Union Carbide, later bought by Dow Chemical, operated a chemical facility in Bhopal. On December 2nd, 1984 the plant that was not properly maintained leaked a toxic chemical gas. Thousands died. The death toll estimates from the first week range between 7,000 and 15,000. Compensation was paid to the survivors in the amount of $500 for a lifetime of disability or loss because, as Dow spokesperson Kathy Hunt said
You can’t really do more than that, can you? $500 is plenty good for an Indian.
There was also a fine levied against the massive multinational company running the plant. It was in the amount of $100,000 INR. That’s around $2,100 USD, or about one shiny quarter for each person killed due to the company’s negligence. No corporate official ever went to prison. The company continues to operate and generates billions each year.
Meanwhile, in Bhopal the water is still contaminated, the economy is in tatters, and children are born with physical and mental disabilities. The people of Bhopal have been forgotten and abandoned by the international community. People in Bhopal continue to protest and seek justice, or at least a cleanup project. For those that would suggest that the system will run its course and everyone will eventually be taken care of: the leak happened 30 years ago today. Nothing has been done.
Dow did spend a little bit of money on the Bhopal incident, but it wasn’t to help clean up the area or better the lives that were destroyed in the search for higher profits. It was to engage a private intelligence company to spy on those seeking justice. Noted hero of the global resistance, Jeremy Hammond, discovered this fact when he hacked Stratfor’s servers. For his part in bringing light to this corporate nightmare, Hammond wasn’t awarded a medal as he should have been. He was sent to federal prison by a judge whose husband was implicated in the very leaks Hammond was charged with facilitating.
Not only did Jeremy show us that Dow was spying on survivors/activists involved in the Bhopal struggle; it showed us that, despite Dow constantly denying their liability in the Bhopal gas disaster case, our struggle to hold them accountable was reaching their door step.
There is no clearer single incident that shows that governments all over the world are the same in one respect: they are all owned by the same corporations. When it comes to money, every political leader from Bombay to Washington to London to Beijing to Moscow is of the same ideology.
Shadaan described the breakdown of events that night:
On the evening of December 2nd, workers were instructed to use a water wash on the pipelines, which were extremely clogged. The water accumulated in the pipelines, and eventually found its way to tank E610, which contained over 40 tonnes of MIC. This caused an exothermic reaction, resulting in the 40 tonnes of MIC, in gas form, leaking into the communities of Old Bhopal. People awoke coughing, with their eyes burning. Some people thought someone in the neighbourhood was burning chillies (a custom to ward off the ‘evil eye’). When word of the gas leak spread, people began to run frantically. As an outsider, I can’t explain the terror people experienced on that night, so I’ll offer some words from a leading survivor/activist named Rashida Bi:
“The poison cloud was so dense and searing that people were reduced to near blindness. As they gasped for breath its effects grew ever more suffocating. The gases burned the tissues of their eyes and lungs and attacked their nervous systems. People lost control of their bodies. Urine and feces ran down their legs. Women lost their unborn children as they ran, their wombs spontaneously opening in bloody abortion.”
Storing 40 tonnes of MIC in a large container is a serious safety hazard in itself, but this was approved by UCC. Moreover, most of the plant’s safety systems were not operational during the night of the disaster. According to plant workers, of the 4 safety systems related to MIC, 3 were not operational.
A documentary produced on the subject is as powerful as it is relevant, you can watch the trailer below.