Lack of Proper Maintenance
- None of the six safety systems at the plant were fit-for-purpose and Union Carbide’s own documents prove the company designed the plant with “unproven” and “untested” technology, cutting corners on safety and maintenance in order to save money.
- The solar evaporation ponds were leaking years before the disaster (an internal Union Carbide memo sent to New York in 1982 reveals this).
- Staff and maintenance cuts meant the Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) process system was in a dangerous state of disrepair when water entered Tank 610, triggering the reaction that led to the gas leak.
No Community Safety Procedures
- Though simple instructions could have saved thousands of lives, no information was shared with local authorities or residents on the dangers of MIC or what to do in the event of a leak.
- The UCIL plant was equipped with two emergency sirens; one internal to alert staff in the event of a leak, and the other external to warn the public and local residents. Although both were triggered by an employee some minutes after the leak, the external alarm was immediately turned off and did not sound again until two hours later, by which time the gas had already covered the city.
Sodium Thiosulfate and the People’s Clinic
- Following the disaster local hospitals were overrun but doctors were not aware of the contents of the gas cloud, or how to treat those exposed. Results of studies by Carbide’s scientists which exposed animals and even human volunteers to MIC (to assess their effects on living systems) were withheld from doctors by Carbide as a “trade secret”.
- Carbide denied growing evidence of hydrogen cyanide poisoning despite knowing it to be a break-down product of MIC (when subject to high temperatures). Sodium Thiosulphate acts as a life-saving antidote to cyanide poisoning. An urgent telex from Dr Avashia, Medical Director of Union Carbide, first recommended its use in suspected cases, within hours reversing this advice and discouraging use of the drug by doctors. A local health official allied to Carbide subsequently prevented its use by state doctors.
- Fetching wood, planks and metal sheets, survivors broke into the factory site and built a ‘People's Health Centre’ to begin giving free Sodium Thiosulfate injections. Run by volunteer doctors, the centre survived just 20 days, but in that time administered more injections than all the hospitals in the city combined in the prior six months.
- On the evening of the 20th day, police raided the clinic, arrested the doctors and staff, confiscated all medical records detailing the effectiveness of the treatment, and levelled the clinic building.
- In March 1985, a column of frightened mothers-to-be wound towards a government hospital with bottles containing urine samples. The women asked for the samples to be tested to check whether their babies could be born damaged, and to ask for sodium thiosulfate injections to rid their bodies of toxins inhaled on ‘that night’.
- The fears of mothers-to-be were all too soon realised in what one doctor described as ‘a spate of horrific births’. The ICMR’s results on cyanide poisoning took 22 years to be published; they revealed – a whole generation too late – that sodium thiosulphate injections could indeed have saved many hundreds of lives.
Lost Babies and Birth Defects
- In the months following the disaster, almost half of all pregnant women exposed to Carbide's gas spontaneously aborted.
- Studies in the following years show only 1 in 3 of the babies born to women pregnant on the night of the gas survived.
- An Indian Council of Medical Research study from the 1980s found that 15 in 1000 babies born after the gas showed congenital malformations.
- The rate of birth defects in the contaminated areas is ten times higher than in the rest of India.
- Many women exposed to the gas reported experiencing gynaecological complications after being exposed.
- Despite all this, no official effort was made to monitor or care for women reporting gynaecological issues or suffering pregnancy complications.
Union Carbide Studies Unpublished
- Union Carbide's own studies and information on the effects of MIC, including the results of tests on human subjects, remain unpublished and unreleased. Dow Chemical, which bought out Union Carbide in 2001, continues to claim over 60 years of research as “trade secrets”.
- Union Carbide knew, in 1989, that the drinking wells were being poisoned by their chemicals but said nothing and gave no warning to local residents.
- Even today, residents around the site continue to be exposed to groundwater contaminated with carcinogenic and mutagenic chemicals originating from the factory site.
Under-Reporting of Deaths and Injuries
- The official death toll reported by the authorities in the 3 days following the leak was 1,754, but this figure is disputed both by other independent bodies, by survivors themselves and those working on the ground.
- Eyewitness accounts by those working to clear the bodies and move them to burial sites report moving thousands of bodies a day.
- Compiling all accounts and figures, Amnesty International estimate the true death toll to have been in the region of 7,000 - 10,000 in the first three days.
Illegal Drug Trials
- Since the disaster, there have been multiple instances of gas survivors bring subjected to illegal drug trials at Bhopal government hospitals.
- In 2011, 279 people were illegally tested for new drugs without their informed consent at the Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre (BMHRC). 2015 of these individuals were gas survivors, and it was reported that at least ten died during the course of the trials.
- In January 2021, it was reported that more than 700 gas survivors had been lured into participating in trials for the Covid-19 vaccine drug Covaxin at Bhopal People's Hospital, without full access to information on the potential health risks and in some case without signed consent.
Dow/Carbide Evade Justice
- To this date, Dow/Carbide has refused to stand trial before the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court in Bhopal, where Union Carbide faces criminal charges of culpable homicide (manslaughter). Since 1992 Carbide has been an officially declared fugitive, and parent Dow has recently flouted six official requests to appear in court in the same trial.
- A Curative Petition that seeks to amend the 1989 compensation settlement has been pending in the Supreme Court of India for ten years. If successful, Dow and Carbide, would be required to pay additional compensation to survivors of $1.2 - $8 billion dollars.
Survivors Receive Just $300-$500 In Compensation
- It wasn’t until 1989 that Union Carbide, in a partial settlement with the Indian government, agreed to pay out some $470 million in compensation.
- The victims weren’t consulted in the settlement discussions, and many felt cheated by their compensation – $300-$500 – or about five years’ worth of medical expenses.
- Despite the pitiful settlement reached on behalf of the (officially recognised) victims between Union Carbide and the Indian Government, Dow has refused to provide just compensation for those who have been injured or made ill by their poisons in the years since.
- Dow has also refused to fund medical care, health monitoring and necessary research studies.
Factory Site Never Decontaminated
- According to former workers of the factory, from December 1969 to December 1984 a massive amount of chemicals formulated in the plant - including pesticides, solvents used in production, catalysts, and other substances as well as by- products - were routinely dumped in and around the factory grounds. These caused pollution of the soil, water and air.
- A 1997 environmental assessment by the Indian scientific organisation NEERI described the span of the below-ground dumping areas within the factory as at least 6.4 hectares, or 21% of the total grounds. The report concluded that some 17 areas within the factory had been left heavily contaminated.
- Under the 'Polluter Pays' principle, a law recognised in India and the US, all costs of clean-up must be borne by those responsible for causing the pollution.
- Bhopal survivors, and the governments of India and Madhya Pradesh, hold that Dow Chemical acquired Carbide’s 'Polluter Pays' and other liabilities when it purchased 100 percent of the company in 2001.
- Dow denies responsibility and refuses to clean the site, from which toxic chemicals continue to seep into underground channels and pools, eventually reaching new wells, and new wombs.
- In 2014, an article from the New Delhi-based research and advocacy body, the Centre for Science and Environment concluded: 'We know what to do. Waste as harmful as that at Bhopal is dealt with daily around the world, and India has the knowledge and skills to treat it. The problem is not technical; it is political and institutional.’
Ongoing Water Contamination
- The groundwater aquifers surrounding the abandoned Union Carbide factory site in Bhopal are heavily contaminated with highly toxic chemicals.
- In 2018, the spread of contaminants from the factory were found to have reached the well water of 42 communities, and it was confirmed that the poisons continue to seep further out year on year. The contamination now extends more than 5 kilometres beyond the factory site.
- The chemicals and wastes abandoned at the site have now contaminated the drinking water of more than 100,000 people.