Accidental disasters that change the people’s life – but they do not have a choice and can’t end it.

An accidental release of air pollutants can cause major health impacts for the people who are staying there. These vulnerable people do not have a choice, it is where their homes are. Besides, where can they go? Usually, such accidents would claim hundreds to thousands of precious lives. It is unfortunate, but to those victims who survived, their future is uncertain. The effects of exposure to air pollutants may have long-term consequences which include, genetic disorders, depressions, associated diseases, and disabilities. It may not be as bad if the pain and suffering is shortened by death, but those who had to continue living are being “punished” even though it was not their fault.

Recently, I have watched a short film on a tragic industrial disaster that occurred in 1984 in Bhopal (India). The following is a summary of the event.

The city of Bhopal is located in the central of India with about 850,000 people during that time. During that period, the local people sustained themselves mainly through normal agriculture until 1950s, the international agriculture era began. The Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) that was created in 1934 started promoting the use of new seeds and pesticides to yield the maximum harvest so to meet the world’s food production demand. In order to reap the most profits from the sale of pesticides, a new factory was constructed in Bhopal. Some of the reasons it was build there were because, there are lesser costs and it was easier to get clearance from the authorities. In the beginning, the new factory was warmly welcomed by the locals as it provides them an opportunity to be employed there. The manufactured pesticide contains a highly reactive material known as methyl isocyanate (MIC). This is categorised as Hazardous Air pollutants (HAPs) designatd by U.S. EPA, and believed to cause adverse health and/or environmental effects which also needs to be mandated for review every 5 years. It was reported that the factory workers were not educated on MIC and are unaware of its potential dangers. Furthermore, there was no emergency plans or measures in place in the event of a leak.

As the years went by, business were not as good as before. Thus, the UCIL began to cut down supply of pesticides and dismissed almost half of their workers. The change affect the remaining workers, as they had to work harder and longer every shift. Therefore, there was lesser monitoring activities, inspections and maintenance in the factory. The frightening disaster happened at night and I believe that in the people’s memory, it will continue to be a nightmare. Before the accident, one of the workers was doing his routines, that is cleaning the MIC pipes. However, as the worker was not well-trained, a deadly mistake was made which caused the washing water to seep into the MIC pipe. The matter was escalated as the cooler that was supposed to keep the MIC pipe stable was switched off. Thus, the reaction between MIC and water continues and it increases the temperature inside the pipe rapidly. In the end, the threshold met and the poison gas started to leak. Along with the windy winds at night, the gas quickly spread to the communities and settlements nearby. Not aware of what it is exactly, the people in Bhopal started to run but we know that the best solution is to stay indoors with all windows and doors sealed. Therefore, about 8000 were killed mostly due to choking in gas clouds according to reports.

The aftermath of the leak, death rates continue to climb and those were due to injuries inflicted during the chaos. Until today, the people in Bhopal still suffer from the effects of MIC. Even though there was compensation made, it was insignificant as compared to the lifetime injuries and suffering the locals have to go through. In the end, the UCC’s CEO managed to escape the arrest in India and fled back to home country with mindset of not returning again.

Conclude: In my opinion, the Bhopal disaster was unfortunate. All the contributing factors like the time and location of the accident, emergency response, medical infrastructure, etc, have resulted an accident that was poorly managed. This makes it important for the Bhopal government to set up medical facilities and keep updated on medical practices. Today, the people in Bhopal are fighting to keep the memory of the 1984 disaster and there is organisation (i.e. ICJB) and campaigns (i.e. Sweep Dow Chemicals) set up to hold their anniversary. Apart from that, it also helps the people to use it as a tool to get justice in the endless disaster.

A comic of UCC being haunted by the people who died in the disaster. Taken from: http://www.slideshare.net/ketanwadodkar/air-pollution-episodes-and-disasters

A photo of present campaigns in Bhopal, people getting justice. Taken from: http://matrixleaks.blogspot.sg/2012_02_01_archive.html

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