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Daily News Blog

02
Dec

Remembering the Bhopal Tragedy, the Victims, and Steps Needed for a Toxic-Free Future

(Beyond Pesticides, December 2, 2019) December 2 marks the 35th anniversary of the world’s worst industrial chemical accident. During the night of December 2, 1984, the Union Carbide pesticide manufacturing plant released the highly toxic gas methyl isocyanate (MIC) into the air of Bhopal, India. The reports were horrifying – an estimated 25,000 people died from direct effects of the exposure, and hundreds of thousands suffer from permanent disabilities or chronic problems. The health effects were not limited to those exposed that night. Generations of children suffer from birth defects as a result of the accident, including what one doctor described as ‘monstrous births.’ Many people are still exposed to the contaminated site and chemicals released from it.

>> Tell Congress to eliminate future Bhopal disasters by passing an Organic Green New Deal.

The Union Carbide plant in Bhopal manufactured carbamate insecticides carbaryl (Sevin®), aldicarb (Temik®), and a formulation of carbaryl and gamma-hexachlorocyclohexane (g-HCH) (Sevidol®). In August 1985, a Union Carbide plant in Institute, West Virginia that makes MIC released a toxic cloud that resulted in the hospitalization of at least 100 residents. Chemical accidents continue: in 2008, two workers were fatally injured when a waste tank containing the pesticide methomyl violently exploded, damaging a process unit at the Bayer CropScience chemical plant in Institute, West Virginia; in 2010, there was a release of highly toxic phosgene, resulting in the death of a worker at the DuPont facility in Belle, West Virginia; in 2014, a leak originating from a storage tank at Freedom Industries contaminated the local water supply leaving hundreds of thousands of West Virginia residents without clean drinking water. This is just a sample.

In the U.S., the Bhopal tragedy spurred the passage of the Emergency Planning and Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) of 1986, also known as Title III of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act. EPCRA created a system of emergency planning, chemical release reporting, reporting requirements for hazardous materials storage, and a toxic chemical release inventory. While EPCRA provides an essential infrastructure for a society that uses and depends on toxic chemicals, it cannot prevent another Bhopal. To do that, society need to move away from a dependence on toxic chemicals.

Organic agriculture eliminates the use of toxic chemicals in food production. A transition of the conventional chemical-intensive agricultural system to organic is the most important step towards preventing chemical accidents like the one in Bhopal, according to advocates. It will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect biodiversity, and increase resilience in the face of climate change.

A future that prevents harm

The Bhopal tragedy may have been the worst, but it is not the only such accident. These can only be prevented by turning away from the current reliance on toxic chemicals, and Beyond Pesticides is advocating an Organic Green New Deal to promote that transition. And, the following actions are needed to eliminate dependence on toxic chemicals, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect biodiversity, and increase resilience in the face of climate change.

  • Greater investment in research into organic production systems. One area that is particularly in need of research is organic no-till. Specifically, increase funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension (OREI) initiative to $50 million annually. We need to maintain, expand, and continually improve NRCS working lands programs, including the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program.
  • Greater investment into the development of seeds and breeds that are well-adapted to local conditions.
  • Expanding domestic organic production. Domestic demand for organic products exceeds domestic production. Organic producers face unique challenges and we need a comprehensive approach to increase production.
  • Support for farmers making the transition to organic production. Support for the Organic Transitions Program is extremely important. We need to keep organic farmers on the land to ensure that we maintain soil carbon sequestration capacity. Maintain USDA programs, such as the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program, to protect farmland from development.
  • Increased pasture-based livestock systems in agriculture research and marketing programs. Especially under intensive rotation and management, they can help increase carbon sequestration in the soil.
  • Help for on-farm and community renewable energy systems. Locally-based, farm- and community-scale renewable energy systems not only reduce carbon emissions, but create a more resilient energy infrastructure.
  • Removal of barriers to organic land management by local governments. It is essential to eliminate laws that preempt localities from regulating the use of pesticides.
  • Protecting the integrity of organic products, so that the market can work to incentivize organic production. This includes ensuring that USDA does not stand in the way of essential reforms supported by the organic community.

    >> Tell Congress to eliminate future Bhopal disasters by passing an Organic Green New Deal.
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  • Archives

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    • ALS (2)
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