The Bhopal gas tragedy is widely believed to be the worst industrial disaster ever recorded in history. Methyl isocyanate (MIC), a highly toxic gas, leaked from the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal on the night of 2/3 December 1984. More than 5,00,000 people were exposed to the poisonous gas and other chemicals. The leak soon found its way into and around the slums of the industrial town with catastrophic results, the after effects of which are felt even today
Here are some disturbing truths about the Bhopal gas tragedy.
1. Early signs
Image Source: downtoearth.org.in
The Union Carbide factory was set up in 1969 and within a few years into operation people started raising questions about its safety standards. Two trade unions complained of pollution inside the plant in 1976, while in 1981, a maintenance worker accidentally inhaled toxic phosgene gas and died 72 hours later. In February 1982, the first instance of MIC leak was reported in the factory that affected 18 employees. Later in August, a chemical engineer was exposed to liquid MIC leading to 30 percent burns in his body. Another MIC leak happened in October and a plant supervisor suffered severe burns during an attempt to contain the leak. In 1983 and 1984, chlorine, carbon tetrachloride, and monomethylamin leaks were also reported at the plant.
2. The ignored warnings
Image Source: lalwaniblogspot.blogspot.in
The entire Bhopal gas tragedy was witnessed from very close quarters by senior journalist Rajkumar Keswani. He had foreseen the disaster, courtesy the earlier events, and had reported about the impending danger in the weekly magazine Rajpaat since two years before tragedy struck. He warned that Bhopal was sitting on the edge of a volcano and if immediate corrective action is not taken, the entire city may be wiped out.
3. A leak of 40 metric tonnes
Image Source: Light Art Academy
A whopping 40 metric tonnes of the MIC gas, used to make pesticides, leaked from a storage tank within two hours of an explosion at the Union Carbide plant at around 12.45am on 3 December. The gas blew in a south-easterly direction over Bhopal. Many died in their sleep while others woke up claustrophobic as by that time the gas had enveloped the entire city.