on June 13, 2000
This book describes episodes, like the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, thathave been happening in the rest of the World. In brief, the BhopalGas Tragedy involved the release of deadly Methyl Isocyanate Gas from a pesticide plant in Bhopal, a city in Central India. The gas release killed more than 2000 people and permanently injured 200,000 more. David Weir critically reevaluates the aftermath of the calamity and the antecedent factors that were directly responsible for the accident. In subsequent chapters, the author expands the definition of the catastrophe to include several factors that run together in the creation of these disasters. Thus by his definition, "The Bhopal Syndrome" includes humanity's dependence on pesticides, herbicides and synthetic chemicals, the economic interdependence of developing nations on Multi-national Corporations, and the lack of adequate safety precautions in the running of these plants and factories.
The book is both enlightening and illuminating. To cite a few examples, despite frequent assertions to the contrary there was an intimate relationship between Union Carbide Corporate Headquarters in Danbury, Connecticut and the plant in Bhopal. As described by Weir, the Union Carbide plant was dubbed a "High Technology" initiative enabling the Multi-National Company to hold nearly 51% equity in the Indian subsidiary. Moreover, as has been well established by this author, the Corporate Headquarters failed in adequate design of the factory. In addition there were several lapses in the day to day running of the factory. Several critical issues lead to inadequacies in personnel and supervisors running the shift, lack of attention to safety precautions and inadequate education and training on what to do in the event of an emergency. As described in the book, several of the safety devices were inactivated to help cut costs, deactivated for maintenance purposes, or just ignored as they were failure prone and had only lead to false alarms in the past.
The chain of events are not unique to the Bhopal, as they occur in some form or other at similar episodes all over the world. In Love Canal and Three Mile Island accidents in USA, as well as in Cicadas, Indonesia or Belford Roxo near Rio de Janeiro, etc., we have had "Slow Motion Bhopal" that continue to haunt us. The author also highlights the danger to life in America, where we tend to believe that it cannot happen to us. Just two weeks before Bhopal, at the FMC Corporation plant in Middleport, New York, raw material for the production of "Furadan" spilled during transfer, leading evacuation of a school. There have been multiple episodes before and after Bhopal. Ironically, even after the disaster at Bhopal, a toxic release took place at Union Carbide's plant at Institute, West Virginia. In spite of a $5 million modernization project involving an early warning computerized system, release of aldicarb oxime and methylene chloride could not be prevented. Similar episodes have happened in Jacksonville, Arkansas, and Anaheim, Fullerton & Placentia all in California.
The third part of the book deals with proposals for a solution. The author makes a passionate appeal for passing of the "Right-To-Know" and "Freedom of Information" laws. In addition, the author recommends intensive testing before the release of "Biorevolution" products before their release for general consumption. This portion of the book is the weakest section of the book, as the author does not offer a clear cut plan of action. The book ends with a very heart wrenching description of a walk through the streets of Bhopal, 2 years after the accident. Children in that unfortunate city still reenact the death throes of the victims, as they indulge in role playing games. While the injured wait for relief, their spirits and bodies broken. Those who survived the gas exposure a large proportion are blinded, their lungs are non compliant, and have a plethora of health related complaints that preclude their obtaining gainful employment. They remain waiting, hoping against hope that someday justice will arrive.
This book makes for some very compulsive reading, and is well crafted. It is a must read book for activists, legislators, scientists as well as all those who care for the world around them. END