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BHOPAL GAS TRAGEDY : Saga of The Divided World


WHAT IS BHOPAL GAS TRAGEDY ? TheBhopal Gas Tragedy (commonly referred to asBhopal Disaster) was agas leakincident inIndia, which is considered one of the World's worst Industrial catastrophes. It Occurred on the night of 2nd3rd December, 1984 at theUnion Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India.


Bhopal , the state capital of Madhya Pradesh is geographically at the centre of India. About one third of its one million inhabitants live in tightly packed, shanty housing in its northern and central districts. In 1969, Union Carbide (India), a subsidiary of a large American Corporation set up a pesticide formulation plant on the north edge of the city, originally too import , mix and package pesticides manufactured in the United States . UNION CARBIDE INDIA LTD. (UCIL) IN BHOPAL UNION CARBIDE CORPORATION

BACKGROUND OF UCIL - UCIL, was the Indian subsidiary ofUnion CarbideCorporation (UCC), with Indian Government controlled banks and the Indian public holdings at 49.1% stake. In 1994, the Supreme Court of India allowed UCC to sell its 50.9% share. Union Carbide sold UCIL, the Bhopal plant operator, toEveready Industries India Limitedin 1994. The Bhopal plant was later sold to McLeod Russel (India) ,Dow Chemical Companypurchased UCC in 2001.

PLANT PRODUCTION PROCESS :The UCIL factory was built to produce the pesticide SEVIN (UCC's brand name forcarbonyl) using Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) as an intermediate.

Methylaminereacts withphosgene(2) producingmethyl isocyanate(3) which reacts with1-naphthol(4) to yield carbaryl

THE GAS DISASTER : For reasons that remain unclear, the Cooling System of Tank610 was not functioning in the last months of 1984. Late in the evening of December 2nd , it was hypothesized that Water (either through mechanical malfunction or operational error) entered the tank mixing with the already stored 42 tons of MIC. The resultingexothermic reactionincreased the temperature inside the tank to over 200C(392F) and raised the pressure thereafter. About 30 metric tons of Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) escaped from the tank into the atmosphere of Bhopal in 45 to 60 minutes.


THE RELEASE In November 1984, most of the Safety Systems were not functioning and many valves and lines were in poor condition. In addition to this, several vent Gas Scrubbers had been out of service as well as the steam boiler, intended to clean the pipes was not operational. Another issue was that, Tank 610 contained 42 tons of MIC which was much more than what safety rules allowed. Arunaway reactionstarted, as soon as the accident happened which was accelerated by contaminants, high temperatures and other factors. The reaction accelerated up by the presence of iron from corroding non-stainless steel pipeline which resulted in the exothermic reaction.

THE GAS CLOUD The gases were blown in South-Eastern direction over Bhopal. As of 2008, UCC had not released information about the possible composition of the cloud. Apart from MIC, the gas cloud may have containedPhosgene,Hydrogen Cyanide,Carbon Monoxide,Hydrogen Chloride,Oxides of Nitrogen,Monomethyl Amine(MMA) andCarbon Dioxide, either produced in the storage tank or in the Atmosphere.The gas cloud was composed mainly of materials denser than the surrounding air, stayed close to the ground and spread outwards through the surrounding community.The nature of the cloud is still discussed. The chemical reactions would have produced a liquid or solid aerosol with high density. The concentrations at ground level would have been much higher than earlier published.

Immediate effects of the Disaster :The timing of the explosion was such that most of those exposed (an estimated 3,50,000 were asleep) . Survivors report being awakened by an acrid (chili-like) stinging of the eyes and throat. The low boiling point of MIC caused it to be re-vaporized at body temperature and inhaled deeply into the lungs: as a result damage to the bronchial was extensive and the post-mortem findings in those who died immediately after the leak reported widespread airway Necrosis with Pulmonary Enema and Haemorrhage. Owing to their height, children and other people of shorter stature inhaled higher concentrations. Many people were trampled trying to escape.Thousands of people had succumbed by the morning hours.

ACUTE EFFECTS ! There were mass funerals and mass cremations. Bodies were dumped into the Narmada River, less than 100km from Bhopal. 170,000 people were treated at hospitals and temporary dispensaries. 2,000 buffalo, goats, & other animals were collected and buried. Within a few days, leaves on trees yellowed and fell off. Supplies, including food, became scarce owing to suppliers' safety fears. Fishing was prohibited causing further supply shortages.

ACUTE EFFECTS : Within a few days, trees in the vicinity became barren, and 2,000 bloated animal carcasses had to be disposed of. On 16 December, tanks 611 and 619 were emptied of the remaining MIC. This led to a second mass evacuation from Bhopal.The Government of India passed the "Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster Act" that gave the government rights to represent all victims, whether or not in India.Complaints of lack of information or misinformation were widespread. An Indian Government spokesman said, "Carbide is more interested in getting information from us than in helping our relief work.Formal statements were issued that air, water, vegetation and foodstuffs were safe within the city. At the same time, people were informed that poultry was unaffected, but were warned not to consume fish.No one under the age of 18 was registered at the time of the accident. The number of children exposed to the gases was at least 200,000.

THE DEVASTATION The official immediate death toll was 2,259 and the government of Madhya Pradesh has confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release. Others estimate 8,000 died within two weeks and another 8,000 or more have since died from gas-related diseases. A government affidavit in 2006 stated the leak caused 5,58,125 injuries including 38,478 temporary partial and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries. 2,000 bloated animal carcasses had to be disposed.


HEALTH CARE In the immediate aftermath of the Disaster, the Health Care System became Overloaded. Within weeks, the State Government established a number of Hospitals, Clinics and Mobile Units in the Gas-affected area to treat the victims. Since the leak, large number of Private practitioners were opened in Bhopal. In the affected areas, nearly 70 percent were under qualified doctors. Medical staff was unprepared for the thousands of casualties. Doctors and Hospitals were unaware about the proper treatment for MIC gas Inhalation and were directed to give cough medicine and eye drops to the patients.When UCC wanted to sell its shares in UCIL, it was directed by the Supreme Court to finance a 500-bed hospital for the medical care of the survivors. Thus, Bhopal Memorial Hospital and Research Centre (BMHRC) was inaugurated in 1998 and was obliged to give free care for survivors for eight years.

SHORT-TERM HEALTH EFFECTS : Apart from MIC, the dense gas cloud may have containedphosgene,hydrogen cyanide,carbon monoxide,hydrogen chloride,oxides of nitrogen,monomethyl amine (MMA) andcarbon dioxide, either produced in the storage tank or in the atmosphere.The initial effects of exposure were coughing, vomiting, severe eye irritation and a feeling of suffocation.

The Acute Symptoms were Burning in the Respiratory tract and eyes,Blepharospasm, Breathlessness, Stomach pains and vomiting. The Causes of Deaths werechoking, reflexogeniccirculatory collapseandpulmonary edema. Findings duringAutopsiesrevealed changes not only in the lungs but alsocerebral edema,tubular necrosisof the kidneys,fatty degeneration of the liverand necrotizingenteritis.Thestillbirthrate increased by up to 300% andneonatal mortalityrate by 200%.


LONG TERM HEALTH EFFECTSIt is estimated 100,000 to 200,000 people have permanent injuries. Reported symptoms are :eye problems,respiratorydifficulties,immune and neurological disorders, cardiac failure secondary to lung injury,female reproductive difficulties and birth defects among children born to affected women.The Indian Government and UCC deny permanent injuries were caused by MIC or the other gases.


FACTORS LEADING TO THE GAS LEAKStoring MIC in large tanks and filling beyond recommended levels,Poor maintenance,Failure of several safety systems,Safety systems being switched off to save moneyincluding the MIC tank refrigeration system which could have mitigated the Disaster severity,Plant Location close to a densely populated area,Undersized Safety Devices,The Dependence on manual operations,

Plant Management Deficiencies were also identified lack of skilled operators, reduction of safety management,insufficient maintenance,inadequate emergency action plans.Use of a more dangerous pesticide manufacturing method, or ROUTE, where same raw materials are combined in a different manufacturing order, with phosgene first reacted with naphthol to form a chloroformate ester, which is then reacted with methyl amine.In the early 1980s, the demand for pesticides had fallen, but production continued, leading to buildup of stores of unused MIC.20

Gas Vent Scrubber Stack - BEFOREGas Vent Scrubber Stack - THEN



Immediate relieves were decided two days after th