On December 3, 1984, poison gas leaked from a Union Carbide factory in Bhopal, India, killing thousands. Carbide says 3,800 died. Municipal workers who loaded bodies onto trucks for burial in mass graves or to be burned on mass pyres, estimate they handled at least 15,000 bodies. Survivors, basing their estimates on the number of shrouds sold in the city, conservatively claim about 8,000 died in the first week.

Two women are now on hunger-strike "to highlight the truth behind Dow Chemical and Union Carbide's liabilities in Bhopal," where people are still perishing at the rate of one a day from injuries sustained over 18 years ago, according to a report by the AlterNet news services. Since the disaster, the city has experienced epidemics of cancers, menstrual disorders and what one doctor described as "monstrous births," according to the report.

Environmental hazards persist, according to the report. In December 1999, Greenpeace reported that soil and water in and around the now-derelict factory were contaminated by organochlorines and heavy metals. A February 2002 study found mercury, lead and organochlorines in the breast milk of women living near the plant.

One of the hunger-strikers, who lost five gas-exposed family members to cancers, was herself partially blinded and still suffers from psychiatric and respiratory problems. "A hunger strike is our way of emphasizing the truth that the tragedy in Bhopal continues, and that Dow as Carbide's new owner is now responsible for ensuring that justice is done," she was quoted in the report.

Memories from 18 years ago are still fresh in the minds of survivors. "At about 12.30 a.m. I woke to the sound of my baby coughing badly," one survivor said in the article. "In the half light I saw that the room was filled with a white cloud. I heard a lot of people shouting. They were shouting 'run, run.' Then I started coughing with each breath seeming as if I was breathing in fire. My eyes were burning."

"The force of the human torrent wrenched children's hands from their parents' grasp. Families were whirled apart," reported the Bhopal Medical Appeal in 1994. "The poison cloud was so dense and searing that people were reduced to near blindness. As they gasped for breath its effects grew ever more suffocating. The gases burned the tissues of their eyes and lungs and attacked their nervous systems. People lost control of their bodies. Urine and feces ran down their legs. Women lost their unborn children as they ran, their wombs spontaneously opening in bloody abortion."

On May 8, the hunger-strikers took their case to Midland, Mich., where Dow shareholders were meeting. At press time, 72 sympathizers had joined the hunger strike.