plant was owned by the Union Carbide India Limited’s (UCIL) with India
government-controlled banks and Indian public holding 49.1 percent stake. The
plant had a great extent of chemical complex containing miles of complicated
piping and many specialized reactors, heat exchangers and other resources. They
employed more than 1000 workers and the plant started their operation in the
factory was built in 1969. The chemical process carried in the plant had
methylamine reacting with phosgene to form MIC, which then reacted with
1-naphthol to form the final product called carbarly. The process benefit UCIL
because they were able to sell formulated insecticide in India without having
the need to make big investment to build a major chemical plant.
disaster is considered as the world’s worst industrial disaster. It is a
tragedy that killed around 3,787 people but the number is claimed to be over 16,000.
Around 100,000 people or more have got permanent injuries. The gas leak had an
impact in the environment surrounding the factory. The impacts were immediate
and long-term due to improper clean up in the area. The local people in Bhopal
are still affected by the negative consequences of the gas leakage. In figure 2,
we can see the map of Bhopal.
Figure 1. Map
review will include journals and official reviews that relate to the topic of interest.
The Bhopal disaster, which happened on the night of 2–3 December 1984,
is the worst industrial accident in recent history (Abbasi and Abbasi, 2005),
resulting in thousands of deaths and hundreds of thousands of ill-health. The
disaster was a result of complex socio-technological factors which had been
studied by many (e.g. Casey and Casey, 1993; Meshkati, 1991; Peterson, 2009). In
figure 2, we can see the area affected by the Bhopal disaster.
Figure 2, Area affected by
Factors leading to the Bhopal disaster have been discussed extensively
elsewhere, such as by Srivastava (1987), Meshkati (1989) and Peterson (2009.) Factors
for the disaster include negligence as correct action was not taken when
previous leakage incidents occurred. There was also failure to follow safety
and operational procedures. They cut the number of employees because of the
economic reasons which was a problem because they choose less skilled employees
over experienced staff. In addition, there was also lack of emergency response
planning and public health infrastructure, otherwise it could had minimised to
a certain extend the number people in the community that got affected by the
UCIL chose to store and produce MIC, one of the deadliest chemicals
(permitted exposure levels in USA and Britain are 0.02 per million), in an area
where nearly 120,000 people lived. The MIC plant was not designed to handle a
runaway reaction. MIC in the tank was filled to 87% of its capacity while the
maximum permissible was 50% MIC. Vital gauges and indicators in the MIC rank
were defective. (Dutta Sanjib 2002). The UCIL reduced their employees by half and
in the maintenance supervisor position had been eliminated and there wasn’t any
supervisor. The training period was cut down from 6 months to 15 days. The
company approach dealing with such dangerous components was extremely poor and
violated many safety procedures, in figure 3 we can see the consequences caused
by MIC. This disaster shocked the whole world and soon the process industry in
many countries responded with new safety measurements and regulations.
Figure 3, MIC damage
The incidents with Bhopal plant started since 1980 when
the plant had caused death and injury to many. In December 1981, plant operator
Mohammad Ashraf died because of phosgene gas leak. Local newspaper in Bhopal published articles criticizing the poor
management of the Bhopal plant. One newspaper said “The day is not far off when
Bhopal will be a dead city” In October 1982, MIC escaped from a broken valve,
seriously affecting four workers and causing eye irritation and breathlessness
among people in the nearby communities. (Dutta Sanjib 2002).
These incidents are clear indicators that there was
potential risk for the employees and people living nearby. The Bhopal disaster
was a potential threat since the beginning as appropriate safety measurements
were not carried out and they didn’t learn from the earlier incidents that lead
to the worst industrial disaster that ever occurred.
On the night of December 2, 1984, during
routine maintenance operations at the MIC plant, at about 9.30 p.m., a large
quantity of water entered storage tank no.610 containing over 40 tons of MIC.
This triggered off a reaction, resulting in a tremendous increase of
temperature and pressure in the tank. 40 tonnes of MIC, along with Hydrogen
Cyanide and other reaction products burst past the ruptured disc into the night
air of Bhopal at around 12.30 a.m. (Dutta Sanjib 2002). Although senior members of the factor
knew the danger in the tank at least one hour before the leakage occurred, they
only warned the community one hour after the leak started. Unfortunately, by
then the gas already covered 40 sq. kms.
In figure 3, we
can see the system that failed. The way they dealt with the incident increased
the human cost of the disaster. By when the siren went into effect. It was
really late as people woke up because of irritation in the eyes and throat.
This incident was ignored as minor leaks were common. After the siren went on,
the instruction given were not clear itself as the police didn’t know what had
leaked and only shouted: “Run! Run! Poison Gas Is Spreading!” The people who
run inhaled more of the poison than they would had if they didn’t run. If the
evacuation of about 100,000 residents was done at first sign of the MIC leak,
number of deaths would had been much less.
Figure 3, The
system that failed
There are many suggestions
of the reasons of the gas leak such as: During the
cleaning operation in the night of December 2, 1984, a small quantity of water
went through the pipe into the MIC Tank 610. The heat generated by the reaction
between water and MIC transformed liquid MIC into gas. The pressure became
sufficiently high rupturing the disc, and MIC spewed through the vent into the
atmosphere (Diamond, 1985). In addition, the flare tower and scrubber, which can handle minor
leaks were nonfunctial when the incident happened. If the scrubber worked it
could had neutralize MIC entering at 90 kg/hour at 35 oC with a
maximum pressure of 15 pounds per square inch. The MIC was not stored at zero
degree centigrade as it should had been and the refrigeration and cooling
system were shut down five months before the disaster happened. Many vital
indicators and gauges were defective and there was serious shortage of staff. Some operators were high school graduates
and brought from other plants. The staff was reduced from 12 operators, 3
supervisors, 2 maintenance supervisors, and 1 superintendent per shift to 6
operators, 1 supervisor, and no obligatory superintendent (R. Varma, 1986).
Additionally, The UCIL plant shouldn’t had been
built on the outskirts of the city as it was only one Km away from the railway
station, 3 km from two major hospitals. The decision was taken against the
advice of authorities. The Bhopal development plan of August 25, 1975 already
suggested that the plant should be located to an industrial zone 25km away.
Within weeks of the disaster, research programs had been set up by a
number of Indian and international bodies: these included the ICMR, the Tata
Institute for Social Sciences (Bombay), the World Health Organisation (WHO) and
Union Carbide itself, as well as epidemiological and clinical groups from
Bhopal University and other academic institutions in India. In all instances,
save one, published reports from these have been based on the clinical
experience of patients hospitalized in the period immediately after the leak.
(Cullinan Paul 2009). In figure 1, you can see the table of the
Figure 1 Studies of
respiratory morbidity in survivors of Bhopal disaster, 1984
the deadly incident, for days there was confusion. Are air and water safe? Are fruits and vegetables edible? What about
fish and meat? The authorities gave out limited information and only added to
the confusion. They said “the water is safe, but boil it before you drink”; the
“vegetables are safe, but wash them before you cook”; “the fish is safe” but
promptly closed the fish and meat markets and banned the slaughter of animals.
They refused to answer questions about what tests and when they had been
conducted. The Bhopal Municipal Corporation, for instance, promptly declared
that water was safe. But what had the water been tested for? MIC? Its
derivatives? Its carcinogenic derivatives? What were the types of tests
conducted? How safe was ‘safe’? No effort was made to take the public into
confidence. (DownToEarth 2014) http://www.downtoearth.org.in/dte-infographics/living-dead.htm
In the following
figure 4, you can see the damaged plants by MIC.
4, List of damaged by MIC.
After the accident, the GoI filed a compensation against
the UCC of around US$3 billion but the UCC felt that GoI was to blame for the
disaster. In December 1986, UCC countersuit against GoI and the State of Madhya
Pradesh. Saying that both governments were aware of the toxicity of MIC but
failed to take the appropriate precautions to prevent the disaster. UCC tried to defend its position by saying
that it had only 50.9% stake in UCIL. UCC further argued that the day-to-day
working of UCIL was independent of the parent company therefore it could not be
held responsible for the gas leak. However, investigations revealed that this
was not really true. Many of the day to day details, such as staffing and
maintenance, were left to Indian officials, but every major decision, such as
the annual budget, had to be cleared with the parent company. (Dutta Sanjib
The settlement came in 1989
when the government’s claims against UCIL came before the Supreme Court. In
February of 1989, the Supreme Court of India concluded a final settlement of $470 million. All the parties involved accepted the
Court’s direction and after 10 days of the decision. The UCC paid $425 million
and UCIL paid $45 million to the GoI.
The Bhopal disaster has lessons for the
developing and developed countries. The developing countries need modern
technologies to meet the needs of the population and reach at par with the
developed countries. Developments requiring chemical and nuclear plants can
never be absolutely safe. However, if these plants are to be employed, utmost
care should be taken to ensure safety. Given the technical demands of such
modern production plants, safety measures should be more stringent in
developing than in developed countries. (Varma Roli 2004). The Bhopal disaster without any doubt has been the
worst so far, Nevertheless, it has to be taken into consideration that plenty
of warning was there for a while. It is very clear that the whole tragedy could
have been avoided or minimize the damaged if safety procedures were followed,
therefore in the future there has to be a better protocol following the safety