The Bhopal Disaster happened on December 3, 1984, thirty five years ago this week. Capitalist greed by Union Carbide led to poor safety standards and maintenance. Toxic methyl isocyanate was released into the environment, affecting over 550,000 people. The “official” death toll is nearly 3800 and roughly 40000 temporary or permanently debilitating injuries. Independent estimates claim 16000 dead, and many more may have been affected, poisoned and disabled by exposure.
Union Carbide fought for years to avoid legal and financial responsibility, such as saying Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) was a “separate entity”. Even after India’s courts assessed a US$470million judgement and a US court upheld it, Union Carbide continued to drag their heels on making payments until 1991.
Some UCIL employees have finally been held accountable in court in the 2010s, thirty years later (with fines, prison sentences) but those most directly to blame have been allowed to escape responsibility. Indian courts issues warrants for Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson but the US refused to extradite him. He would have faced ten years in an Indian prison for his crimes.
In 2018, The Atlantic covered the Bhopal Disaster’s lingering effects:
In Bhopal, residents who survived the massive gas leak and those who arrived later continue to deal with the consequences.
In old Bhopal, not far from the small Indian city’s glitzy new shops and gorgeous lakes, is the abandoned Union Carbide factory. Here, in one ramshackle building, are hundreds of broken brown bottles crusted with the white residue of unknown chemicals. Below the corroding skeleton of another, drops of mercury glitter in the sun. In the far corner of the site is the company’s toxic-waste dump, shrouded in a sickly green moss. Not 15 feet away, a scrawny boy of about 6 tries to join a game of cricket. A few skinny cows graze next to a large, murky puddle. Strewn on the ground are torn plastic bags, yellowed newspapers, stained paper cups. And in the air, the pungent fumes of chlorinated hydrocarbons.
India Today has a small gallery of photos from 1984. The first is the hardest to look at.