Hesperian Health Guides

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The Bhopal Toxic Gas Disaster

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HealthWiki > A Community Guide to Environmental Health > Chapter 4: Environmental Rights and Justice > The Bhopal Toxic Gas Disaster


On the night of December 2, 1984, in the city of Bhopal, India, a terrible disaster happened. A pesticide factory in a crowded and poor neighborhood of Bhopal leaked many tons of poison gas into the air. The warning system in the factory was turned off and other safety systems were not working, so the community heard no alarms of any kind.


 A woman speaking.
One survivor, Aziza Sultan, remembers:
I woke in the night to the sound of my baby coughing badly. The room was filled with a white cloud. I heard people shouting ‘Run! Run!’ Then I started coughing with each breath as if I was breathing in fire.
 A woman speaking.
Another survivor, Champa Devi Shukla, remembers:
People just got up and ran in whatever they were wearing, even if they were wearing nothing at all. They were only concerned with saving their lives and the lives of their loved ones, so they just ran.
It felt like somebody had filled my body with red chilies, my eyes had tears coming out, my nose was watering, I had froth in my mouth.

The poison gas killed many people that night. After 3 days 8,000 people had died. But this was not the end of the disaster. In fact, it was only the beginning.

Over the next 20 years, more than 25,000 people died from the poison that remained in their bodies. Many more developed terrible illnesses, including pain and difficulty breathing, constant cough, fever, loss of feeling in their arms and legs, weakness, fear, depression, and cancer. Children and grandchildren of the survivors suffer from severe birth defects, including withered limbs, slow growth, and many different reproductive and nervous system problems. More than 150,000 people have been harmed by the poison gas released that night in Bhopal.


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