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Bhopal gas tragedy - Case Study

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An overview:


About Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL)

The Leakage

The Factors

Aftermath of the leakage

Health Effects



Legal Actions

Study reveals

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The Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) factory was built in 1969 toproduce the pesticide ‘Sevin’ using Methyl Iso cyanate (MIC). An MICproduction plant was added in 1979.

2 – 3 December 1984, a very tragic day in the history of Bhopal and alsoIndia. The leakage of 40 metric tons of Methyl Iso Cyanate from the storagetank into the atmosphere in just about 45 to 60 minutes, and the gases were

blown in south – eastern direction of Bhopal.

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About Union Carbide India Limited:

In the 1970s, the Indian government initiated policies to encourage foreigncompanies to invest in local industry. Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) wasasked to build a plant for the manufacture of Sevin , a pesticide commonly usedthroughout Asia. As part of the deal, India's government insisted that asignificant percentage of the investment come from local shareholder. UCC builtthe plant in Bhopal named Union Carbide India Limited because of its centrallocation and access to transport infrastructure. The specific site within the citywas zoned for light industrial and commercial use, not for hazardous industry.The plant was initially approved only for formulation of pesticides fromcomponent chemicals, such as MIC imported from the parent company, inrelatively small quantities. However, pressure from competition in the chemicalindustry led UCIL to implement "backward integration". This was inherently amore sophisticated and hazardous process. Attempts to reduce expenses,affected the factory's employees and their conditions. Promotions were halted ,seriously affecting employee to move somewhere else. By 1984, only six of theoriginal twelve operators were working and the number of supervisor were alsoless as compared to earlier. This issues between the workers and the managementlead to poor maintenance and working condition. It can be summarized that apoor management was a leading factor into the disaster as it created a unfriendlyworking environment.

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The Leakage:

In November 1984, most of the safety systems were not functioning and manyvalves and lines were in poor condition. Tank containing 42 tons of MIC, wasmuch more than what safety rules allowed. During the nights of 2–3December, a large amount of water is claimed to have entered the tank. As aresult reaction started, which was accelerated by contaminants, hightemperatures and other factors. The reaction generated a major increase in thetemperature inside the tank to over 200 °C (400 °F). This forced the emergencyventing of pressure from the MIC holding tank, releasing a large volume oftoxic gases. The reaction was sped up by the presence of iron from corrodingnon-stainless steel pipelines.

Owing of this, and the poor maintenance, the workers consider that watermight have accidentally entered the tank. Union Carbide Corporation (UCC)maintains that a "disgruntled worker" deliberately connected a hose to apressure gauge connection.

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Factors leading to the magnitude of gas leak includes:

Storing MIC in large tanks and filling beyond recommended levels.

Failure of several safety systems due to poor maintenance.

Safety systems being switched off to save money – including the MICtank refrigeration system which could have mitigated the disaster.

The problem was made worse by the mushrooming of slums in thevicinity of the plant, non-existent catastrophe plans.

Use of more dangerous pesticides manufacturing method, large scaleMIC storage, plant location close to a densely populated area.

Dependence on manual operation.

Plant management deficiencies were also identified- lack of skilledoperators, reduction of safety management, insufficient maintenanceand inadequate emergency

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Numerous incidents that fore-warned of an oncoming disaster:

In 1981, a worker got splashed with phosgene. In panic he ripped off hismask, thus inhaling a large amount of phosgene gas. He died 72 hourslater.

In January 1982, there was a phosgene leak, 24 workers were exposed andhad to be admitted to hospital. Enquiry reveals that non of them hadbeen ordered to wear protective masks.

In february 1982, an MIC leak affected 18 workers.

In august 1982, a chemical engineer came into contact with liquid MIC ,resulting in burns over 30% of his body.

During 1983 & 1984 , leaks of following substances regularly too place inthe plant: MIC, Chlorine, Monomethylamine , Phosgene & Carbontetrachloride and sometimes in combination.

Reports issued months before the incident, by UCC engineers warned ofthe possibility of incident almost identical to that what happened inBhopal. The reports never reached UCC’s senior management

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Aftermath of the Leakage:

Medical staff were unprepared for the thousands of casualties.

Doctors in the hospitals were not informed of the proper method oftreatment for MIC. They were told simply to give medicine of coughand eye drops to the patients.

Within a few days trees in the vicinity became barren.

2000 bloated animal carcasses had to be disposed.

The complaints of lack of information/ misinformation were widespread.The UCIL’s medical officers & Local medical practitioners did not haveproper idea about properties of these gases and its related treatment.

Formal statements were announced that air, water, vegetation andfoodstuffs were safe within the city. At the same time, people wereinformed that poultry was unaffected but were warned not to consumefish.

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Health Effects

Short Term Health Effects: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 initial effects of exposure were:



severe eye irritation; and

a feeling of suffocation.

Long Term Health Effects:An estimated 100,000 to 200,000 people have permanent injuries ranging from symptoms like:

eye problems, respiratory difficulties, immune and neurological disorders, cardiac failure secondary to lung injury, female reproductive difficulties and birth defects among children born to affected women.

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Economic rehabilitation

Occupational rehabilitation

Habitation rehabilitation

Healthcare rehabilitation

Environmental rehabilitation:

•When the factory was closed in 1985–1986, pipes, drums and tanks were sold. The MIC and the Sevin plants are still there, as are storages of different residues

•The area around the plant was used as a dumping area for hazardous chemicals

•In order to provide safe drinking water to the population around the UCC factory, there is a scheme for improvement of water supply

•In 2005, the state government invited Indian architects to enter their “concept for development of a memorial complex for Bhopal gas tragedy victims at the site of Union Carbide”

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Union Carbide states on its website that it put $2 million into the Indian Prime Minister's immediate disaster relief fund on 11 December 1984.

The corporation established the Employees' Bhopal Relief Fund in February 1985, which raised more than $5 million for immediate relief.

According to Union Carbide, in August 1987, they made an additional $4.6 million in humanitarian interim relief available

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Legal action against Union Carbide:

Legal proceedings involving UCC, the United States and Indian governments, local Bhopal authorities, and the disaster victims started immediately after the catastrophe.

Charges against Warren Anderson and others:

UCC Chairman, CEO Warren Anderson was arrested and released on bail by the Madhya Pradesh Police in Bhopal on 7 December 1984. The arrest, which took place at the airport, ensured Anderson would meet no harm by the Bhopal community. Anderson was taken to UCC's house after which he was released six hours later on $2,100 bail and flown out on a government plane.

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Study reveals

Ongoing Contamination:

Chemicals abandoned at the plant continue to leak and pollute the groundwater.

UCC's laboratory tests in 1989 revealed that soil and water samples collected from near the factory were toxic to fish

In 2002, an inquiry found a number of toxins, including mercury, lead, trichlorobenzene, dichloromethane and chloroform, in nursing women's breast milk.

In 2009, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), a Delhi based pollution monitoring lab, released test results showing pesticide groundwater contamination up to three kms. from the factory.

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Death and physically effected:

23000 (approx.) number of people died from the effects till end of


8000(approx.) number of people died in the first 72 hours.

146 number of children died immediately after the gas leak.

331 number of children below 12 years born with congenital diseases till 2009.

113 children's above 12 years with congenital diseases till 2009

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Amazing truth:

Five people found to be named after the tragedy




•Gasu Pathan



Internet (Wikipedia),People Tribute, journals, Netphotograph.com.

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……………thanking you,

Binoy Das Ashraf Uddin Ahmad

Dept. of Business Administration

Assam University

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