Bhopal is known for its historical records, man-made lakes, and greenery, but it is best known as the location of the world’s worst industrial tragedy.

On December 3, 1984, a deadly gas spilled from a Union Carbide factory in the Madhya Pradesh city of Bhopal, killing hundreds of people. The catastrophe is now known as the Bhopal gas tragedy or the Bhopal disaster.

According to official figures, the Bhopal gas tragedy claimed the lives of 3,787 people. The Madhya Pradesh government eventually adjusted the data, as the initial official estimate put the death toll from the Union Carbide factory gas leak at 2,259.

However, groups seeking justice for the victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy estimate that between 8,000 and 10,000 people died. The government claimed in a 2006 affidavit that the Bhopal gas leak resulted in 5,58,125 injuries, including about 3,900 seriously and permanently debilitating injuries.

HOW DID IT HAPPEN?: The gas leak at Union Carbide (now Dow Chemicals) was discovered after midnight on the 2nd and 3rd nights of December. The event occurred at the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal’s Plant Number C.

The toxic gas pouring from the Union Carbide factory was wafted around the city by the cold morning breeze, killing individuals both awake and asleep. According to the government’s affidavit, about 3,000 people perished as a result of the deadly gas within hours of the occurrence.

Around 40 tonnes of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas and other chemicals were suspected to have spilled from the Union Carbide factory. Methyl isocyanate is highly toxic, and inhaling it at a concentration of 21ppm (parts per million) will kill you in minutes. The level was several times higher in Bhopal.

WHAT CAUSED METHYL ISOCYANATE LEAKAGE?: Plant Number C was reported to have a gas leak. Official records show that methyl isocyanate was combined with the water used to cool the plant. The mixture resulted in massive amounts of gas being produced, putting immense pressure on Tank Number 610.

The tank cover gave way to rising gaseous pressure, allowing tonnes of deadly gas to escape and spread across a vast area. A total of 5 lakh persons were exposed to the methyl isocyanate gas release.

POST-LEAKAGE SCENE: In 1984, Bhopal had an estimated population of 8.5 lakh people, and more than half of them were coughing, scratching their eyes and skin, and having breathing issues. Internal bleeding, pneumonia, and mortality were all caused by the gas. Villages and slums in the factory’s immediate vicinity were the hardest hit.

Union Carbide’s alarm system had been malfunctioning for several hours. The plant managers did not sound the alarm. On the morning of December 3, thousands of people rushed to hospitals, expressing their dissatisfaction.

In comparison to today, Bhopal in 1984 did not have a large number of hospitals. Half of the city’s population could not have been served by two government hospitals. People were in pain, having difficulty breathing, and were perplexed. Doctors were in the same boat, as they did not know what was causing the abrupt disease that affected every new rushed patient.

Dizziness, dyspnea, skin irritation, and rashes were noted by some patients, while others suffered abrupt blindness. Bhopal’s doctors had never encountered anything like this before. They never dealt with an industrial tragedy ever before.

They were not aware of the symptoms of methyl isocyanate poisoning very away. In the first two days after the Bhopal gas disaster, the two hospitals are said to have treated roughly 50,000 victims. Officially, the government announced that the gas leak had been contained in eight hours, yet even 33 years later, the city is still struggling to break free.


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