MEDICOLEGAL ASPECTS OF BHOPAL AEROSOL DISASTER
The night of 2/3rd December, 1984 was the coldest day for the Bhopalites. They were kept unawares of the damage that the Union Carbide Chemical (UCC) Industry situated within the corporation limits could cause when triggered in the mysterious circumstances for which there is no satisfactory explanation.
The faith of the people is shaken up, by the casual grant of licenses by the government to an industry which does not spell out the consequences of an accidental sabotage or a willful triggering of a disaster, which is nothing less than a mini Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Above all, the education of the people, the mode of precaution and the treatment, line of evacuation and mock simulated exercises were not done. All this was thought not necessary by the scientists of the chemical industry or were they ignorant of the magnitude of disaster that could be triggered of? Such a callous willful neglect of norms, if goes unpunished is a shame to the law enforcing agencies. Monetary compensation to the extent of insurance provision, that too after 7 years is another situation that requires serious thought. It appears that victims, mostly wage earners, should be allowed to live in a state of bad health enhanced by their disability to earn normal wages. As if the victims were responsible for the establishment of the chemical plant and are getting compensation to provide guinea pig like data after the disaster. The example of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is before us where huge medical aid and rehabilitation were provided by the offending country to monitor the damages that have been caused and how to treat them in case their own country is invaded with such a weapon. The irony of fate is that this was all done in the name of humanity.
The only difference in mode of operation that appears to us is that the Hiroshima/Nagasaki was deliberate act in WAR to break the will of the enemy, but Bhopal disaster was in peace which could go up as a cover in the name of accident or sabotage. But was it known to the manufacturer, that this could be the magnitude?
Another difference in two episodes is in the primary act, the former was deliberate act to which the responsibility was owned, while in the later the criminality is disowned. The subsequent approach, reaction, attitude and offers were similar. The interest and determination show in collecting all kinds of data, on the Bhopal Disaster by many countries, that is known to me alone, made me alert and gave me a feeling that this again will be used against humanity. One country's scientific representative expressed to me that they were victims of chemical war and we would like to collect as much data as possible in all the fields including human studies for a prolonged period. Bhopal is aware that many agencies were born for such a work.
1. THE FALSE PROPAGANDA BY THE CHEMICAL INDUSTRY AFTER THE DISASTER is a point of consideration, we were told by the trained Indian Medical expert through the Collector that the gas leaked out was MIC and the treatment is washing the face with lot of water. Nothing would happen as it was not that dangerous. It would hydrolyze as soon as it came in contact with water.
2. The press conference by the UCC experts in chemical industry on 14th December, 1984 reinforced the view in para above and endorsed it. They rightly expressed that MIC is not cyanide. This view might have been expressed by the UCC from their study of 10 years in the various plants when 86 persons were exposed to MIC in pipelines and some of them many times and recovered without any damage.
3. Going through the paras above the question arises why so many persons died or became morbid by the Aerosol emitted by the plant.
4. The world was made to believe that it was MIC alone that leaked and a lot of studies all over the world particularly USA universities were poured in the scientific world, a deliberate act. The para 2 and 3 above negativates this presumption.
5. The chemical industry provided many studies for my information done by the sponsored universities in USA in the form of bound literature, marked not for circulation, for comments, not to be quoted. After about 2/3 weeks, these were withdrawn. These consisted of opinions which attempted to dislodge us from the studies which are being carried out on our own observations. A simple principle in the Medico legal field is "Go to the spot from where the cause of injury/weapon came from". The result of the injury could wait Medico-legal interpretation but not the treatment. More so when the weapon causing the injury is a chemical of unknown toxicity.
6. To put the nail in the coffin we received a copy of the Telex message from the "Disease Control Center Atlanta" that "No Antidote known to MIC" was it MIC alone?.
7. It was stressed by the chemical industry in the first week of disaster and not later when they agreed in an open meeting where Medical expert of chemical industry was brought in, that HCN might have been liberated. But the expert could not say which chemical nor was he aware that MIC could liberate HCN also on heating. Was it a deliberate act of ignorance? The telex quoted in para 6 also suggested that if HCN was suspected, to give the treatment indicated and nearly a full page was on treatment of HCN exposure.
8. Our studies were planned from the beginning on the simple foundation
1) what were the contents of the killer tank 610 ?
2) what temperature and pressure it had under gone ?
3) what came out and what people inhaled and swallowed was unknown. We knew from the literature that MIC does not kill or make people morbid as we observed. Later this observation was further supported by "Journal of Environmental Perspective" 1987, Vol.72. The Editor summarizes the study done by nearly 29 scientist on MIC, I quote "Before one can directly apply these results to exposed population in Bhopal, it should be kept in mind that while MIC was probably the primary chemical released during the accident, and as yet undetermined amount of reaction products was also released, perhaps including Hydrogen Cyanide. No attempt has been made to recreate the accident experimentally to examine effects in animals. The technical difficulties involved and lack of knowledge concerning the composition of the released materials preclude such an approach".
9. In such a situation many were laid away. There were many attempts made to stall the studies that we were doing, we are still determined to locate the source, under the ICMR Project - 08. "The clinical and toxicological aspects of Bhopal Gas Disaster". We made many break throughs to prove that what was claimed by the chemical industry was wrong. The work has been presented from time to time to the eminent scientist of the country through the ICMR protocol.
10. It was because of the mysterious combination of the emitted material of the killer tank 610 which went into reconjugation, reformulation at various stages due to heating before inhalation/swallowing exposure by the victims,that is No know how available about the treatment, it was a difficult situation for the medical profession.
11. By the time we analysed the damage and its causes, the material causing the damage disappeared and the altered metabolism again went into unknown field.
12. Today, we understand that the Bhopal victims swallowed unknown compounds, the toxicity of which are not yet known. We had isolated and found many compounds. But by the time we assess their toxicity through animal experimentation, plan their possible treatment, more of the Bhopal victims would have been "Consumed".
13. Today through published literature we can say, that what the people of Bhopal swallowed was an "AEROSOL" consisting of various chemical i.e. gases, vapors and particulate matter. I rightly propose today that the disaster should not by labeled as 'BHOPAL GAS' but 'BHOPAL AEROSOL'.
14. There is and was great pressure to sabotage these studies. For example, why are we studying the tank contents? The simple answer is, it contains the ashes of the weapon/chemical that was emitted. These are also found in the body tissues of the victims. A proof that they swallowed/inhaled some these compounds which are identical in their structure. Where does these suggestion/pressure come from and why the government does not rise to the occasion and assists the scientists to carry on the work.
15. There is a propaganda I heard from few ignorant colleagues who remarked, what does the chemical industries not know of the episode? Why are we spending the energy and money? This propaganda is well swallowed by the administration. To be national and work for the people is our duty. Every one works in his own way but 'BHOPAL AEROSOL DISASTER' victims require a very different devotion and approach unhindered.
16. Even in the official meeting all the data was collected before the team went abroad to fight the case. The result is before us how it was fought. The issue was simple, is there culpability or neglect, because the damage done is a known fact. The civil and criminal facts should have been reported and not twined and sandwiched with compromise. The world judiciary is aware of this principle of natural justice that no criminal act, if filed should go without trial and logical conclusion. If one is accused of a culpable homicide, the money, the amount spent could alter the result but not the process of law and natural justice.
The studies are so complex, in a unknown field that these can not be pursued and brought to logical conclusion by the government order. The Director General, ICMR wrote in a strong language that these studies under the project can be pursued and brought to logical conclusion by the team alone under my leadership.
Today, as I stand before you, I find it impossible to pursue the studies and I have communicated this to the Director General, ICMR. This is a classical opinion on the mysterious formulation of the emitted gas. The amount of temperature and pressure during the exothermic reaction, the tank had reached is also a point of debate. The Union Carbide in its own press release on March, 1985 indicated that the temperature rose to more than 200 degrees C.
The Defense Research & Development Establishment (DRDE), Gwalior in their booklet very clearly indicated that HCN will be generated at 200 degrees C and after. It also must not be forgotten that pure MIC kept in a metal container at an ambient temperature will be degraded MIC and both will be different in their composition when goes into exothermic reaction. Keeping in view we analysed the samples of the residue of the tank 610 and submitted a report to CBI (Confidential) that the residue can become highly reactive and will liberate even now HCN at around 300degrees C and above. This was checked up by the other scientist in Defense Laboratory and precaution have been taken against such an accident. The residue in the tank even now is approximately 20 tones. This department worked with alertness and commonsense because we have seen deaths from a very close range.
No other known poisonous gas in the world in an open atmosphere in the circumstances it had escaped and could produce such mortality and morbidity as this mysterious gas. It has been accepted by Bucher that one of the gases could be HCN.
The report of Indian Environment Department relevant para indicates even on the 5th and 6th December, 1984 the presence of HCN in the vicinity of the Carbide plant.
We quote here one of the most famous and authentic work of Blacke and Maghsoodi who indicated that MIC and HCN will bind themselves in the cold. This mixture of at least two gases will be expected to come down in the physical bond as an adduct in this aerosol because MIC is twice heavier that air while HCN is slightly lighter than air (V.D.O. 947 at 31degrees C).
From the literature we learnt that HCN was given up as a war gas because of its being lighter than the air. Whatever may have been the cause of Bhopal Gas Tragedy but we are afraid that the knowledge acquired from its effect on human health and life may generally be utilized to develop this as a potential weapon.
To summarize this was a mysterious combination of gases which reformulated, reconjugated and formed an aerosol during the process over their critical temperature. This has been very well summarized by Bucher on the basis of 29 articles published in the entire Vol.72,1987 of the Environmental Health Perspectives.
We are told by the scientist writing the Interim report to quote books which are written on past experiences or past knowledge and past observations but in this fast growing scientific world what would be recorded in future is still uncertain.
The amount of activity by the foreign scientist to know more and more about it from the various agencies at any cost, without providing through their enormous experiments conducted thereafter not a single work on the line of treatment, is itself an eye opener and it is here I give a note of warning, as a scientist with a common sense, about too much deliberation and collection of information in the name of treatment. It is customary, obligatory and ethical in law that when a chemical is permitted to be made, its toxicity, either in case of accident or by a deliberate act, the immediate and remote treatment with signs and symptoms are prescribed and printed.
The telex message from "Center for Disease Control" Atlanta CA date 11th December, 1984, clearly states that "NO ANTIDOTE KNOWN' to Methyl Isocyanate Exposure. But still it was manufactured and stored in large quantity, for a long period, at the ambient temperature against all norms
The same telex Annexure XIII indicates and advocate the treatment for the cyanide exposure, the subject being the "GAS TRAGEDY OF 2/3 DECEMBER, 84".
No such knowledge that a chemical is manufactured which causes such disaster was know to us nor probably anybody in the world but probably only to Union Carbide establishment . Hundreds of experiments have been done by the Scientists sponsored by the Union Carbide and our Scientist in India but they are only playing with pure MIC.
Many tissues from the living persons have found their way to United States through many agencies. On record, Indian Council of Medical Research has sent through Grant Medical College more than 140 samples officially, only to get back a small note that no antibodies formed. But what other use, it has been put to is not known. There was a tremendous activity as pointed above to collect information but none came back in the form of advise in the interest of humanity. Through this document, my fellow scientist , I bring before you to the best of my ability, through scientific knowledge, overrided by the scientific common sense, the events as facts, which speak for themselves, the facts are supported by documents. I am a witness, from a very close quarters, of one of the biggest "MAN MADE TRAGEDY" in the third world, which has taken us, unawares, unguarded and unprotected.
Jon Hawkinson University of California, Davis, reported interestingly, that MIC was tested as a possible chemical warfare agent by the Defense Department in 1944 (chemical and Engineering News, 17 December 1984).