The Bhopal disaster should be remembered when considering what comes after the BP oil spill

As the BP/Gulf of Mexico oil spill dominates the American media, the rest of world has been noting a closure, of sorts, on the Bhopal disaster of 1984.  Seven former Union Carbide executives have been sentenced to 2 years jail each over the disaster.  The CEO, Warren Anderson, showed an appalling lack corporate leadership by leaving India and not facing the charges laid against him in India.

The disaster exposed half a million people to methyl isocyanate, killed almost 4,000 people, and changed the lives of millions.  These changes continue today with birth defects, health problems and contaminated land.

Some media have noted a similarity in corporate responses to initial investigations and inquiries but there are more important lessons involving safety, corporate responsibility and social policy from the Bhopal legacy that should resonate with those American communities affected by the Gulf of Mexico spill.  The mishandling of the aftermath of the Bhopal disaster has exacerbated the horror of that day which can accurately but heartlessly be described as a “process safety failure”.

These issues are tellingly described and reported in a highly-recommended series of radio programs produced by Radio Netherlands and broadcast on 19 June 2010.

Kevin Jones

4 thoughts on “The Bhopal disaster should be remembered when considering what comes after the BP oil spill”

  1. Like you say the Bhopal Gas disaster, is yet another example of poor corporate governance, in a long list.
    The greater issue for us in India, is that, Warren Anderson, was allowed to flee, by somebody fairly high up in the Government, at that point in time.
    What a shame!

  2. 26 years ? Shows the power of corporate lawyers and the US State Department in stonewalling this for so long.
    On the subject of justice for \’Third World\’ countries, I used to pass the Union Carbide plant in Meadowbank, Sydney in the train on a regular basis. It was proudly situated on the banks of the Parramatta River with letters a storey high. Less than a year after Bhopal, it was gone. While it wasn\’t alone amongst our absent friends, the cleanup for the 2000 Olympics ran into the millions and a ban was recently put on selling seafood caught in Sydney harbour and its rivers.

    1. I think the delay had more to do with the Indian justice system than the American but the Bhopal plant was a good example of the relocation of major hazard facilities to a country with a less accountable regulatory system and says a lot about the corporate responsibility of Union Carbide.

      The Wikipedia entry on Bhopal Disaster is a good overview on the issues and a colleague of mine has brought a couple of articles in the Times of India to my attention – http://tinyurl.com/2ar2dty & http://tinyurl.com/27hhqd2

      I think the actions of Warren Anderson and the support he has received from corporate america may be of more concern – http://tinyurl.com/2bmkkz7 I would not want to return to a country where I could face manslaughter charges and possibly jail for ten years but to skip out of the country after the deaths of almost 4000 people and the ruination of the lives of thousands of others? Perhaps the US media should apply a similar level of outrage to Warren Anderson as they did to Roman Polanski.

      Th Sydney Union Carbide plant reminds me of an interesting point for Bhopal and BP. Bhopal is often described as the world\’s worst industrial accident yet it would also qualify as an environmental disaster. (I am reminded greatly of the Minimata incident earlier last century. Lawsuits continue over 50 years after the poisoning.) The BP/Deepwater incident is similarly both an industrial/safety and environmental incident and safety professionals should not dismiss the incident because the environmental damage is getting the media attention. Perhaps the industrial context of BP/Deepwater will become more readily apparent when the formal commission of inquiry gets started.

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