Wednesday, December 01, 2004
Perhaps the most extraordinary fact about Bhopal is that no one has faced trial for what happened that night. Even though Union Carbide's own safety experts had warned two years before of a 'serious potential for sizable releases of toxic materials,' the managers of the Bhopal factory had no system in place to warn and evacuate residents in the event of emergency. Indian government officials likewise failed to insist upon such basic precautions. And as thousands of survivors streamed into local hospitals that night, Union Carbide spokesmen actively denied that methyl isocyanate was poisonous, calling it 'nothing more than a potent tear gas.'
Despite all this, corporate officials have never answered in a court of law for their actions. Such an evasion of legal accountability would be inconceivable if the disaster had occurred in the United States or Europe. Had the victims been affluent westerners rather than impoverished Indians, they would have had their day in court long ago....
Amnesty's report, 'Clouds of Injustice,' estimates that 7,000 to 10,000 people died in the first three days of the Bhopal disaster and 15,000 more have died in the years since. Another 100,000 continue to suffer chronic, largely untreatable diseases of the lungs, eyes and blood.
Meanwhile, a new generation in Bhopal endures an epidemic of infertility and grotesque birth defects, including missing palates and fingers growing out of shoulders, in part because of continuing contamination of the groundwater.
Bhopal thus ranks as the single deadliest industrial disaster of the modern environmental era. With a death toll of 22,000, it has killed more people than the Chernobyl nuclear disaster did. And its victims are still dying today, 20 years later.