India Promises Additional Compensation to Bhopal Survivors
In November, as the 30th anniversary of one of the world’s worst industrial disasters approached, news reports indicated that the Indian government would provide additional compensation to survivors of the December 1984 gas leak at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in the city of Bhopal. According to Amnesty International, a hunger strike by five activists prompted the government’s action. The activists also extracted a promise from government officials to revise fatality and injury statistics related to the leak.
The Bhopal disaster began on Dec. 2, 1984, when tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC), a highly toxic chemical used in the production of some insecticides, began leaking from the Union Carbide plant into the surrounding area. Official figures put the death toll at 5,300, but unofficial estimates exceed 20,000 deaths and 500,000 injuries. At the time, Bhopal had a population of 900,000.
Exposure to MIC is immediately dangerous to life and health at a concentration of 3 ppm, according to NIOSH. Inhalation or absorption through the skin can be fatal. The NIOSH recommended exposure limit is a time-weighted average of 0.02 ppm.
Union Carbide contended that sabotage caused the accident, while activists blamed poor management. In 1987, Union Carbide’s CEO, Warren Anderson, was charged in India with crimes related to the disaster. He never faced trial, and in 1989 the company reached a $470 million settlement with the Indian government.
Anderson died on Sept. 29, 2014. His death went unreported until Oct. 30, when an obituary appeared in The New York Times.