Bhopal: Aftermath and Legacy
Near universal criticism of Union Carbide sprung up after the disaster. The company was charged with gross acts of negligence in failing to maintain the Bhopal facility or adequately train its staff. Compounding these errors were Union Carbide's hamfisted approach to addressing the disaster: The company claimed that MIC gas is merely a "mild throat and ear irritant," and stated that the release of the deadly gas cloud was the work of a single disgruntled employee (who was never named or charged).
According to one report, "At every turn, UCC [Union Carbide Corporation] has attempted to manipulate, obfuscate and withhold scientific data to the detriment of victims. Even to this date, the company has not stated exactly what was in the toxic cloud that enveloped the city on that December night."
An enormous international lawsuit followed the Bhopal disaster, and even decades later, various lawsuits are still working their way through the international court system. In 1991, the Indian Supreme Court approved a settlement of $470 million. By October 2003 -- nearly 19 years after the tragedy -- compensation had been awarded to hundreds of thousands of people, but the average amount awarded to families of the dead was just $2,200.
The long-term health effects of the Bhopal gas cloud continue to haunt survivors. Severe birth defects, immune disorders, vision problems, lung and respiratory problems, neurological disorders, cardiac failure and reproductive problems are the health legacy of Bhopal.
Sadly, only a few things have changed since the Bhopal tragedy. Decades later, the site is still highly contaminated and is leaking toxic chemicals into local drinking water supplies. The toxic soup in the area's water and soil includes dozens of hazardous compounds like mercury, pesticides, volatile organic compounds or VOCs, lead, organochlorines and carbon tetrachloride, a carcinogenic toxin.
And though some laws have been instituted since that fateful night in 1984, rapid and unregulated industrialization in India -- as well as in China, Brazil and other countries -- virtually assure that another disaster like Bhopal will happen again. As one report summarized, "Far more remains to be done for public health in the context of industrialization to show that the lessons of the countless thousands dead in Bhopal have truly been heeded."