Click here to load reader

Bhopal Gas Tragedy

  • View
    34

  • Download
    4

Embed Size (px)

Text of Bhopal Gas Tragedy

M.D COLLEGE BHOPAL GAS TRAGEDY

BUSINESS ETHICS

UNION CARBIDE CORPORATIONUnion Carbide Corporation (Union Carbide) is one of the oldest chemical and polymers companies in the United States, currently employing more than 3800 people. It became infamous for the worst ever industrial accident in the history that took place in its Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India plant in the year 1984. After heated litigation, Union Carbide was found to be at fault for the disaster, but the company denied responsibility. Union Carbide became a wholly owned subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company {TDCC} on February 6, 2001 & sells most of its product it manufactures to the TDCC. It is a former component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. In 1920, its researchers developed an economical way to make ethylene from natural gas liquids such as ethane and propane, giving birth to the modern petrochemical industry. Today, Union Carbide possesses some of the industry's most advanced process and catalyst technologies, and operates some of the most cost-efficient, large-scale production facilities in the world. Before divesting them, the chemical giant also owned consumer products like Eveready & Energizer batteries, Glad bags & wraps, Simoniz car wax & pristine antifreeze. Union Carbide primarily produces chemicals and polymers that undergo one or more further conversions by customers before reaching consumers. Some of these materials are high-volume commodities, while others are specialty products meeting the needs of smaller market niches. The end-uses served include paints and coatings, packaging, wire and cable, household products, personal care, pharmaceuticals, automotive, textiles, agriculture and oil and gas.

Page | 1

M.D COLLEGE BHOPAL GAS TRAGEDY

BUSINESS ETHICS

INTRODUCTIONThe Bhopal disaster or Bhopal gas tragedy was an industrial disaster that took place at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in the Indian city of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. At midnight on 3 December 1984, the plant released 42 tonnes of toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas, exposing more than 500,000 people to toxic gases. The first official immediate death toll was 2,259. A more generally accepted figure is that 8,000- 10,000 died within 72 hours, and it is estimated that 25,000 have since died from gas-related diseases. The Bhopal Gas Tragedy was the worst-ever industrial disaster. Forty-one tones of deadly methyl isocyanate gas and its reaction products were released in to the air on the midnight of December 23, 1984 from the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India. It resulted in the immediate death of several thousand people and caused untold sufferings to hundreds of thousands. Quoting Charles Per row, Yale University (Per row, 1999) The accident that released deadly methyl isocyanate gas (MIC) in Union Carbides Bhopal, India, plant in December 1984, resulting in at least 4000 prompt deaths and over 200,000 injuries, was for me the most theoretically significant catastrophe. In the words of one of the most interesting clichs in this business, It was an accident waiting to happen. But .equally common clich we were lucky it was not worse for once does not hold. Bhopal was that rare accident that could hardly have been worse; they are hard to arrange. He calls it the Union Carbide Factor. The death toll, since then, has reached over 20,000 with victims dying from the complications caused by inhaling the gas that night. Over 120,000 continue to still suffer. The hazardous chemicals buried at the company site when the plants were operating and those left behind after the disaster in 1984, have polluted the soil and underground water, severely affecting the health of a large number of people living in the vicinity who have no other source of water. Thus, the Bhopal Gas Tragedy has turned out to bePage | 2

M.D COLLEGE BHOPAL GAS TRAGEDY

BUSINESS ETHICS

the worlds worst pollution disaster as well. On the 20th anniversary of the disaster in December 2004, articles and news stories appeared in all the major newspapers and the technical press in India and in many other countries. There was a vast coverage by the visual media as well. BBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the National Geographic released new documentaries. A couple of new books were also released. Since the Bhopal disaster, the interest in process safety has been increasing. Elective or compulsory courses are taught in some universities. Active researchers are to be found in several countries. Specialized International conferences on process safety are also held. So far so good. With very little process safety activity up until 1984, any increase is to be genuinely welcomed. But have we done enough? Not by a long shot. The new discipline of Process Safety is emerging at an excruciating slow pace. The number of converts to it in any country can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Much of that has occurred due to accreditation requirement in some countries. Within chemical engineering faculties, very few, if any, working in the areas of catalysis, reaction kinetics, process control, thermodynamics, transport phenomena, etc. have extended their research to include the aspects of process safety. To quote Cussler, et al. (2002), Professors are by nature conservative, in that they conserve what they are good at doing. All the books and courses in these subjects also generally do not account for deviations from normal behavior while most of the accidents in process industry are the results of such deviations. Specialized conferences in these areas do not discuss as to how they can make the process industry safer even though these specialized fields play a very significant role in the design and/or operations of the chemical industry. What a perfect chemical engineering world! This, while the academicians know that from the very first day a chemical engineer enters a job, he/she will have to be concerned with safety, while the other chemical engineering subjects taught at colleges take a back seat and some may never be of any use. Thus, wePage | 3

M.D COLLEGE BHOPAL GAS TRAGEDY

BUSINESS ETHICS

are guilty of sending a half-baked product to the industry and assume that industry will teach the new recruits about this important subject. That is, they will learn it on the job. We should know that learning from accidents is very costly. In the above context, Gygaxs message to the universities is still very valid: Chemical Reaction Engineering can be defined as the art of conducting chemical processes selectively, effectively and safely. To achieve these goals, the chemistry and physics of the reacting system are studied. In most Chemical Engineering text books, these efforts are directed primarily to the conversion of the materials into products under operational conditions. For safe process operation, it is however equally important to extend Chemical Engineering Principles to the study of failure conditions. Only if runaway scenarios are kept in focus can the best process design concepts be evaluated. .It is the responsibility of the universities to be leaders in promoting it through their Chemical Engineering courses (Gygax, 1988). It is not that the chemical engineering faculty does not get into newer areas. In the recent past are examples of the dynamic nature of the profession, once it decides to act. It is interesting to note that safety is of concern even in these areas: both in production and in use. US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) have been investigating chemical accidents in the US since 1998. In a Senate hearing held in January 2005, the CSB Chair, Ms Carolyn Merritt stated (Merritt, 2005) .I is disturbed by what the CSBs investigations have shown. In the cases we have examined, preparations for chemical emergencies were found to be uneven and inadequate...The lack of preparation potentially leaves our country vulnerable to the effects of both chemical accidents and possible acts of terrorism. .if such a disaster should happen; we must be prepared to respond quickly and effectively. The time for planning is now, not after a tragedy....

Page | 4

M.D COLLEGE BHOPAL GAS TRAGEDY

BUSINESS ETHICS

The chemical engineering faculty has a significant role in this planning. Their teaching and research into process safety including in Inherently Safer Design and Process Intensification, will make the chemical industry less attractive to terrorists, make the industry safer to operate and easier to mitigate the consequences of any accident. The plant size as well as storage inventory would reduce significantly, reducing the capital and operating costs by an order of magnitude. Stankiewicz and Moulin (Stankiewicz & Moulin, 2000) give a very interesting comparison of a present-day refinery and an intensified one of the future. The latter looks from the outside as clean as an electronics plant. One cannot see the equipment, hear it or smell the chemicals! The chemical industry in the US was worth $460 billion in 2000, employed over a million directly and many millions indirectly, contributed the maximum to the exports, and are involved in all aspects of daily life and living (American chemistry council, 2002). It is true in most major countries. Yet, its reputation is not as high as the above figures would dictate. The number of students opting for chemical engineering and the number and amounts of research grants are far less than in many other engineering fields, biological and health sciences, chemistry and physics. Accidents anywhere rattle people all over the world, thus universally reducing the attraction for chemical engineering. Chemical Engineers should not have a smug feeling that because our products are so pervasive in society, we should be subject to lesser scrutiny and some accidents should be accepted as a small price to pay. Prausnitzs c