Click here to load reader

Bhopal gas tragedy

  • View

  • Download

Embed Size (px)

Text of Bhopal gas tragedy


BHOPAL GAS TRAGEDY2nd-3rd December 1984 The Night of DeathMade by-


In the 1970s, the Indian government initiated policies to encourage foreign companies to investin local industry.

Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) was asked to build a plant for the manufacture of Sevin, a pesticide commonly used throughout Asia.

The government itself had a 22% stake in the company Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) .

The company built the plant in Bhopal because of its central location and access to transport infrastructure.

The plant was initially approved only for formulation of pesticides from component chemicals, such as MIC(methyl iso cyanide).

The main role of UCC was to supply Pesticides to farmers of India.

In 1984 the company was processing just one quarter of its total production because of the crop failure in 1980.

Hence the production of the company decreased .

Local managers were directed to close the plant and prepare it for sale in July 1984 due to decreased profitability.

When no ready buyer was found, UCC made plans to dismantle key production units of the facility for shipment to another developing country.


Bhopal gas tragedy was agas leakincident in India- the world's worst industrial disaster.

Occurred on the night of 23 December 1984 at theUnion Carbide India Limited(UCIL)pesticideplant inBhopal, Madhya Pradesh.

Over 500,000 people were exposed tomethyl isocyanate (MIC)gas and other chemicals.

The toxic substance made its way in and around the townslocated near the plant.

The LeakageIn November 1984, most of the safety systems were not functioning.

Valves and lines were in poor condition, vent gas scrubbers had been out of service as well as the steam boiler, intended to clean the pipes.

During the night of 23 December 1984, water entered a side pipe of Tank 610 which contained 42 tons of MIC.

A reactionstarted, which was accelerated by contaminants, high temperatures and other factors.

Also presence of iron from corroding non-stainless steel pipelines.

This causedexothermic reactionwhich increased the temperature inside the tank to over 200C and raised the pressure.

This released a large volume of toxic gases; about 30 metric tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC) escaped from the tank into the atmosphere in 45 to 60 minutes.


Health IssuesThe initial effects- coughing, severe eye irritation, suffocation, burning in the respiratory tract, breathlessness, stomach pain and vomiting.

The immediate death toll was 2,259; thegovernment confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release.

The leak caused 558,125 injuries including 38,478 temporary partial injuries and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries.

Others estimates 8,000 died within two weeks and another 8,000 or more have since died from gas-related diseases.

Studied and reported long term health effects are:

Eyes: Chronic conjunctivitis, scars on cornea, corneal opacities, early cataracts.

Respiratory tracts: Obstructive and/or restrictive disease, pulmonary fibrosis, aggravation of TB and chronic bronchitis.

Neurological system: Impairment of memory, finer motor skills, numbness etc.

Psychological problems: Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Childrens health: Perinatal and neonatal death rates increased, failure to grow, intellectual impairment etc.

Missing or insufficient fields for research are reproduction, chromosomal aberrations, cancer, immune deficiency, neurological problems, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and children born after the disaster.

Late cases that might never be highlighted are respiratory insufficiency, cardiac insufficiency, cancer and tuberculosis.

Immediate AftermathThe plant was closed to outsiders by theIndian government.

Lack of information by government caused confusion.

The health care system became overloaded having 70% under qualified doctors.

Medical staff unprepared for the thousands of casualties.

Doctors and hospitals unaware of proper treatment methods for MIC gas inhalation.

Mass funerals and cremations.

Trees in the vicinity became barren.

Bloated animal carcasses had to be disposed of.

170,000 people were treated at hospitals and temporary dispensaries.

Supplies including food, became scarce due to suppliers' safety fears.

Fishing prohibited causing supply shortages.

The Government of India passed the "Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster Act" giving the government rights to represent all victims.

Factors for Gas LeakUse of hazardous chemicals (MIC) instead of less dangerous ones.

Storing these chemicals in large tanks instead of steel drums.

Corrosion of pipelines.

Poor maintenance after the plant ceased production in the early 1980s.

Failure of several safety systems.

Safety systems shut down to save money - including the MIC tank refrigeration system.

Plant design modifications did not abide by government regulations and economic pressures in order to reduce expenses.

The problem was made worse by the plant's location near a densely populated area, non-existent catastrophe plans and shortcomings in health care ,etc.


Civil and criminal cases were filed in the district court of Bhopal involving UCC and Warren Anderson, CEO at the time.

Legal Issues:One of the main issues which the Bhopal Gas tragedy raises is the issue of absolute liability.

The Principle of Absolute Liability states that when an enterprise is engaged in hazardous or inherently dangerous industry and if any harm results in account of such activity then the enterprise is absolutely liable to compensate for such harm and that it should be no answer to the enterprise to say that it had taken all reasonable care and that the harm occurred without any negligence on its part.

This is the principle of absolute liability and liability can be fixed even if there is no negligence on part of the accused.

Thus, even if the accident is some freak incident, liability would still be fixed.

In such a case, it would be no good defence to argue that the direct or the proximate cause of the accident or the cause of the accident was not the carrying of such hazardous activity, but it actually is an Act of God or that it is due to some third party intervention.

Even if the company had taken extreme precautions to ensure that such events do not take place, responsibility would still be fixed on them.

This principle of absolute liability in India evolved primarily because of the awakening that the Bhopal Gas Disaster case gave.

The Bhopal Gas Tragedy is also in a way responsible for the passing of the Public Liability Insurance Act, 1991 which provides for compulsory insurance of any unit or factory undertaking a hazardous activity.

Apart from all of this, the tragedy has recently been much discussed in the light of the Nuclear Liability Bill.

This bill has a lot of controversial provisions which aim at capping the total liability in case of a nuclear accident.

The bill also prohibits the victims from suing the suppliers directly and allows them to recover only from the operators.

In the light of the events that followed Bhopal, it is clear that there is a need for a proper mechanism of compensation.

In June 2010, 7 ex-employees were convicted in Bhopal of causing death by negligence and sentenced to 2 years imprisonment and fine of Rs. 2000 each.

Eventually, an out-of-court settlement reached in February 1989,UCC agreed to pay US$ 470 million for the damages caused in Bhopal disaster


What in your opinion, is the ethical orientation of government ?Government protected themselves under the article 300 of Indian Constitution. Also it did not take into account any damages to be paid to the victims due to its ineffective controls required under the factories effect.

Also it didnt take the responsibility in fallacy of letting slum dwellers stay close to factory, apart from permitting it to operate within city limits.

What should be the ground rules of environmental ethics?The agenda should be THINK GLOBALLY, ACT LOCALLY.

The Third World is highly different from the developed world and so will be the conservation/utilitarian policies of the same.

There is a need for development but it should not come at the cost of risking future generations.

Warren Anderson & Union Carbide Officials of USA:Profit was the utmost priority of UCC ,but Indian Government refusing ownership was not a valid reasons as the safety standards is the priority in these kind of manufacturing companies.

Union Carbide Officials of India:As the safety mechanisms were already installed, so its responsibility of Operating managers and personnel inside the plant to manage it in running condition.

Indian Government:Intention: Increase in crop production, providing job and employment.At least few trained American officials should have been allowed to operate permanently in the UCC factory of India.Limitation: Scare away International investors due to litigations.

Madhya Pradesh Government:Should have made arrangements so that factory was never setup within the city premisesAlso local leaders should not get into the operations of the company.