Silent killer is still claiming victims every day

On the 30th anniversary of the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, Louise Roseingrave talks to the makers of a new film about that fateful day

ON THIS day 30 years ago, the central Indian city of Bhopal woke up to a living nightmare.

In one of the world’s worst industrial accidents, a gas leak from a chemical plant in the city littered the streets with dead bodies.

Overnight, a US-owned pesticide plant had released a deadly cloud of toxins, which drifted among the densely populated villages of its environs.

On the night of December 2, 1984, the Union Carbide Coporation factory’s six safety systems failed and 27 tonnes of methyl isocyanate spread silently across the city.

Half a million people were exposed to the gas, 10,000 of whom were dead within a week.

Since then, the death toll has risen to 25,000, because people have died from complications linked to their exposure.

The disaster was almost forgotten by the world amid a legal quagmire about responsibility for the deadly leak and subsequent contamination of the environment.

Only in the past two weeks, the victims of the tragedy appealed a case brought by them against Union Carbide, after a US judge declined earlier this year to allow their case to proceed.

In India later this week, cinema audiences will be reawakened to the horror of the Bhopal disaster. Bhopal, A Prayer for Rain, which stars Martin Sheen and Mischa Barton, will raise awareness of the disaster, and possibly increase pressure to bolster safety standards at chemical industrial plants around the world. A Prayer for Rain was screened to an Irish audience at the Dingle Film Festival earlier this year. The film’s producer, Michael Ryan, joined the festival’s board of directors in 2013.

Ryan says one of the biggest scandals of the disaster was that affected families received a mere €300 per body in compensation.

“We talked a lot to people who remember that night. One of the biggest problems was the numbers affected. The only official count was of a count of the number of coffins that were manufactured, which was just fascinating and horrible.

“But the effect on the environment remains. The toxins don’t leave the ground or the water, the crops and, obviously, the people. They are estimating that since the tragedy one person dies every day. People are suffering from respiratory complications and eyesight problems. Those two things are still very much prevalent today,” Ryan said.

The film’s director, Ravi Kumar, who grew up 300km from Bhopal, says he hopes the film will bring justice for victims, their families and survivors.

“My personal interest is to get victims the justice they deserve, to get (plant owners) Union Carbide to apologise and to prevent another disaster like Bhopal,” he said.

Scenes were filmed inside the disused factory, which continues to leak chemicals to this day, says Mr Kumar.“It’s contemporary, because we are only three years on from Fukushima. Yet, younger people are unaware of what can happen if we do not confront the possibilities.

“If you forget history, you are condemned to repeat it.

”Confusion and misinformation reigned in the days after the events. Two days after the accident, a New York Times newspaper report placed the death toll at 410, with some 12,000 injured.

Official records placed the death toll at 3,800 in the first few days. The film’s director says that survivors are still suffering.

“It’s been an emotional journey, because people are still suffering the effects. The disaster is still claiming one life every day and thousands are suffering.”


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