J. Sri Raman: Bhopal Reminder for Nuclear India

Roundup: Talking About History

[A freelance journalist and a peace activist in India, J. Sri Raman is the author of "Flashpoint" (Common Courage Press, USA). He is a regular contributor to Truthout.]

As India prepares to roll out the red carpet to multinational corporations cashing in on the country's nuclear deals with the US and others, a painful reminder has come about what collaborations of this kind can mean: the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal gas-leak tragedy on December 3, 2009.

On this day of 1984, Bhopal, capital of the central Indian State of Madhya Pradesh, turned into a "Hiroshima of the chemical industry," as the worst industrial disaster in the world has come to be known. A pesticide plant of Union Carbide located there leaked a highly toxic cloud of 42 tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC) into the air of a densely populated region. Of the 800,000 people living in the city then, 8,000 to 10,000 died within 72 hours. About 300,000 were injured and as many as 25,000 have died from gas-related diseases since the incident.

Around 100,000 people, according to an Amnesty International estimate, were incapacitated for life. They could hope for no relief ever from respiratory illness, eye disease, neurological and neuro-muscular damage and immune system impairment.

A quarter-century on, does the affected part of Bhopal offer us a far better spectacle? The answers from several studies are all agonizing - and they reinforce the nuclear analogy as well.

A series of investigations has shown that the groundwater remains full of toxic elements to this day. The latest tests have found that groundwater in areas even three kilometers away from the factory contains almost 40 times more pesticides than the national average. According to the New Delhi-based Center for Science and Environment (CSE), this has spelled continuous, slow poisoning of the captive population.

The health impact of the chemicals dumped on the 62-acre grounds of the plant, yet to be effectively decontaminated, includes: cancers, chromosomal deformities and bone defects, besides damage to the brain and nervous system as well as liver and blood cells.

Hiroshima is recalled again by a report quoting local doctors to say that as many as one in 25 babies continue to be born here with defects and developmental problems like a smaller head, webbed feet and low birth weight. According to Nina Lakhani, writing for the Independent, neighborhoods where people depend on water contaminated by chemicals leaking from the abandoned factory, and where mothers were exposed to the toxic gas as children, brain-damaged and malformed babies are 10 times more common than the national average...

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