Bhopal Gas Tragedy 3rd Dec 84′
Bhopal Gas Tragedy
This factory still stands in Bhopal like a hoary symbol of the worst tragedy of the industrial era.
The Union Carbide factory and the face of then Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson remained etched in the memory of millions of Indians as mascots of all that is wrong with transnational industrial corporations. Surrounding the skeletal remains of the pesticide factory are maimed survivors of the nuclear winter of what a poet has called DeathSmog Day. After 20 years, there are as many questions unanswered as the number of people who have died since that fateful day.
The Bhopal disaster was an industrial disaster that occurred in the city of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India, resulting in the immediate deaths of more than 3,000 people, according to the Indian Supreme Court. A more probable figure is that 8,000 died within two weeks, and it is estimated that an additional 8,000 have since died from gas related diseases.
The incident took place in the early hours of the morning of December 3, 1984, in the heart of the city of Bhopal in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. A Union Carbide subsidiary pesticide plant released 42 tonnes of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas, exposing at least 5,20,000 people to toxic gases.
The International Medical Commission on Bhopal was established in 1993 to respond to the disasters.
The Union Carbide India, Limited (UCIL) plant was established in 1969 near Bhopal. 51% was owned by Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) and 49% by Indian authorities, although UCC was responsible for all techniques and designs. It produced the pesticide carbaryl (trade mark Sevin). Methyl isocyanate (MIC), an intermediate in carbaryl manufacture, was also used. In 1979 a plant for producing MIC was added to the site. MIC was used instead of less toxic (but more expensive) materials, and UCC was well aware of the substance’s properties and how it had to be handled.
During the night of December 3rd 1984, large amounts of water entered tank 610, containing 42 tonnes of methyl isocyanate. The resulting reaction generated a major increase in the temperature inside the tank to over 200°C (400°F). The MIC holding tank then gave off a large volume of toxic gases, forcing the emergency release of pressure. The reaction was sped up by the presence of iron from corroding non-stainless steel pipelines. A mixture of poisonous gases flooded the city of Bhopal. Massive panic resulted as people woke up in a cloud of gas that burned their lungs.
Factors leading to this mega-gas leak include
The use of hazardous chemicals (MIC) instead of less dangerous ones
Storing these chemicals in large tanks instead of several smaller ones
Possible corroding material in pipelines
Poor maintenance after the plant ceased production in the early 1980’s
Failure of several safety systems (due to poor maintenance and regulations)
Plant design and economic pressures to reduce expenses contributed most to the actual leak. The problem was then made worse by the plant’s location near a densely populated area, non-existing catastrophe plans, shortcomings in health care and socio-economic rehabilitation, etc. Analysis shows that the parties responsible for the magnitude of the disaster are the two owners, Union Carbide Corporation and the Government of India, and to some extent, the Government of Madhya Pradesh.
Much speculation arose in the aftermath. That the Indian government closed the plant to outsiders (including UCC) and that data were not made public contributed to the confusion. The CSIR report was formally released 15 years after the disaster. The authors of the ICMR studies on health effects were forbidden to publish their data until after 1994. UCC has still not released their research about the disaster.