Two decades ago, 3,000 people died when toxic gas leaked from the Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal, India. Hundreds of thousands more people were exposed to the gas in what has been described as the world's worst chemical accident. Today, at least 5,000 people seek medical care for gas-related illnesses every day in Bhopal.
In this article in Science, Charlene Crabb and Pallava Bagla report on renewed efforts by scientists to determine what happened at the factory and how the leaking gas killed and injured thousands of people.
In one study, researchers are using molecular biology to identify genetic defects in people exposed to the gas. In another, 270,000 people exposed to the gas have been issued with a 'smart card' housing a memory chip containing relevant data, allowing researchers to conduct large-scale studies of patterns of disease. Meanwhile, in the United States, researchers hope to recreate at a hazardous materials test site the chemical reaction that occurred at the factory. They hope to identify for the first time exactly which chemicals were produced in the toxic leak.
Reference: Science 306, 1670 (2004)