20 years
The Bhopal Memory Project

about | the 1984 disaster

In what was arguably the worst chemical disaster in history, a methyl isocyanate (MIC) storage tank at a neglected Union Carbide pesticide factory in the town of Bhopal, India began to leak at 12:40 am on December 3, 1984. MIC is the active ingredient in the pesticide Sevin, which was widely touted as a "safe" pesticide. At the time of the accident, the staff in the MIC division had been reduced by half, and none of the plant's six safety systems were functioning. Some were awaiting repair, while others had been turned off in anticipation of the factory's sale.


The estimates of people who died on the spot, or running away from the cloud of gas that night range from 2,000 to 10,000—of those exposed and surviving—200,000–500,000. The legacy of the accident has been a horrifying catalogue of birth defects, secondary symptoms and neglect. Union Carbide, now a fully owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical company, has implied, and at times stated, that the accident was a result of sabotage by an employee. However no party has ever been charged or publicly identified.

UC immediately took "moral responsibility" for the accident. However since this perplexing position does not admit legal liability, and a corporation has no properly "moral" conscience (despite it's legal status as a "person" ) it is therefore largely a meaningless fig leaf. Dow's position as articulated by the then CEO, Michael Parker in a 2002 letter to employees, is that "what we cannot and will not do – no matter where Greenpeace takes their protests and how much they seek to undermine Dow’s reputation with the general public – is accept responsibility for the Bhopal accident."

The accident in Bhopal is widely acknowledged to have been the worst industrial disaster of our time, although it is only another in the series of industrial disasters attached to the Union Carbide Corporation name.  For more information see our resources page.

An educational initiative of the Human Rights Project at Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY

The Bhopal Memory Project Bard Human Rights Project