Warnings of Impending Disaster Went Unheeded for Years
After a nine-month investigation, Keswani published the first of a series of newspaper articles that ran from 1982 to 1984. In them, he detailed dismal safety standards at the plant, and raised the alarm about a potential disaster. They had blunt headlines, such “Save Please, Save this City“; “Bhopal Sitting on the Brink of a Volcano“; and “If You Don’t Understand, You All Shall be Wiped Out. Like a modern Cassandra, however, Keswani’s warnings were ignored. Then, on the night of December 2nd, 1984, the disaster he had spent years warning about struck. Around 11PM, December 2nd, 1984, workers at the Bhopal plant noticed that pressure inside one of the MIC tanks had increased from the normal 2 psi to 10 psi. Half an hour later, the effects of leaking gas were detected.
At 11:45, a leaking pipe was spotted. In the meantime, the pressure in the MIC steadily rose. By 12:40AM, it reached 55 psi, and began venting the toxic gas into the atmosphere. Within two hours, over 40 tons of MIC were released and blown into Bhopal. The methyl isocyanate stayed low to the ground, burned the eyes of victims, made them nauseous, and killed many. Union Carbide’s cost-cutting resulted in about 600,000 people harmed by MIC. 8000 perished within two weeks, and another 8000 died later. About 40,000 suffered serious injuries, and 4000 were permanently disabled. In 1989, Union Carbide paid the equivalent of U$900 million in 2023 dollars to settle litigation. It was about U$1500 per victim, or $15,000 for each of those seriously injured, permanently disabled, or killed.