The long-term estimated death toll from the 1984 Bhopal disaster in India is about 15,000 people.
To put that in context, consider that the estimated immediate death toll from the Soviet Union’s 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster is 4,000. The death toll from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear radiation leak in 2011 is zero. And the death toll from the USA’s 1979 Three Mile Island nuclear accident is also zero.
In the high-tech society we strive to be, it is essential that we learn the causes of disasters so that we can correct our mistakes. Technology lessens many of life’s risks, but handled badly it can add other serious risks.
So Bhopal is rightly a major case to learn from. A hazardous chemical, methyl isocyanate (MIC), used in the making of agricultural pesticides, was spilled and tragically many people died or were maimed.
Unfortunately, most reflections on Bhopal demonstrate a partial understanding or – worse – an ideologically-driven blindness to key parts of the causal story. Many sloppy journalistic accounts run like this: In the name of profit, a large American multinational corporation neglected safety; as a result, many people, especially poorer brown people, were killed and damaged, and the corporate executives involved have never been criminally prosecuted. Such accounts typically end with a call for further reparations and legal action in the name of justice.
Justice is still absolutely needed in the Bhopal case – but what is needed first is professional investigative reporting.