the world languishes and withers;the heavens languish together with the earth.
The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws,violated the statutes,broken the everlasting covenant.
– Isaiah 24:4-5
Today marks the 30th anniversary of the worst industrial disaster in history, a disaster that many have forgotten in the years since.
On December 3, 1984 residents of Bhopal, India awoke to a cloud of toxic methyl isocynate gas that had been accidentally released from a nearby pesticide manufacturing plant operated by the Union Carbide Corporation.
Poor maintenance practices at the barely operational plant led to the release, which ultimately killed more than 15,000 people in the largely low income communities surrounding the plant, and led to severe long-term health consequences for many of the more than half a million people exposed to toxic gas. Although Union Carbide ultimately paid nearly $500 million in settlement to the Indian government, this has not been adequate to address the continuing health problems of those who lived through the disaster. In addition, the chemical plant, though closed, has never been fully cleaned up and continues to pose a threat to nearby residents.
India is one of the most rapidly industrializing nations on earth, and although the Bhopal disaster led to some reforms of how chemical plants are permitted to operate in that country (and around the world), its policies tend to reflect a greater concern for economic growth than for environmental and public health protections. More remains to be done, both in India and globally, to ensure that companies that manufacture toxic substances operate safely and to ensure that low income communities do not bear the majority of the risks associated with those manufacturing operations.
Today, as we remember the dead and the survivors of the Bhopal disaster in our prayers, we also pray for the leaders and advocates around the world who are working hard to ensure that chemical companies operating in our midst are safe and accountable.