Online Program

Re-Examining Bhopal: Health and human rights lessons from the world's worst industrial disaster

Wednesday, November 6, 2013 : 8:50 a.m. - 9:10 a.m.

Thomas Gassert, MD, MSc, Environmental & Occupational Medicine and Epidemiology Program, Harvard School of Public Health, Acton, MA
The 1984 methyl isocyanate gas leak from the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India was the worlds' worst industrial disaster. Over 558,000 people were exposed to the toxic gas. Reports suggest that up to 20,000 have died prematurely as a direct result (more than 3,000 acutely), and that victims have been poorly compensated. This report systematically reviews the 30-year history and outcomes of this tragic event in the context of the applicability of both pre-existing and current standards of environmental health and human rights with the purpose of defining essential lessons for prevention of similar industrial disasters and for ensuring such rights for future disaster victims. The review shows that health rights standards legislatively adopted at the time of the incident were not adequately exercised and were largely ineffective for a number of reasons. Succeeding rights and protective standards, while adopted, also provided little help with regard to longer-term health outcomes. Specific obstacles to accident prevention and post-event tertiary (morbidity and mortality) prevention are listed, and most notably include the roles of government, industry, and medical and legal services for victims. Based upon lessons learned from Bhopal, recommendations are offered in the context of current international human rights and health standards for future disaster prevention and response to assure health protection and post-event care and compensation. These specifically address preparedness of medical and legal services, the provision of timely evidence-based health care and epidemiology, diligent incident investigation, and rigorous advocacy for health and human rights in the judicial system.

Learning Areas:

Occupational health and safety
Provision of health care to the public
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines
Public health or related organizational policy, standards, or other guidelines
Public health or related public policy

Learning Objectives:
Define at least four imperative components of industrial disaster preparedness and response that are essential to achieve the goal of meeting current international standards for health and human rights of industrial disaster victims.

Keyword(s): Human Rights, Disasters

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: Assistant Professor of Medicine University of Massachusetts Medical School Board certified in Preventive Occupational Medicine and Internal Medicine, and an industrial hygienist prior to his medical training. Work experience includes management of worker compensation injuries and illnesses, medical surveillance programs, disability case management, work-site investigations, medical-legal case investigations. Published on toxicological aspects of the gassing incident at Bhopal, Master’s degree in occupational (industrial) hygiene from the University of London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.