Sustained Outrage

December 1984: Remembering Bhopal

Elderly victims of the Bhopal gas tragedy participate in a protest demanding better compensation to victims and the arrest of Warren Anderson, the former CEO of Union Carbide, among other demands, on the eve of 26th anniversary of tragedy in Bhopal, India, Thursday, Dec.2, 2010. On the morning of Dec. 3, 1984, a pesticide plant run by a Union Carbide subsidiary leaked about 40 tons of deadly methyl isocyanate gas into the air, quickly killing about 4,000 people. Lingering effects of the poison raised the death toll to about 15,000 over the next few years, according to government estimates.(AP Photo/Prakash Hatvalne)

While we hope for some good news about the two DuPont Co. workers hospitalized after a leak last night at the Belle, W.Va., plant, it’s worth remembering that today is the 26th anniversary of the world’s worst chemical disaster.

A leak of methyl isocyanate gas — it started either shortly before or shortly after midnight on Dec. 2, 1984 — killed thousands of people who worked at or lived near the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India.

Longtime Kanawha Valley residents, of course, know that the former Carbide — now Bayer CropScience — plant in Institute, W.Va., is the sister facility to that Bhopal plant.  And the Institute plant has long maintained a huge and controversial inventory of MIC on hand, despite repeated protests from area residents.

After the fatal explosion and fire in August 2008 — and following federal investigations that warned a Bhopal-like disaster was possible — Bayer promised in August 2009 to complete a one-year, $25 million project that would reduce its MIC inventory by about 80 percent.

Tom Dover, a Bayer spokesman, told me today that the inventory reduction project is underway, is on schedule, and that the company looks forward to resuming production activities in January.

Also, I’ve learned that the U.S. Chemical Safety Board plans to release its final report on the August 2008 fire and explosion sometime the week of Jan. 17, during a public meeting here in the Kanawha Valley.

Stay tuned …