From Bhopal to Hazardous Waste Compliance

Why would anyone choose to work in the hazardous waste industry?

By Roberta C. Barbalace


Javed survived one of the greatest disasters of modern civilization and vowed that he would not let it happen again.

It was 2:30 AM December 4, 1984. Until that time, few westerners had ever heard of Bhopal, India, but within 24 hours, Bhopal would become a household word, a word that would exemplify what environmentalists had feared most about modern industry.

Less than three quarters of a mile from where Javed and his family lay sleeping, the Union Carbide facility was quietly and without warning belching out a deadly cloud of poisonous gas. The five members of the family members were awakened simultaneously with symptoms that included coughing, nausea, vomiting, dizziness and burning, watering eyes.

Nobody understood what was happening. They had heard no explosion, seen no flash of light. It was a silent killer that came without warning, slipping under the doors, and through cracks. Javed's mother assessed the possibility of making a run for safety, but the only available transportation included a two wheeler and a scooter, hardly sufficient for the escape five people. They decided to wait out the emergency in the house. Since it was winter, the doors and windows were securely closed. This helped to keep the poisonous gas to a minimum.

"My mother looked out the window and saw a large white cloud walking down the road. We had no idea what it was. After about forty minutes we finally contacted a relative who was involved in community health, but even she knew little about what had happened -- By four o'clock the acute symptoms started to subside and we fell asleep."

In the morning people began to realize the extent of the disaster. A cloud of Methyl Isocyanate had been released from the Union Carbide plant, killing everyone in close proximity to the plant who was not protected. The streets near the plant were filled with the bodies of homeless men, women and children. Anyone who was not protected was dead. Many who were in nearby homes had also died, 3,500 in all. People who lived within a five to eight mile radius were severely affected. Even people 15 miles away suffered some effects.

Javed was a freshman in college when the disaster struck. He had already planned to study some aspect of science, but had not decided upon an area of concentration. When he saw the result of the chemical disaster on December 4, 1984, he immediately decided to major in environmental science. There were no such programs in India at that time. Scientists came from all over the world to help set up programs. Javed was one of the first individuals to study environmental science in India.

"Ever since that day I have wanted to help industry to develop emergency response plans and behave responsibly toward the people in the community."

Javed graduated from Saifia College in Bhopal and came to the United States where he began graduate studies at Cal State Fullerton in 1990. He completed a master's degree in environmental engineering.

Javed is presently a Health and Safety Manager for a hazardous waste company. It is his job to develop and monitor the Health and Safety program. He knows first hand the possible result of being unprepared for avoiding or responding to an emergency situation.

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