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Bhopal Gas Tragedy

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1. Place of occurrence

It occurred on the night of 23 December 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant inBhopal, Madhya Pradesh.

2. People involved for the disaster According to theDistrict Courtof Bhopal Warren Anderson(UCC CEO at the time of the disaster )and seven ex-employees, including the former UCIL chairman were involved for that disaster.Civil and criminal cases were filed against those people in theDistrict Courtof Bhopal. An eighth former employee was also involved, but died before the judgement was passed. 3. Description of the victims

Estimates vary on the death toll. The official immediate death toll was 2,259. Thegovernment of Madhya Pradeshconfirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release.A government affidavit in 2006 stated that the leak caused 558,125 injuries, including 38,478 temporary partial injuries and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries. Others estimate that 8,000 died within two weeks, and another 8,000 or more have since died from gas-related diseases.The effects of exposure were coughing, severe eye irritation and a feeling of suffocation, burning in the respiratory tract,blepharospasm, breathlessness, and stomach pains and vomiting. People awakened by these symptoms fled away from the plant. Those who ran inhaled more than those who had a vehicle to ride. Owing to their height, children and other people of shorter stature inhaled higher concentrations.

Bhopal gas disaster girl, the burial of one iconic victim of the gas leak (4 December 1984)

4. Impact on environment

The Bhopal gas leak caused extensive damage to the environment surrounding the Union Carbide factory. The impacts were both immediate and long-term. Due to improper clean up in the area, Bhopal residents are still affected by the negative consequences of the gas leak.Immediate EffectsIn the days following the gas leak, the leaves on the trees near the factory yellowed and fell off the branches. Around 2,000 animals, mostly livestock such as goats and buffalo, were killed by the gas leak. The Indian government prohibited fishing in the area for fear that the rivers and lakes were polluted. The food supply in Bhopal became scarce due to suppliers' fears of food safety. Nearby crop growth was also affected by the leak. According to authorities, 36 wards in the region were considered to be gas affected. These 36 wards contained a population of some 520,000 people.Long-Term EffectsSince the Bhopal gas leak, there have been persistent environmental problems due to improper clean up. Past attempts to decontaminate the environment in and around Bhopal were incomplete. The clean-up responsibilities shifted from Union Carbide Industries to the Madhya Pradesh government in 1998. Since this time, money and accountability for the leak have become a problem. As a result, drinking water contamination has become a major issue.Water ContaminationBhopal's underground water supply is polluted with toxic chemicals such as heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants. The contamination is not only due to the Bhopal gas leak, but also to Union Carbide's practices prior to the leak. The improper treatment of chemicals has contributed to the water pollution. As a result of the contamination, the water in Bhopal is unsafe for drinking.Greenpeace Research Laboratories conducted water sample testing in 1999 and determined the levels of contaminants in Bhopal's water supply.This mapshows the sites chosen for testing (red circles). The wind in this area blows to the North and to the East, which is why the particular sites were chosen. Greenpeace believed these areas would have the highest contamination levels from chemicals being carried by the wind.Greenpeace Research Laboratories found volatile organic compounds in Bhopal's drinking water supply. The level of trichloroethene was 50 times higher than the EPA safety limits. Trichloroethene can impair foetal development. The list of volatile organic compounds found included: Chlorinated benzenes Chlorinated ethane Chloroform Carbon tetrachloride TrichloroetheneIn addition to VOC's, Greenpeace Research Laboratories also found elevated levels of heavy metals in the water. The heavy metals detected included: Mercury Chromium Copper Nickel LeadHeavy metals bio accumulate in both aquatic and terrestrial organisms and are toxic to humans. One water sample found mercury to be 12% of the overall weight of the sample.Other chemicals found in the water were toxic organ chlorides such as: Chlorinated ethane Chlorinated hexanes DDT HexachlorobutadieneHexachlorobutadiene is a potent kidney toxin and is under review as a possible human carcinogen.These chemicals persist in the drinking water supply because the water was never fully decontaminated. Although the water is labelled unfit for drinking, Bhopal residents still consume the contaminated water.Soil ContaminationIn addition to water testing, Greenpeace Research Laboratories also performed soil testing to check for contamination. They tested several sites near the Union Carbide plant. Greenpeace found the metal levels in the soil similar to uncontaminated soil. The only metal with high concentrations was copper, which can naturally vary in nature and was unlikely due to the gas leak. The researchers concluded that the activities at the Union Carbide plant including the gas leak did not contaminate the surrounding soil.Lasting ImpactActivist groups have urged Dow Chemicals (the current owner of the Union Carbide plant) to clean up the environment surrounding Bhopal. These groups have urged the local government to request that Dow Chemicals pay for the clean-up. Although a legal settlement resulted in the Madhya Pradesh government having jurisdiction over the clean-up, activist groups believe Dow Chemicals must still be held accountable. Due to a lack of money and no one taking responsibility, the efforts to clean up the environment came to a halt. The impact of this decision is that until the drinking water is decontaminated, the residents of Bhopal will continue to be exposed to the toxic chemicals.

5. Major issues involved [reaction of Government & Company] & justice Judicial Precedent Progress in reforming liability law: Soon after the disaster, Indian courts ruled that liability in the case of a disaster is commensurate with a company's assets and not merely with the amount of damage caused. Use of interim damage awards: The disaster marked the first time that the Indian government had made interim damage awards. A positive development for sure, but given the problems associated with relief payments in this case, this was not exactly earth shattering. Strengthened & expanded class action rights: For the first time in its history, the Indian government invokedParens patriae, which meant that they acted on behalf of the citizens as a plaintiff for a class action lawsuit.

6. Failure of safety measures A Nitrogen line was connected to the tank to transfer the product by inert pressurization of the headspace. The tank was filled with a pressure relief value and rupture disc.The vent line from the valve exhausted into a scrubbing tower filled with caustic soda (NaOH).This would neutralize the mic to form sodium isocyanate .Any residual gas from the scrubber was sent to a 30m tall flare stack where it would be burned off. There was an external coiled jacket on the vessel through which coolant (Freon/chloroform) was to keep the vessel contain at 0C and thus prevent any adverse exothermic reactions occurring. Tanks were not to be filled above 50% marks so that in the event of dangerous chemical reaction occurring, solvents could be pumped in to quench the reactions.

7. Details of Act involvedApart from the civil proceedings, criminal proceedings were also initiated before the Chief Judicial Magistrate in Bhopal. The case was instituted in the year 1987. Since the clause in the settlement order which quashed the criminal proceedings was held invalid and unjustifiable, the criminal proceedings initiated could continue. The judgement was delivered only on June 7, 2010, 26 years after the disaster. The proceedings were initiated under Section 304 A, and Sections 336, 337, and 338 read with Section 35 of the Indian Penal Code. Section 304 A deals with causing death by negligence. Sections 336, 337 and Section 338 deal with the offences of endangering life and personal safety of others. This is read along with Section 35 which deals with the aspect of common intention.

8. Act passed after that tragedy Legislation PassedThe disaster triggered a number of new, far-reaching programs aimed at creating a strong oversight structure for mitigating industrial risk in India. Environment Protection Act (1986):The Act was an umbrella law aimed at enabling a more holistic approach to risk management and remedying shortcomings in current environmental standards. The Act strengthened inspections standards, controlled hazardous substances, encouraged reporting of violations, and required more personal responsibility from corporations. Created under the Act was the Ministry of Environment and Forests, which administers and enforces environmental laws. Factories (Amendment) Act (1987): This Act amended and strengthened an existing law by providing additional safeguards in the use and storage of hazardous substances. It also mandated worker safety training. It represented a very positive step towards creating a safer working environment for India's working class. Air (Amendment) Act (1987):Required every industry to get governmental consent to release pollutants. Hazardous Waste Rules (1989):Basically allowed government to authorize companies as to what they could pollute with. Public Liability Insurance Act (1991):Required every business owner to carry insurance to cover death, injury, or damage resulting from a disaster. The