Friday, December 03, 2004

Bhopal in Slow Motion

Today is the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal catastrophe. Confined Space has a superb account, both moving and enraging. As they say in blogo creole, A Must Read. There is also an important statement by the venerable Collegium Ramazzini here. There is little to add about Bhopal itself to the Confined Space piece. Instead I want to make some observations about the "Bhopal in slow motion" we suffer in this country every day.

Consider this:

About 550,00 people die of cancer each year. That's about 1500 people a day. Current estimates of the proportion of all cancer traceable to workplace exposures range widely, from 4% to 33% or more (sources at end) . Let's take the low-ball estimate of 5%, just so we won't be arguing about whose numbers are right. If the same proportion is true for the cancer deaths (i.e., assuming that the occupational cancers are no more deadly than the non-occupational ones, a highly doubtful assumption since many of the most accepted occupational cancers like lung cancer and mesothelioma are especially deadly), then today, the 20th anniversary of Bhopal, we also had 75 people die because they were exposed to something at work. If 75 people died in a train wreck or 75 people died in a building collapse or 75 schoolchildren in a school shooting it would make headlines in every newspaper in the country. But we won't read about it.

Not only will 75 workers die today. But they did yesterday, too, and will tomorrow and so on, day after day after day. Bhopal in slow motion.

Happy Anniversary.

Harvard Report on Cancer Prevention, Vol 1: Causes of Human Cancer, Summary, in Cancer Causes & Control, volume 7, Supplement 1, November 1996, pp55ff;

Landrigan PJ, Markowitz SB, Nicholson WJ, "Cancer prevention in the workplace," in Cancer Prevention and Control, eds Greenwald P, Kramer BS, Weed DL. Marcel Dekker, NY 1995)