Twenty years ago 40 tons of toxic gas leaked from a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, killing thousands. The incident is generally called the worst industrial accident in history. What made the accident even more tragic was that most lives could have been saved if the local hospitals had known how to treat the victims. The accident should have been a turning point for corporate responsibility, but it never was.
The Union Carbide pesticide plant leaked methyl isocyanate gas in the early morning hours of Dec. 3, 1984. Because the gas is heavier than air it stayed close to the ground, sweeping into the homes of plant workers that had built their domiciles up to the fence of the plant.
According to the Bhopal Medical Appeal trust fund, a group still lobbying for Union Carbide to be held responsible, it was later found that none of the plant’s six safety systems were operational. Furthermore the plant hesitated about informing the local hospital about how to properly treat patients. Two thousand people died and an estimated 200,000 to 600,000 were injured.
The area remains largely contaminated even after Union Carbide abandoned the site and locals still suffer an increased cancer rate.
The case is often quoted in textbooks as a classic example of how not to manage hazardous sites.
After 20 years, the case remains largely unresolved. It is quite clear that technicians at the plant caused the accident and their deliberate negligence in turning off the safety systems exacerbated the accident even further. Yet the company was allowed to walk away without taking responsibility for the long-term damages.
It is unacceptable that corporations still have the same rights and protections as individuals, yet cannot be held accountable in the same way. If there is to be any idea of corporate responsibility, this has to change.