5.4 The people affected by the Bhopal incident
Having considered what happened on the night of 2 December 1984, you now need to turn your attention to the consequences of the leak of toxic gas.
Using the links provided and your own independent research, establish the nature and extent of the damage caused by the gas leak from the Bhopal plant.
Research links for Activity 7 (you might want to refer back to others from Activity 6 as well)
Amnesty International report (2004).
Bhopal Medical Appeal (2009) Analysis of Chemical Contaminants in Groundwater of Communities Surrounding UCIL Plant Site in Bhopal, Sambhavna Trust Clinic, Bhopal.
Greenpeace report on Bhopal (1999) The Bhopal Legacy: Toxic Contaminants at the Former Union Carbide Factory Site.
Tim Edwards, Trustee of Bhopal Medical Appeal (2005) Contamination of Community Water Sources in Bhopal, India.
International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (2001), Union Carbide’s Factory in Bhopal: Still a Potential Killer.
Randeep Ramesh, (2008) ‘Bhopal: hundreds of new victims are born each year’, The Guardian, 30 April.
Your research is likely to have shown that the gas leak caused a variety of kinds of damage. However, the exact extent and nature of the damage is not easy to assess or quantify.
Loss of human life and personal injuries
It is established that the gas leak at Bhopal spread over the city of Bhopal and killed several thousand people. The exact death toll is not known and nor is it ever likely to be.
The number of those harmed varies depending on the report – the Amnesty report of 2004 estimates that 8,000 people died within the first 72 hours, with a further 15,000 estimated to have died in the longer term as a result of health complications and diseases induced by the gas exposure, including damage to the lungs, eyes, heart, brain or other organs. In contrast, the UCC website records that approximately 3,800 people died and several thousand other individuals experienced permanent or partial disabilities.
The Government of Madhya Pradesh Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation Department website records a similar immediate death toll of 3,787 lives. The 2003 annual report of the Madhya Pradesh Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation Department stated that by October 2003 a total of 15,248 people had died as a result of the gas leak. The Amnesty figures are substantially greater.
There was no systematic effort by the Indian authorities to keep records of the gas-related deaths. The Indian Council for Medical Research (ICMR) recorded the mortality rates up until 1993 but then abandoned its research programme. In 2009, the ICMR acceded to public and international pressure by restarting a government-funded research programme to research and/or investigate the higher rates of still-births, cancers, neurological and gynaecological problems seen by Bhopal's doctors.
The health implications for the survivors
Thousands of people who survived the gas leak have suffered side effects from exposure to MIC; it is estimated that some 500,000 people have been adversely affected in some way by the leak.
On its website the Bhopal Medical Appeal reports that several thousand individuals experienced chronic debilitating illnesses – including respiratory illness, cancer, and blindness. Estimates of the Bhopal Medical Appeal suggest that three-quarters of the pregnant women in the Bhopal area spontaneously aborted their babies within hours or days of the explosion. (The Bhopal Medical Appeal is a fund set up in 1994 which is run by Pesticides Action Network. It has opened a clinic in Bhopal and created the Sambhavna Trust to run the clinic; see www.bhopal.org/ for details.)