Bhopal Gas Tragedy
Bhopal Gas tragedy is a catastrophic tragedy, that happened in the city of Bhopal, in central India. The tragedy occured in December 1983. There are families in Bhopal which are still sugffesring the aftereffects of the tragedy. Investigations into the tragedy showed that there were many shortcomings at all levels. The disaster did pave the way for much stricter international standards for environmental safety, preventative strategies to avoid similar accidents and a better state of preparedness to meet future industrial disaster.
 Why should I be aware of this?
- It was the worst industrial disaster the world has ever seen, resulting in incalculable deaths and subsequent permanent effects.
- 5,00,000 people were affected directly and indirectly and many more thousands of families were permanently affected for generations.
- The Union Carbide factory did not have much information about the safe storage of these highly toxic gases.
- The medical fraternity did not have the requisite know how to deal with such kind of contamination and at this scale.
- There was a lack of co-ordination between the factory and emergency services. There were not many trained professionals in that factory.
- Cost cutting had also had its impact on the safety of the plant, its employees and the people living around the plant.
- The plant was also in a densely populated area of the city which went against most known norms.
 All about the Bhopal Gas Tragedy
In the early hours of December 3, 1984, on what was a bracing winter morning, mixed with the winter breeze,was a highly toxic grey cloud that was emerging from the Union Carbide 'C' factory. This poisonous substance, stored in tank number 610 of the factory was later found to be Methyl Isocynate (MIC), which had got contaminated with water. According to experts, MIC is considered to be an extremely reactive chemical and is used to produce insecticides. When water got mixed with this MIC, an exothermal chemical reaction started which resulted in a lot of heat being produced. As the pressure in the tank built up beyond safe levels, the safety valve burst open violently and the gas leaked. As around forty tons of this gas spread through the city, there was no alarm or any kind to warn the inhabitants of this populous town. Since the gas leaked out from a 30 meter chimney, it was not high enough for the people to escape the effects. Later studies have shown that the effect of this toxic gas was especially harsh because of the high moisture content in the gas, which when exposed, started evaporating and being a heavy gas, the gas started moving downwards. The movement of the wind was also such that the gas spread through the city much faster than it otherwise would have.
 After Effects
The Union Carbide factory closed down their operation in Bhopal following the tragedy, but they did not do a proper clean up of the site due to which it is a bio-hazardous zone even today. This lapse has resulted in, what many environmentalists claim, a slow and sustained pollution of the area within and around the closed factory.
After decades of court cases and arguments and investigations, though compensation has been paid to many of the victims, it is not enough and there is still a strong sense of injustice that lingers in the air. Though a compensation of nearly 470 million USD has been called for, it is undoubtedly a small amount based on the long term health consequences of exposure and the number of people affected. More than twenty years of passiveness has taken its toll. Many are calling it the world’s biggest humanitarian disaster. Indirectly it has lead to massive unemployment, destitution and widespread psychological problems in the people.
 Bhopal Gas Tragedy and Health
Within hours, the streets of Bhopal were littered with human corpses and the carcasses of buffaloes, cows, dogs and birds. An estimated 3,800 people died immediately, mostly in the poor slum colony adjacent to the Union Carbide plant. Local hospitals were soon inundated with patients, a crisis further complicated by a lack of knowledge of exactly what gas was involved, what its effects were and what the possible cure could be. Since the incident took place on a cold night when most of the people where indoors, they woke up with a burning sensation in their eyes. They rushed outdoors only to breathe greater concentrations of the gas and in panic as they ran, breathing even greater volumes of the gas, ultimately choking themselves to death. Eventually the death toll rose to more than 20,000 people with more than 5,00,000 people being affected directly and indirectly and many more thousands of families were permanently affected for generations. Two decades later, more than a few lakhs of people are still suffering from the debilitating effects of the gas which includes respiratory problems, cancer, congenital birth defects, blindness and many other diseases. Every year since then, scores more are still dying in Bhopal from the various after effects. Some of the symptoms of Methyl Isocynate contamination include cough, dyspnea or disorder of the lungs, chest pain leading to acute lung failure, cardiac arrest and death. It has resulted in many children being born with genetic defects and mutations and mental retardation. It has also had a long term impact on the reproductive cycle of affected women and the quality of their breast milk.
 Bhopal Gas Tragedy and the environment
Besides the effects on people, according to environmentalists, the impact it has had on the ecology of that area is also far reaching. There are still hundreds of tonnes of toxic waste alone, which could lead to a continuous poisoning of the soil as well as ground water. Some areas in and around that area are still so polluted that someone entering that area is likely to lose consciousness in less than ten minutes.
 What was done?
In India, a number of changes were made in the Indian Factories Act and environmental legislation. There is a much better understanding of the fact that industries need to apply good process safety management systems and have efficient and safe handling and storage capacities of individual reactive chemicals. Following the disaster, environmental awareness and activism in India has increased tremendously. It serves as a warning to developing nations to create the right balance between human, environmental and economic status on the path to industrialization.
- Bhopal Information Center
- The World Factbook