What is the biggest accident of all time

Mild verdicts for the greatest industrial disaster

The seven men who, according to the court, are jointly responsible for the greatest chemical disaster of all time, face a maximum of two years in prison or a fine. A quarter of a century after the poison gas accident, an Indian criminal court in Bhopal has found the accused guilty of negligent homicide. However, the judgments can still be challenged in higher courts. "A maximum sentence of two years - that's probably the greatest joke in history!" Commented a victim spokesman in Bhopal on the verdict.

Up to 30,000 dead

The poison gas cloud mainly hit slum dwellers

On December 3, 1984, about 40 tons of highly toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) leaked from the former pesticide factory of the US company Union Carbide in Bhopal. Most estimates assume that 8,000 people died in the first 72 hours after the accident. To date, more than 15,000 more have died of the long-term effects. Human rights organizations speak of up to 30,000 deaths in total. At least 100,000 people became chronically ill. To this day, an alarming number of children with disabilities are born in Bhopal. The cancer rate in the population is significantly higher than in other regions.

Pressed before responsibility

Sees all commitments fulfilled: Ex-head of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson

For years, the Indian government had tried to extradite the then head of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson, from the USA. Without success. Union Carbide, which was later taken over by the US company Dow Chemical, made compensation payments of $ 470 million immediately after the accident. In return, all criminal prosecutions against possible responsible parties were dropped. The Indian authorities are responsible for the further consequences, said a company spokesman last December on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the disaster.

Empty promises

Also on the anniversary, the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had promised the victims further help. The people deserved "ongoing support and sympathy," said Singh in his speech, which was received with great skepticism by the victims' associations. After all, Singh announced an independent commission a year and a half ago to deal with issues such as victim pensions and medical care. So far, those affected have been waiting in vain for this promise to be honored.

Devastating long-term consequences

Nobody feels responsible for the highly toxic residues on the company premises

According to environmental activists, tons of toxic chemicals are still stored on the old Union Carbide factory site, poisoning the soil and water within a radius of up to five kilometers. Thousands more tons contaminate the so-called "evaporation ponds" into which Union Carbide had thrown its chemical waste for years before the accident.

The government of the state of Madhya Pradesh has been responsible for the redevelopment since 1998. But to this day, according to the Bhopal associations, she has only fulfilled her task half-heartedly. While the authorities declare that the industrial wasteland is safe, recent studies show concentrations of toxins in the groundwater that are many times higher.

Author: Nicola Reyk (dpa, rtr, afp)
Editor: Esther Broders