Health Effects of Bhopal Disaster


At midnight on 3 December 1984, a tragedy suddenly occurred without warning one citizen around the Union Carbide pesticide plant in the Indian city of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. The plant released an estimated 42 tones of toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas, exposing more than 500,000 people to MIC and other chemicals, which is known as the Bhopal disaster or Bhopal gas tragedy (Sriramachari et al, 1991). This event caused more than 3,800 deaths and approximately 11,000 disabilities by the official Indian government panel’s charge in 1991. This report will examine the effects at that time and the long-term effects of human health of this area in the city of Bhopal, and how these health problems have been dealt with to reduce the loss as much as possible. It also offers an exploration of how this tragedy happened, and what to be done can be against those toxic gases.

The Bhopal disaster led to thousands of deaths and much more disabilities. Not only these, there must be more pollution around this area. It is difficult to rebuild their hometown with all the creatures deeply polluted or even dead. Although we could not get time back to rescue the lives scarified in this event, nevertheless, we can do something significant. It is important, therefore, to find out how and why this tragedy happened in order to discover possible ways to avoid this type of events happening again (Jeevaratnam and Sriramachari, 1994). And it is vital to do this that it’s not only the tragedy of Bhopal; it was posed by the problem from all over the world because there are still many events happened after that with exactly the same reasons. We need to establish safe industry system to make sure that our happy life is not a disappointment.

The UCIL factory started in 1n 1969 near Bhopal. This factory was 50.9 0wned by the Union Carbide Corporation and 49.1 was owned by various Indian investors who included the public sector financial institutions. This factory produced carbaryl pesticide, and in 1979, the site was added a methyl isocyanate production plant. In the manufacturing of carbaryl, methyl isocyanate was widely used in place of materials that are less hazardous yet more expensive. The Union Carbide Corporation was aware of the properties of methyl isocyanate as well as its handling requirements (Rao et al, 1991).


It was during the December 1984, at around 2-3, when the large amounts of water found its way to tank 610. This tank had 42 tonnes of methyl isocyanate. This led to an exothermic reaction, which increased temperatures in the tank to more than 200oC (Blake and Ijadi-Maghsoodi, 1982). These consequently raised the pressure to a level higher than what the tank was designed to withstand. The emergency venting of pressure was forced from holding of methyl isocyanate, releasing substantial amounts of toxic gases to the atmosphere. The presence of iron in the non-stainless steel pipelines sped up the reaction, however, according to the laboratory experiments that were conducted by the CSIR and UCC scientists, the effects of iron had no effects in speeding up the reaction (Khurrum and Hafeez, 1987).

A mixture of these gases flooded Bhopal city, causing panic because people woke up feeling a burning sensation in their lungs. The gas led to the death of thousands and panic.The issue of the water found its way to the tank differs; some claim that when the workers were cleaning the pipes with water, the water entered the tank. Others claim that it was because of the poor maintenance as well as leaking of valves that the water entered tank 610. According to UCC, the water was introduced intentionally in the disgruntled workers as an act of sabotage, but the investigation carried out by the company found no evidence on this (D’Silva, 2006). Reports presented in 1985, shed some light on the factors that led to the disaster. These factors included the company’s use of hazardous chemicals; the storage of hazardous materials in large tanks as opposed to over 200 steel drums;  corroding materials  in pipelines, poor maintenance  in the early 1980s after the production at the plant ceased; failure of  some of the safety systems caused by poor maintenance; the switching off of safety  systems in order to save on money (Eckerman, 2004).

Health effects

Short-term effects

The mixture of gases included, methyl isocyanate, hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, phosgene, hydrogen chloride, monomethyl amine, oxides of nitrogen and carbon monoxide (Jeevaratnam and Sriramachari, 1994). The cloud of gas contained materials that were denser than the surrounding air; this cloud of gas remained close to the ground and later spread out to the surrounding community. The gas had initial effects of exposure, which were evident through coughing, severe eye irritation, vomiting and a feeling of suffocation. People who experienced these symptoms at the plant fled away, and those who were on foot inhaled more gas compared to those who had a vehicle. Considering their height, people with shorter stature and children inhaled higher concentrations.  Many were trampled as they tried to escape and by morning, thousand had succumbed. Mass funerals and cremations were held and bodies disposed at the Narmada River (Eckerman, 2004). At the hospitals and temporary dispensaries, 170,000 were treated, and 2000 goats, buffalos and other animals were buried. After a few days, leaves on trees yellowed, then fell off. The food suppliers feared for their safety and this led to scarcity of food. Fishing was not allowed, and this led to further shortage in supplies.

The authorities marked 36 wards as gas affected, a population of 520,000 were affected with 200,000 being below 15 years old and 3000 pregnant women. In 1991, independent organizations certified 3,928 deaths with 8,000 occurring in the first days. The other estimations were between 10,000 and 30,000. 100,000 to 200,000 people were estimated as permanently injured. Acute symptoms were breathlessness, blepharospasm, burning n the eyes and respiratory tract, stomach pains and vomiting (Eckerman, 2004). Deaths were caused by choking, pulmonary, oedema and reflexogenic circulatory collapse. According to the autopsies findings, changes were found in the lungs, tubular necrosis of the kidneys, cerebral oedema, necrotising enteritis and fatty degeneration of the liver. There was an increase in stillbirth rate by 300% and 200% increase in neonatal mortality rate.

Long-term health effects

Depression and despair is what is seen on the faces of the survivors of Bhopal tragedy several years. The survivors have continues to suffer in silent with deaths taring at them in their face these victims are helpless because they are seen to believe that they watch their progenies badly affected with stunted growth, which is born of a host of birth-related defects. There is a new generation, which is coming up with people who are mentally, physically and emotionally handicapped (Srivastava et al, 1988). This state is because of methyl Isocyanate and other lethal gases, which was estimated as 40 tonnes. 500,000 people were exposed to the toxic fumes, with 25,000-35,000 have died since the disaster and hundreds of thousands maimed for life.

There is the case of children still being born to survivors who were badly affected; these children are born lame, blind, with twisted limbs or no limbs at all. Others are born deaf and mute, with hare-lips, cleft palates, damaged brain, webbed fingers, with tumours and cerebral palsy. The cases of stillbirth, the children born are not easily recognised as human. The foetus were damaged by the chemicals while still in the womb (Srivastava et al, 1988).

Following this disaster, the Indian Council of Medical Research, 520,00 people were exposed  to poison and the poison circulates in their blood stream causing varied degrees of damage to the systems of the body. Up to date, there are over 120,000-150,000 survivors who are chronically ill; this people are desperately in need of medical attention. There are an estimation of10-15 people dying every month from illness related to the exposure. The survivors suffer from symptoms of depression, anxiety, weakness, fatigue, back and body aches, recurrent fever, menstrual irregularities, cataracts, loss of appetite, persistent cough, diminished vision and breathlessness (Srivastava et al, 1988).

After the disaster, the health facilities became overloaded, after some few weeks the government established clinics, hospitals and mobile units in the affected areas. The government also set up radical health groups, and since the leak, here are a number of private practitioners who have opened in severely affected areas, although 70% appeared not qualified (Naik,1986). The Indian Government has its had its focus on increasing the medical services for the gas victims. By 1994, there were approximately 1.25 beds for 1000.

The government had to make sure that the people are not continually being affected by the gases, therefore, after the closure of the factory, the drums, pipes, and tanks were cleaned and sold. The area around the factory was polluted and the people who were leaving around the area abandoned. Pollution included soil and ground water (Fortun, 2001). There was a new water system put in place to provide safe water for drinking. There was also a court order to incinerate the toxic waste at the factory.

The occurrence of the same disaster in future should be avoided; to ensure this the government should ensure that there are correct and functional safety measures in such factories. This is meant to take care of such incidences in case they occur. The equipments used should be up to standard, especially those storing the hazardous materials. It is said that the authority understood the condition of the material they were using; this implies that they had the responsibility to handle the material with care it deserved.

The workers should also be trained of the safety measures in such a working condition; they have to understand the dos and donts. The whole facility should also be built in a way that there is enough safety for the workers and those living around the factory as well as the environment.