Friday, 27 January 2012 22:39

Bhopal for Dummies (briefly)

1984 – 40 tonnes of toxic gas poisoned most of the population of northern Bhopal.

2012 – Children are being born today with congenital disability, such as cerebral palsy, at a rate about 6 times the rest of India. The polluting toxins that affected their parents or grandparents 27 years ago are causing these innocent little victims to suffer for the whole of their lives.


It was many years ago in 1984, that a factory owned by the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC)  spewed out a highly toxic gas (41 tonnes of methyl-isocyanate) into the air around a chemical plant. It was just after midnight on the 2/3 December in Bhopal, India.

The actual facts, as so often in these cases, are disputed, but most evidence agrees that not a single one of the safety systems was functional. Of the 6-layer safety system four layers were faulty and awaiting repair and two were turned off, it is thought to save money. The gas storage temperature is recommended as less than 15ºC and the temperature measure was also turned off or not working. The cause of the explosion was water entering the tank where the gas was stored.

That very night thousands of people died in probably the worst industrial disaster in the world. More people have died and will suffer longer than Chernobyl.

One reason for this is that the disaster is not restricted to the gas leak. For years before, the company was dumping toxic wastes around the factory site in inadequate containers. After the incident the site was abandoned to the elements and more containers of chemicals rusted or broke down spilling contents over the ground. With every rainy season these chemicals have been washed through the soil into the groundwater aquifers from where it has been pumped up for drinking, washing, cooking etc, even for children to splash around in.

Through the ensuing years many thousands more have died from illnesses caused by the gas and water and its after effects. After the gas dispersed, those still alive suffered with a wide range of sickness - and still suffer. Rates of asthma, diabetes and cancer are much higher than in the rest of India. The rate of babies born with congenital problems and disability is some 6 times the rest of India.

Even though the local authority of Madhya Pradesh provides a limited number of tankers of water it can be spasmodic and does not reach all the people with affected water supplies.

It is estimated that over 100,000 people are chronically sick from the effects of that night and in addition 30,000 are ill from polluted water, including second and third generation children. Local campaigners estimate that about 500,000 people live in the area of northern Bhopal affected and that some 90+% are affected to a greater or lesser extent.

In 2001 Union Carbide was bought by Dow Chemical and that company refused to take on any responsibility for which UCC may have been liable in Bhopal. The company was happy to take on UCC assets but refused to take on the liabilities. In 2011, seven former local management employees were convicted in the Indian courts but none of the American company senior managers or directors have even faced a court hearing. A court in USA has ruled that they must face charges in India but then refuses to extradite them. How Kafkaesque is that?

The campaigns for justice and reparation continue from Bhopal with a group of organisations working together under the banner of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal with a website of This is the visible side of what is happening and from time-to-time the international press and public hear of efforts.

Most of the people affected are poor and live in slum or semi-slum areas. They cannot afford medical treatment or even to move away. Many are illiterate.

There is only one place they can go for help. It is the Sambhavna Clinic which is located near the affected people in the north of Bhopal. Here they can receive care and treatment free of charge with a mix of allopathic and ayurvedic therapies (for which they grow most of the herbs), massage and yoga. And they have a great record of success with children and adults alike.

Specifically for children is the Chingari Rehabilitation Centre, created by two winners of the 'alternative Nobel' prize. This supports families with children born with a whole range of problems; cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, Downs, learning problems, blindness, deafness, speech defects.

These clinics are funded mainly by public donations through The Bhopal Medical Appeal (BMA) here in the UK. The government of India has approved plans to provide funds but the system is so corrupt it is doubtful how much will reach either clinic. The charity is a small-scale charity operating from a single office in Brighton.

I went to Bhopal as a volunteer at the clinics and worked alongside the staff there, offering Spineworks and Reiki treatments. I wish to return to do more work with them. Any donation you make will further the valuable work of this small charity.

Some Facts that you may not now:

  • it was between 3,000 and 15,000 that died on 3 December, depending on who is counting.
  • many pregnant women spontaneously aborted that day and in the following days.
  • at least another 17,000 have died since as a direct result.
  • one person dies every day from the effects. (figures to 2010)
  • many families have only one parent surviving.
  • the compensation went to only 573,588 of the victims. About $500 equivalent each.
  • the compensation works out to 3p if spread to all the people who should have received it.
  • thousands of people who breathed the gas are still suffering from lingering poisoning. (Over 90% of the population of north Bhopal.)
  • In a study in 1985, 71% of people within 10km of the site showed chromosomal damage. The control showed 21%.
  • people will suffer* for the rest of their lives. And some of them are still only in their late 20s.
  • water pollution was caused because toxic chemicals dumped on and around the site have been washed into the ground water source.
  • these poisonous chemicals and heavy metals are still being washed into the soil and spreading the water pollution by 200 metres every year.
  • people still have to drink this water.
  • babies born to parents exposed to the gas or water are several times more likely than babies in the rest of India to have some form of congenital malformation**.
  • no-one knows when this inheritance will stop. If ever. Probably never.
  • Dow Chemical bought UCC in 2001 and refuses to accept any liability.
  • Dow still will not tell the Indian Government the exact gases to which people were exposed to and their effects on the body.
  • Dow is a major sponsor of the Olympic movement and, in particular, the 2012 London Olympics

* Health problems include lung and breathing problems, many gynaecological issues including sterility, blindness. Cancer rates are high, diabetes rates are high, asthma rates are high.

**The range of congenital disability is wide and mostly on the spectrum of Cerebral Palsy, including physical deformity,  Down syndrome (Trisomy 21), deafness, learning disability, developmental problems.

  • local hospitals are giving out pharmacological drugs not knowing if they will work and not concerned about the potential side effects.
  • some hospitals are effectively carrying out drug trials on these unknowing people.
  • the Sambhavna Trust Clinic is the only medical facility where victims of water pollution as well as those with gas after effects can receive treatment, free of charge.
  • the Chingari centre is the only place where parents exposed to the gas or groundwater can get help, education and treatment for their disabled children, free of charge.
  • Sambhavna and Chingari are funded solely by charity and personal donations.

You want to know how you can help?

The Bhopal Medical Appeal (BMA) is a UK charity (1117526) based in Brighton, UK which campaigns on behalf of all the victims and provides financial support for the operation of both Sambhavna and Chingari.

If you want to volunteer your skills and time to help from home, in Brighton or in Bhopal contact the BMA via their website or call +44 (0) 1273 603278 and they will pass on your message as appropriate.

The BMA, Sambhavna Trust and Chingari Trust are registered charities in their countries.

Full details are on the contact page of the website,


Why not go to my 'Bhopal Book' page and buy my book about my visit there

which will raise funding for these two clinics and the BMA


You can donate via or

an internet transfer to sort code 08-92-88, account number 12147113 and put Bhopal and your name as the reference.

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