachna Dhingra of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA), an organization that works with victims of the disaster.