The World’s Worst Industrial Disaster Is Still Unfolding
In old bhopal, not far from the small Indian city’s glitzy new shops and gorgeous lakes, is the abandoned Union Carbide factory. Here, in one ramshackle building, are hundreds of broken brown bottles crusted with the white residue of unknown chemicals. Below the corroding skeleton of another, drops of mercury glitter in the sun. In the far corner of the site is the company’s toxic-waste dump, shrouded in a sickly green moss. Not 15 feet away, a scrawny boy of about 6 tries to join a game of cricket. A few skinny cows graze next to a large, murky puddle. Strewn on the ground are torn plastic bags, yellowed newspapers, stained paper cups. And in the air, the pungent fumes of chlorinated hydrocarbons.
On December 3, 1984, 40 tons of a toxic gas spewed from the factory and scorched the throats, eyes, and lives of thousands of people outside these walls. It was—still is—the world’s deadliest industrial disaster. For a brief time, the Bhopal gas tragedy, as it became known, raised urgent questions about how multinational companies and governments should respond when the unthinkable happens. But it didn’t take long for the world’s attention to shift, beginning with the Chernobyl nuclear accident a little more than a year later.