Bhopal: A Living Legacy of Corporate Greed ; Twenty Years Ago Today Poisonous Gases Spewed from a Union Carbide Factory, Killing Thousands as They Slept. It Was the Worst Industrial Accident in History. Justin Huggler Meets the Forgotten Survivors
Huggler, Justin, The Independent (London, England)
The control room at the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, India, looks like something from one of those post-apocalyptic science fiction movies. Cow dung is splattered across the floor. There are rows upon rows of broken dials, their plastic covers smashed, the needles stuck. The scale models of the plant are shrouded in thick spiders' webs. A dirty sign on the wall reads "Safety is everybody's business".
Outside, eagles are nesting in the long-defunct flare tower. They swing overhead from time to time. Fluffy bits of asbestos float on the breeze. They are strewn across the ground, caught on gorse bushes. The vast metal hulk of the factory is silent, huge tangles of metal pipes and tubes running from tank to tank, slowly rusting in the Bhopal sun.
On the night of 2 December 1984, the worst industrial accident in history happened here. Highly poisonous methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leaked from the plant, together with even more toxic reaction compounds. Thousands of people were gassed to death as they slept in their beds near the factory. Others died on the road as they tried to flee, water pouring from their burning eyes, unbearable pain in their lungs, defecating and urinating in their clothes, unable to help themselves. They found dead mothers with their dead babies in their arms. In the months and years that followed, thousands more died from the effects of the gas they inhaled.
You would not think, to look at Bhopal today, that it happened here. It's a charming city, built around the edges of a lake. Fountains spume lake water in columns near the shore, a solitary boatman is slowly working his way out across a lake that shimmers with the early morning haze.
There was a mayoral election here a couple of weeks ago. Trucks festooned with brightly coloured banners made their way through the streets, blaring slogans from their loudspeakers. There was barely a mention of the Bhopal disaster. You would think the city had moved on, that it was all in the past.
But that could not be further from the truth. Round the corner from the rusting metal skeleton of the Union Carbide factory lies a warehouse. You can wander inside if you want, but the watchman who guards the site won't come with you. He is too scared. Step inside and the smell hits you. It is hard to breathe, almost impossible. It's a terrible smell, something deeply unhealthy, something chemical and poisonous. Huge mounds of brown toxic sludge lie in the warehouse, piled 10 feet high.
The Union Carbide factory has never been cleaned up. It is still poisoning Bhopal. Recent tests showed the chemicals still at the factory site have contaminated the ground water, which is used as drinking water by some of the poor neighbourhoods around the factory. There is mercury lying on the ground inside the site, according to a former foreman who worked for Union Carbide.
Dow Chemicals, the company which took Union Carbide over in a merger, refuses to clean up the site. It claims it is no longer liable because it sold its shares in an Indian subsidiary.
It doesn't end there. "In the past 20 years, I didn't live through a single day without painkillers, without a tablet," says Rashida Bee, one of the survivors of the disaster. Today Ms Bee, and thousands like her, are still suffering the long-term effects of poisoning by the gas that leaked from the Union Carbide factory that night.
Many of the survivors, when you speak to them, have to break off from time to time because of the Bhopal cough. It's a long, agonising rattle that makes you wonder whether they can draw air back into their lungs. Women have menstrual irregularities. Others have more severe handicaps. Ms Bee's nephew was blinded by the gas.
And all of them have received just pounds 300 in compensation from Union Carbide. This is as much the fault of the Indian government as of the …
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Bhopal: A Living Legacy of Corporate Greed ; Twenty Years Ago Today Poisonous Gases Spewed from a Union Carbide Factory, Killing Thousands as They Slept. It Was the Worst Industrial Accident in History. Justin Huggler Meets the Forgotten Survivors. Contributors: Huggler, Justin - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: December 2, 2004. Page number: 34,. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
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