Bhopal gas tragedy 35 years on: A look back at how the industrial disaster that claimed thousands of lives occurred

  • Bhopal gas tragedy marks 35 years today on 3 December. Known to be the worst industrial disaster world in terms of loss of human lives, the tragedy, for the first time, made people aware of the magnitude of a peace-time calamity.

  • In the early wee hours of 3 December, 1984, poisonous gas leaked from the now-defunct factory of Union Carbide in Madhya Pradesh capital Bhopal and killed thousands of people both asleep and awake.

  • Considered one of the world's worst industrial disaster, the gas leak maimed generations to come.

Third December marks the 35th anniversary of the Bhopal gas tragedy. One of the worst industrial disasters in history in terms of loss of human lives, the tragedy showed people the what the magnitude of a peacetime calamity could be.

 Bhopal gas tragedy 35 years on: A look back at how the industrial disaster that claimed thousands of lives occurred

File photo of the Union Carbide site in Bhopal. Reuters.

In the wee hours of 3 December, 1984, poisonous gas leaked from the now-defunct factory of Union Carbide in Madhya Pradesh's capital of Bhopal and killed thousands of people.

Government claims the poisonous gas killed 5,295 people while activists fighting for justice for Bhopal gas tragedy victims claim the death figures to be between 20,000 and 25,000.

In 2010, the Central government, in a curative petition filed in that year, sought compensation for 5,295 deaths while listing 5,27,894 as the number of people affected by the disaster.

How did it happen?

Union Carbide India Ltd's (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal was reported to release the toxic methyl-isocyanate (MIC) gas after midnight on the intervening night of 2 and 3 December.

The breeze carried with it the highly toxic substance which made its way into and around the shanty towns located near the plant.
It is estimated that around 40 tonnes of MIC gas and other chemicals leaked from the Union Carbide factory that night. An estimated 8,000 died within two weeks and more than five lakh were affected.

Considered one of the world's worst industrial disasters, the gas leak maimed generations to come.

What caused the lethal gas leak?

As per government’s investigations, the leakage of gas was reported to have begun in Plant Number C of the factory. It is reported that MIC was mixed with a large volume of water used for cooling the plant.

The chemical reaction led to generation of volumes of gases and heat, which resulted in exerting tremendous pressure on Tank 610. As a result, the tank began to release tonnes of the toxic MIC gas, that escaped into the cool night air.

The severity of the situation was exacerbated by the alarm system of the UCIL that did not go off for several hours.

As per official records, as the deadly cloud slowly made its way in the cool night air people residing in the surrounding areas of the pesticide plant were the worst affected.

Soon the sleeping residents awoke, coughing, choking, and rubbing painfully stinging eyes. By the time the lethal gas cleared at dawn, many were already dead or injured.

Aftermath of the tragedy:

The ghastly tragedy claimed the lives of a sum total of 3,787 people, according to the latest government estimate. The incident injured more than five lakh people in the state of Madhya Pradesh.

People living near the gas plant were the worst hit; organs such as lungs, brain, eyes, muscles, gastrointestinal, neurological, reproductive and immune system of those exposed to the toxic gas were severely affected. The toxins released in the air on the day of the incident also caused an increment in male and female infertility and birth defects in infants.

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Updated Date: Dec 03, 2019 14:53:45 IST


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