Prologue: Toxic Justice
Five minutes past midnight on December 3, 1984, a chain reaction exploded a tank of Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India. The next day, newspapers all over the world published the story about a tragic industrial chemical spill resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries, a disaster of incomprehensible proportion.
Twice as heavy as air, the poisonous cloud blanketed the ground, seeping into homes, schools, places of worship. Thousands of men, women, and children ran through the streets trying to escape the searing, suffocating chemicals. Some tried to rip their clothing off their burning skin. Many dropped dead in their homes, others lay dying in the roads and alleyways in pools of their own vomit .
The bodies appeared tortured before dying- "inflamed eyes about to burst. . . Fetid, foul breath from the mouths oozing blood streaked froth." Bodies were tortured even after death. "Under pressure from the gases produced by the chemical decomposition of MIC," writes Dominique LaPierre "the corpses were subject to strange twitches. Here an arm stretched itself out, there a leg."
Two doctors had to climb over hundreds of dead piled up at the entrance to the medical clinic. A medic bent over a child to give mouth -to-mouth resuscitation. The gas was so deadly that after inhaling the air from the child’s lungs the medic was the next to die. An entire family wiped out, the parents and their six children lay sprawled on the ground, their eyes bulging, "the youngest had died sucking their thumbs." A little girl, her carefully braided hair adorned with marigolds, lay among the dead, her eyes rolled back into her head, her mouth twisted, set into dreadful grimace. A fleeing driver, blinded by the chemicals, remains haunted by the sound of human bones crushing beneath his tires.*
More than half a million people died and sustained injuries, widespread livestock and food sources were destroyed, and land and waterways left polluted. In the wake of the leak of deadly toxins from Union Carbide plant, blame for the toxic tragedy, failures in emergency response, and the injustice to the victims in Bhopal, India, was placed on poverty, third world politics, greed, and corruption. It seemed incomprehensible that the same deadly chemical could be unleashed on innocent people in United States, and that the U. S. government would allow the same failures and injustice to further victimize the injured.
Toxic Justice: The True Story of a Teacher’s Quest for Justice is a work of nonfiction. The names of the children and adults have been changed where noted to protect privacy. Some people are composites and some events were compressed. Real events, people, and conversations were taken from my own recollection and those of others, journal entries, transcripts, news, and court documents.
* Dominique LaPierre and Javier Moro, Five Minutes Past Midnight in Bhopal (New York: Warner Books)
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