It's been three years since the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, released deadly methyl isocynate (MIC) gas in the middle of the night. More than 2,500 people died in that disaster, and 17,000 were permanently disabled, according to David Weir. Since that event, the nuclear reactor in Chernobyl exposed millions of people to radiation. Closer to home, not a year has passed when a fire, a leak or a rail or traffic accident hasn't exposed Americans in one community or another to dangerous poisons. Weir proposes that these, and many other threats to public health, are symptoms of a "Bhopal Syndrome."
It's conventional wisdom that industrial safety standards in the Third World are far below those of the West, that a Bhopal disaster would not happen in the United States because regulation and inspection would not have permitted such a dangerous condition to develop. Conversely, the developed world, through multinational corporations, has transferred dangerous production to nations that cannot afford to decline them and lack an effective means of enforcing safe conditions. As Weir observes dryly, some of the multinationals have larger budgets than their host countries. He provides several examples of "other Bhopals" in the making, including a DDT plant in Cicadas, Indonesia, that seems to make the locals sick, the Bayer industrial complex about 20 miles from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, sited along a river that no longer has fish, and Taiwan, where there are numerous pesticide plants directly adjacent to dense human populations.