On the night of December 2nd, 1984, a leak at the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, released 27 tons of the toxic gas methyl isocyanate. None of the 6 safety systems designed to contain such a leak were operational, allowing the gas to spread throughout the city. Half a million people were exposed and 25,000 have since died as a result of their exposure. More than 120,000 people still suffer from ailments caused by the accident and the subsequent pollution at the plant site.
In January 2014 I travelled to Bhopal for a 5-day visit to shoot a music video & arrange a concert commemorating the 30th anniversary of the disaster. I fell in love with the city and her people.
I volunteered with the Bhopal Medical Appeal as a photographer, spending time at the Sambhavna Clinic, which provides free healthcare to survivors, and the Chingari Rehabilitation Centre, which cares for children suffering congenital defects caused by groundwater pollution from the abandoned plant. I visited the homes of people who lost their children to the disaster, interviewed survivor and activist Sanjay Verma, orphaned by the disaster, obtained permission to go to the abandoned Union Carbide plant, rusting behind a crumbling wall, and explored the community living outside of the plant wall, mobbed by children eager for a photograph.
I returned to Bhopal in December 2014 with my band Autorickshaw, presenting two concerts, the first on December 3rd, the 30th anniversary of the disaster.
Bhopal is complex place, troubled & beautiful. I hope to present a balanced picture of the city and her people.
The Union Carbide factory was built in 1969 to produce the pesticide Sevin (UCC’s brand name for carbaryl) using methyl isocyanate (MIC) as an intermediate. MIC is a highly unstable, extremely toxic chemical normally produced in small quantities and used immediately. It reacts violently with water, and is ideally stored at a temperature of 4degrees C.
In the early 1980s, other pesticides had emerged that were more affordable and effective, and the the demand for Sevin had fallen, but production continued, leading to a large build-up of stores of unused MIC. The plant had 42 tons of the chemical in tank E610.
In November 1984, most of the safety systems were not functioning and many valves and lines were in poor condition. In addition, several vent gas scrubbers had been out of service as well as the steam boiler, intended to clean the pipes. Another issue was that Tank 610 contained 42 tons of MIC, more than safety rules allowed for. During the night of 2–3 December 1984, water entered a side pipe that was missing its slip-blind plate and entered Tank E610. A runaway reaction started, which was accelerated by contaminants, high temperatures and other factors. The reaction was sped up by the presence of iron from corroding non-stainless steel pipelines. The resulting exothermic reaction increased the temperature inside the tank to over 200 °C (392 °F) and raised the pressure. This forced the emergency venting of pressure from the MIC holding tank, releasing a large volume of toxic gases. About 30 metric tons of MIC escaped from the tank into the atmosphere in 45 to 60 minutes.
The initial effects of exposure were coughing, severe eye irritation and a feeling of suffocation, burning in the respiratory tract, blepharospasm, breathlessness, stomach pains and vomiting. People awakened by these symptoms fled away from the plant. Those who ran inhaled more than those who had a vehicle to ride. Owing to their height, children and other people of shorter stature inhaled higher concentrations.
Thousands of people had died by the following morning.
Primary causes of deaths were choking, reflexogenic circulatory collapse and pulmonary oedema. Findings during autopsies revealed changes not only in the lungs but also cerebral oedema, tubular necrosis of the kidneys, fatty degeneration of the liver and necrotising enteritis. The stillbirth rate increased by up to 300% and neonatal mortality rate by around 200%.
The abandoned Union Carbide plant
The testimony of Mohammed Karim
“I used to drive a truck to dispose of dirt and waste. My truck was also a special truck - I used to pick up unclaimed dead bodies from the mortuary, I was used to doing it. That night (3rd December 1984) I put in thousands of bodies that we dumped - in one grave we would put 5-6 bodies, and we burnt piles and piles with logs.
“They (the govt.) said ‘leave your wives and children in your houses and go on duty’. We used to be on duty till 12:00 at night and after that the military trucks used to come and dump the bodies in the Narmada river. This went on for three to four days. Even on the 16th (of December 1984) we had to come back again. They gave us R500 for this but then they took it back from our wages.
“We would fit 120 bodies in one truck and this we would fill and empty five times a day. There were eight trucks on duty (so that is 4,800 bodies a day). It carried on for exactly the same intensity for three to four days, and after 12:00 am the military took over.
The Taj-ul-Masajid “Crown of Mosques” is the largest mosque in India, and one of the largest in Asia. Construction was started in the 1800s by Nawab Shahjehan Begum of Bhopal, during a unique period in Indian history when Bhopal was ruled by women.
Between 1819and 1926, Bhopal was ruled by four women, the Nawab Begums of Bhopal. Qudsia (1819-37) the first female ruler, was succeeded by her only daughter Sikander (1844-68), who in turn was succeeded by her only daughter, Shahjehan (1868-1901). Sultan Jehan (1901-26) was the last woman ruler, who after 25 years of rule, abdicated in favour of her son, Hamidullah Khan.
The rule of the Nawab Begums gave the city its waterworks, railways, a postal system and several architectural landmarks.
Ed Hanley is a multi-dimensional artist – creator, performer, producer, cinematographer, recording engineer, video editor, photographer, blogger, and tabla player.
Described as “a remarkable player, both in his musical thoughtfulness and his technical virtuosity” (Halifax Chronicle Herald), Ed’s multimedia work embraces the worlds of music, video and photography. Although best known as a practitioner of tabla (the classical percussion of North India), Ed’s recent work in the visual world (including over 100 music videos) expresses the same joy, dynamism, love of collaboration, and attention to detail as his years of work as a touring and recording musician.
As a tabla player, Ed has learned from some of the world’s leading artists, during 9 trips to India (Kolkata, Chennai, Pune) as well as in San Francisco and Toronto. He is honoured to have received training from master teachers Swapan Chaudhuri, Trichy Sankaran and Suresh Talwalkar.
From the Stockholm Jazz Festival and the Jaipur Heritage Festival, to Massey Hall in Toronto and Joe’s Pub in NYC, Ed Hanley has been a featured performer at prominent music festivals and concert halls in Europe, India, the USA, and across Canada. As co-artistic director of the Canadian world music ensemble Autorickshaw, Ed has earned two Juno Award nominations, as well as the Grand Prize in the World Music category of the John Lennon Songwriting Competition. His work has also been recognized and supported by the Canada Council, Ontario Arts Council, Toronto Arts Council, FACTOR, DFAIT, and the Shastri Indo-Canadian Institute.
Ed has been featured hundreds of times on stage and in the studio with a diverse range of artists – from Loreena McKennitt and the Penderecki String Quartet to Peggy Baker and Trichy Sankaran. His work can be heard on soundtracks for Deepa Mehta (Funny Boy for CBC Radio) and Jonathan Goldsmith (the feature film, Such a Long Journey), as well as in the Art Gallery of Ontario’s exhibition, Maharaja: The Splendour of India’s Royal Courts.
Recent & current projects include curating and co-ordinating the Cycles project (a 31-day collaborative multimedia piece incorporating music, videography, photography, web and installation); performing Dinuk Wijeratne’s Tabla Concerto with professional orchestras in Ontario, BC and Nova Scotia; editing a book of original photographs which document the lives of the people of Bhopal, India; and releasing his second video-enriched solo album, Ten Talas to a Disco Beat.