Case Studies

Case study: bhopal gas tragedy (1983-84).

Dr. Rhyddhi Chakraborty Programme Leader (Health and Social Care), London Churchill College, UK Email: [email protected]

What follows is a synopsis of the full article found in featured articles.

Please read the featured article Lesson from Bhopal Gas Tragedy (1983-84) By Dr. Rhyddhi Chakraborty Programme Leader (Health and Social Care), London Churchill College, UK describes in detail the elements of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy

Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL)

In 1970, in the North adjacent to the slums and railway station, a pesticide plant was set up by Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL). From late 1977, the plant started manufacturing Sevin (Carbaryl) by importing primary raw materials, viz. alpha-naphtol and methyl isocyanate (MIC) in stainless steel drums from the Union Carbide's MIC plant in USA. However, from early 1980, the Bhopal plant itself started manufacturing MIC using the know-how and basic designs supplied by Union Carbide Corporation, USA (UCC). The Bhopal UCIL facility housed three underground 68,000 liters liquid MIC storage tanks: E610, E611, and E619 and were claimed to ensure all safety from leakage.

Time Line of Occupational Hazards of the Union Carbide India Limited Plant Leading Before the Disaster

• 1976: Local trade unions complained of pollution within the plant. • 1980: A worker was reported to have accidentally been splashed with phosgene while carrying out a regular maintenance job of the plant's pipes. • 1982 (January): A phosgene leak exposed 24 workers, all of whom were admitted to a hospital. Investigation revealed that none of the workers had been ordered to wear protective masks. • 1982 (February): An MIC leak affected 18 workers. • 1982 (August): A chemical engineer came into contact with liquid MIC, resulting in burns over 30 percent of his body. • 1982 (October): In attempting to stop the leak, the MIC supervisor suffered severe chemical burns and two other workers were severely exposed to the gases. • 1983-1984: There were leaks of MIC, chlorine, monomethylamine, phosgene, and carbon tetrachloride, sometimes in combination.

In early December 1984, most of the Bhopal plant's MIC related safety systems were not functioning and many valves and lines were in poor condition. In addition, several vent gas scrubbers had been out of service as well as the steam boiler, intended to clean the pipes. For the major maintenance work, the MIC production and Sevin were stalled in Bhopal plant since Oct. 22, 1984 and major regular maintenance was ordered to be done during the weekdays’ day shifts.

The Sevin plant, after having been shut down for some time, had been started up again during November but was still running at far below normal capacity. To make the pesticide, carbon tetrachloride is mixed with methyl isocyanate (MIC) and alpha-naphthol, a coffee-colored powder that smells like mothballs. The methyl isocyanate, or MIC, was stored in the three partly buried tanks, each with a 15,000-gallon capacity.

During the late evening hours of December 2, 1984, whilst trying to unclog, water was believed to have entered a side pipe and into Tank E610 containing 42 tons of MIC that had been there since late October. Introduction of water into the tank began a runaway exothermic reaction, which was accelerated by contaminants, high ambient temperatures and other factors, such as the presence of iron from corroding non-stainless steel pipelines.

A Three Hour Time Line of the Disaster

December 3, 1984 12:40 am: A worker, while investigating a leak, stood on a concrete slab above three large, partly buried storage tanks holding the chemical MIC. The slab suddenly began to vibrate beneath him and he witnessed at least a 6 inche thick crack on the slab and heard a loud hissing sound. As he prepared to escape from the leaking gas, he saw gas shoot out of a tall stack connected to the tank, forming a white cloud that drifted over the plant and toward nearby neighborhoods where thousands of residents were sleeping. In short span of time, the leak went out of control.

December 3, 1984 12:45 am: The workers were aware of the enormity of the accident. They began to panic both because of the choking fumes, they said, and because of their realization that things were out of control; the concrete over the tanks cracked as MIC turned from liquid to gas and shot out the stack, forming a white cloud. Part of it hung over the factory, the rest began to drift toward the sleeping neighborhoods nearby.

December 3, 1984 12:50 am: The public siren briefly sounded and was quickly turned off, as per company procedure meant to avoid alarming the public around the factory over tiny leaks. Workers, meanwhile, evacuated the UCIL plant. The control room operator then turned on the vent gas scrubber, a device designed to neutralize escaping toxic gas. The scrubber had been under maintenance; the flow meter indicated there was no caustic soda flowing into the device. It was not clear to him whether there was actually no caustic soda in the system or whether the meter was broken. Broken gauges were not unusual at the factory. In fact, the gas was not being neutralized but was shooting out the vent scrubber stack and settling over the plant. December 3, 1984 1: 15- 1:30 am: At Bhopal’s 1,200-bed Hamidia Hospital, the first patient with eye trouble reported. Within five minutes, there were a thousand patients. Calls to the UCIL plant by police were twice assured that "everything is OK", and on the last attempt made, "we don't know what has happened, sir". In the plant, meanwhile, MIC began to engulf the control room and the adjoining offices.

December 3, 1984 3:00 am: The factory manager, arrived at the plant and sent a man to tell the police about the accident because the phones were out of order. The police were not told earlier because the company management had an informal policy of not involving the local authorities in gas leaks. Meanwhile, people were dying by the hundreds outside the factory. Some died in their sleep. Others ran into the cloud, breathing in more and more gas and dropping dead in their tracks.

Immediate Consequences

With the lack of timely information exchange between Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) and Bhopal authorities, the city's Hamidia Hospital was first told that the gas leak was suspected to be ammonia, then phosgene. They were then told that it was methyl isocyanate (MIC), which hospital staff had never heard of, had no antidote for, and received no immediate information about. The gas cloud, composed mainly of materials denser than air, stayed close to the ground and spread in the southeasterly direction affecting the nearby communities. Most city residents who were exposed to the MIC gas were first made aware of the leak by exposure to the gas itself.

Subsequent Actions

Formal statements were issued that air, water, vegetation and foodstuffs were safe, but warned not to consume fish. The number of children exposed to the gases was at least 200,000. Within weeks, the State Government established a number of hospitals, clinics and mobile units in the gas-affected area to treat the victims.

Legal proceedings involving UCC, the United States and Indian governments, local Bhopal authorities, and the disaster victims started immediately after the catastrophe. The Indian Government passed the Bhopal Gas Leak Act in March 1985, allowing the Government of India to act as the legal representative for victims of the disaster, leading to the beginning of legal proceedings.

Initial lawsuits were generated in the United States federal court system in April 1985. Eventually, in an out-of-court settlement reached in February 1989, Union Carbide agreed to pay US$470 million for damages caused in the Bhopal disaster. The amount was immediately paid.

Post-settlement activity

UCC chairman and CEO Warren Anderson was arrested and released on bail by the Madhya Pradesh Police in Bhopal on 7 December 1984. 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. Anderson, eight other executives and two company affiliates with homicide charges were required to appear in Indian court.

In response, Union Carbide said the company is not under Indian jurisdiction. In 1991, the local Bhopal authorities charged Anderson, who had retired in 1986, with manslaughter, a crime that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. He was declared a fugitive from justice by the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Bhopal on 1 February 1992 for failing to appear at the court hearings in a culpable homicide case in which he was named the chief defendant. Orders were passed to the Government of India to press for an extradition from the United States. From 2014, Dow is a named respondent in a number of ongoing cases arising from Union Carbide’s business in Bhopal.

A US Federal class action litigation, Sahu v. Union Carbide and Warren Anderson, had been filed in 1999 under the U.S. Alien Torts Claims Act (ATCA), which provides for civil remedies for "crimes against humanity." It sought damages for personal injury, medical monitoring and injunctive relief in the form of clean-up of the drinking water supplies for residential areas near the Bhopal plant. The lawsuit was dismissed in 2012 and subsequent appeal denied. Anderson died in 2014.

Long-term Health Effects

A total of 36 wards were marked by the authorities as being "gas affected," affecting a population of 520,000. Of these, 200,000 were below 15 years of age, and 3,000 were pregnant women. The official immediate death toll was 2,259, and in 1991, 3,928 deaths had been officially certified. The government of Madhya Pradesh confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release. Later, the affected area was expanded to include 700,000 citizens. A government affidavit in 2006 stated the leak caused 558,125 injuries including 38,478 temporary partial injuries and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries.

Ethical Negligence

The Corporate Negligence Argument: This point of view argues that management (and to some extent, local government) underinvested in safety, which allowed for a dangerous working environment to develop.

Safety audits: In September 1984, an internal UCC report on the West Virginia plant in the USA revealed a number of defects and malfunctions. It warned that "a runaway reaction could occur in the MIC unit storage tanks, and that the planned response would not be timely or effective enough to prevent catastrophic failure of the tanks". This report was never forwarded to the Bhopal plant, although the main design was the same.

The Disgruntled Employee Sabotage Argument:  Now owned by Dow Chemical Company, Union Carbide maintains a website dedicated to the tragedy and claims that the incident was the result of sabotage, stating that sufficient safety systems were in place and operative to prevent the intrusion of water.

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The Bhopal disaster and its aftermath: a review

Edward broughton.

1 Columbia University, Mailman School of Public Health, 600 W 168th St. New York, NY 10032 USA

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0 ), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

On December 3 1984, more than 40 tons of methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, immediately killing at least 3,800 people and causing significant morbidity and premature death for many thousands more. The company involved in what became the worst industrial accident in history immediately tried to dissociate itself from legal responsibility. Eventually it reached a settlement with the Indian Government through mediation of that country's Supreme Court and accepted moral responsibility. It paid $470 million in compensation, a relatively small amount of based on significant underestimations of the long-term health consequences of exposure and the number of people exposed. The disaster indicated a need for enforceable international standards for environmental safety, preventative strategies to avoid similar accidents and industrial disaster preparedness.

Since the disaster, India has experienced rapid industrialization. While some positive changes in government policy and behavior of a few industries have taken place, major threats to the environment from rapid and poorly regulated industrial growth remain. Widespread environmental degradation with significant adverse human health consequences continues to occur throughout India.

December 2004 marked the twentieth anniversary of the massive toxic gas leak from Union Carbide Corporation's chemical plant in Bhopal in the state of Madhya Pradesh, India that killed more than 3,800 people. This review examines the health effects of exposure to the disaster, the legal response, the lessons learned and whether or not these are put into practice in India in terms of industrial development, environmental management and public health.

In the 1970s, the Indian government initiated policies to encourage foreign companies to invest in local industry. Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) was asked to build a plant for the manufacture of Sevin, a pesticide commonly used throughout Asia. As part of the deal, India's government insisted that a significant percentage of the investment come from local shareholders. The government itself had a 22% stake in the company's subsidiary, Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) [ 1 ]. The company built the plant in Bhopal because of its central location and access to transport infrastructure. The specific site within the city was zoned for light industrial and commercial use, not for hazardous industry. The plant was initially approved only for formulation of pesticides from component chemicals, such as MIC imported from the parent company, in relatively small quantities. However, pressure from competition in the chemical industry led UCIL to implement "backward integration" – the manufacture of raw materials and intermediate products for formulation of the final product within one facility. This was inherently a more sophisticated and hazardous process [ 2 ].

In 1984, the plant was manufacturing Sevin at one quarter of its production capacity due to decreased demand for pesticides. Widespread crop failures and famine on the subcontinent in the 1980s led to increased indebtedness and decreased capital for farmers to invest in pesticides. Local managers were directed to close the plant and prepare it for sale in July 1984 due to decreased profitability [ 3 ]. When no ready buyer was found, UCIL made plans to dismantle key production units of the facility for shipment to another developing country. In the meantime, the facility continued to operate with safety equipment and procedures far below the standards found in its sister plant in Institute, West Virginia. The local government was aware of safety problems but was reticent to place heavy industrial safety and pollution control burdens on the struggling industry because it feared the economic effects of the loss of such a large employer [ 3 ].

At 11.00 PM on December 2 1984, while most of the one million residents of Bhopal slept, an operator at the plant noticed a small leak of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas and increasing pressure inside a storage tank. The vent-gas scrubber, a safety device designer to neutralize toxic discharge from the MIC system, had been turned off three weeks prior [ 3 ]. Apparently a faulty valve had allowed one ton of water for cleaning internal pipes to mix with forty tons of MIC [ 1 ]. A 30 ton refrigeration unit that normally served as a safety component to cool the MIC storage tank had been drained of its coolant for use in another part of the plant [ 3 ]. Pressure and heat from the vigorous exothermic reaction in the tank continued to build. The gas flare safety system was out of action and had been for three months. At around 1.00 AM, December 3, loud rumbling reverberated around the plant as a safety valve gave way sending a plume of MIC gas into the early morning air [ 4 ]. Within hours, the streets of Bhopal were littered with human corpses and the carcasses of buffaloes, cows, dogs and birds. An estimated 3,800 people died immediately, mostly in the poor slum colony adjacent to the UCC plant [ 1 , 5 ]. Local hospitals were soon overwhelmed with the injured, a crisis further compounded by a lack of knowledge of exactly what gas was involved and what its effects were [ 1 ]. It became one of the worst chemical disasters in history and the name Bhopal became synonymous with industrial catastrophe [ 5 ].

Estimates of the number of people killed in the first few days by the plume from the UCC plant run as high as 10,000, with 15,000 to 20,000 premature deaths reportedly occurring in the subsequent two decades [ 6 ]. The Indian government reported that more than half a million people were exposed to the gas [ 7 ]. Several epidemiological studies conducted soon after the accident showed significant morbidity and increased mortality in the exposed population. Table ​ Table1. 1 . summarizes early and late effects on health. These data are likely to under-represent the true extent of adverse health effects because many exposed individuals left Bhopal immediately following the disaster never to return and were therefore lost to follow-up [ 8 ].

Health effects of the Bhopal methyl isocyanate gas leak exposure [8, 30-32].

Immediately after the disaster, UCC began attempts to dissociate itself from responsibility for the gas leak. Its principal tactic was to shift culpability to UCIL, stating the plant was wholly built and operated by the Indian subsidiary. It also fabricated scenarios involving sabotage by previously unknown Sikh extremist groups and disgruntled employees but this theory was impugned by numerous independent sources [ 1 ].

The toxic plume had barely cleared when, on December 7, the first multi-billion dollar lawsuit was filed by an American attorney in a U.S. court. This was the beginning of years of legal machinations in which the ethical implications of the tragedy and its affect on Bhopal's people were largely ignored. In March 1985, the Indian government enacted the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster Act as a way of ensuring that claims arising from the accident would be dealt with speedily and equitably. The Act made the government the sole representative of the victims in legal proceedings both within and outside India. Eventually all cases were taken out of the U.S. legal system under the ruling of the presiding American judge and placed entirely under Indian jurisdiction much to the detriment of the injured parties.

In a settlement mediated by the Indian Supreme Court, UCC accepted moral responsibility and agreed to pay $470 million to the Indian government to be distributed to claimants as a full and final settlement. The figure was partly based on the disputed claim that only 3000 people died and 102,000 suffered permanent disabilities [ 9 ]. Upon announcing this settlement, shares of UCC rose $2 per share or 7% in value [ 1 ]. Had compensation in Bhopal been paid at the same rate that asbestosis victims where being awarded in US courts by defendant including UCC – which mined asbestos from 1963 to 1985 – the liability would have been greater than the $10 billion the company was worth and insured for in 1984 [ 10 ]. By the end of October 2003, according to the Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation Department, compensation had been awarded to 554,895 people for injuries received and 15,310 survivors of those killed. The average amount to families of the dead was $2,200 [ 9 ].

At every turn, UCC has attempted to manipulate, obfuscate and withhold scientific data to the detriment of victims. Even to this date, the company has not stated exactly what was in the toxic cloud that enveloped the city on that December night [ 8 ]. When MIC is exposed to 200° heat, it forms degraded MIC that contains the more deadly hydrogen cyanide (HCN). There was clear evidence that the storage tank temperature did reach this level in the disaster. The cherry-red color of blood and viscera of some victims were characteristic of acute cyanide poisoning [ 11 ]. Moreover, many responded well to administration of sodium thiosulfate, an effective therapy for cyanide poisoning but not MIC exposure [ 11 ]. UCC initially recommended use of sodium thiosulfate but withdrew the statement later prompting suggestions that it attempted to cover up evidence of HCN in the gas leak. The presence of HCN was vigorously denied by UCC and was a point of conjecture among researchers [ 8 , 11 - 13 ].

As further insult, UCC discontinued operation at its Bhopal plant following the disaster but failed to clean up the industrial site completely. The plant continues to leak several toxic chemicals and heavy metals that have found their way into local aquifers. Dangerously contaminated water has now been added to the legacy left by the company for the people of Bhopal [ 1 , 14 ].

Lessons learned

The events in Bhopal revealed that expanding industrialization in developing countries without concurrent evolution in safety regulations could have catastrophic consequences [ 4 ]. The disaster demonstrated that seemingly local problems of industrial hazards and toxic contamination are often tied to global market dynamics. UCC's Sevin production plant was built in Madhya Pradesh not to avoid environmental regulations in the U.S. but to exploit the large and growing Indian pesticide market. However the manner in which the project was executed suggests the existence of a double standard for multinational corporations operating in developing countries [ 1 ]. Enforceable uniform international operating regulations for hazardous industries would have provided a mechanism for significantly improved in safety in Bhopal. Even without enforcement, international standards could provide norms for measuring performance of individual companies engaged in hazardous activities such as the manufacture of pesticides and other toxic chemicals in India [ 15 ]. National governments and international agencies should focus on widely applicable techniques for corporate responsibility and accident prevention as much in the developing world context as in advanced industrial nations [ 16 ]. Specifically, prevention should include risk reduction in plant location and design and safety legislation [ 17 ].

Local governments clearly cannot allow industrial facilities to be situated within urban areas, regardless of the evolution of land use over time. Industry and government need to bring proper financial support to local communities so they can provide medical and other necessary services to reduce morbidity, mortality and material loss in the case of industrial accidents.

Public health infrastructure was very weak in Bhopal in 1984. Tap water was available for only a few hours a day and was of very poor quality. With no functioning sewage system, untreated human waste was dumped into two nearby lakes, one a source of drinking water. The city had four major hospitals but there was a shortage of physicians and hospital beds. There was also no mass casualty emergency response system in place in the city [ 3 ]. Existing public health infrastructure needs to be taken into account when hazardous industries choose sites for manufacturing plants. Future management of industrial development requires that appropriate resources be devoted to advance planning before any disaster occurs [ 18 ]. Communities that do not possess infrastructure and technical expertise to respond adequately to such industrial accidents should not be chosen as sites for hazardous industry.

Following the events of December 3 1984 environmental awareness and activism in India increased significantly. The Environment Protection Act was passed in 1986, creating the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and strengthening India's commitment to the environment. Under the new act, the MoEF was given overall responsibility for administering and enforcing environmental laws and policies. It established the importance of integrating environmental strategies into all industrial development plans for the country. However, despite greater government commitment to protect public health, forests, and wildlife, policies geared to developing the country's economy have taken precedence in the last 20 years [ 19 ].

India has undergone tremendous economic growth in the two decades since the Bhopal disaster. Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita has increased from $1,000 in 1984 to $2,900 in 2004 and it continues to grow at a rate of over 8% per year [ 20 ]. Rapid industrial development has contributed greatly to economic growth but there has been significant cost in environmental degradation and increased public health risks. Since abatement efforts consume a large portion of India's GDP, MoEF faces an uphill battle as it tries to fulfill its mandate of reducing industrial pollution [ 19 ]. Heavy reliance on coal-fired power plants and poor enforcement of vehicle emission laws have result from economic concerns taking precedence over environmental protection [ 19 ].

With the industrial growth since 1984, there has been an increase in small scale industries (SSIs) that are clustered about major urban areas in India. There are generally less stringent rules for the treatment of waste produced by SSIs due to less waste generation within each individual industry. This has allowed SSIs to dispose of untreated wastewater into drainage systems that flow directly into rivers. New Delhi's Yamuna River is illustrative. Dangerously high levels of heavy metals such as lead, cobalt, cadmium, chrome, nickel and zinc have been detected in this river which is a major supply of potable water to India's capital thus posing a potential health risk to the people living there and areas downstream [ 21 ].

Land pollution due to uncontrolled disposal of industrial solid and hazardous waste is also a problem throughout India. With rapid industrialization, the generation of industrial solid and hazardous waste has increased appreciably and the environmental impact is significant [ 22 ].

India relaxed its controls on foreign investment in order to accede to WTO rules and thereby attract an increasing flow of capital. In the process, a number of environmental regulations are being rolled back as growing foreign investments continue to roll in. The Indian experience is comparable to that of a number of developing countries that are experiencing the environmental impacts of structural adjustment. Exploitation and export of natural resources has accelerated on the subcontinent. Prohibitions against locating industrial facilities in ecologically sensitive zones have been eliminated while conservation zones are being stripped of their status so that pesticide, cement and bauxite mines can be built [ 23 ]. Heavy reliance on coal-fired power plants and poor enforcement of vehicle emission laws are other consequences of economic concerns taking precedence over environmental protection [ 19 ].

In March 2001, residents of Kodaikanal in southern India caught the Anglo-Dutch company, Unilever, red-handed when they discovered a dumpsite with toxic mercury laced waste from a thermometer factory run by the company's Indian subsidiary, Hindustan Lever. The 7.4 ton stockpile of mercury-laden glass was found in torn stacks spilling onto the ground in a scrap metal yard located near a school. In the fall of 2001, steel from the ruins of the World Trade Center was exported to India apparently without first being tested for contamination from asbestos and heavy metals present in the twin tower debris. Other examples of poor environmental stewardship and economic considerations taking precedence over public health concerns abound [ 24 ].

The Bhopal disaster could have changed the nature of the chemical industry and caused a reexamination of the necessity to produce such potentially harmful products in the first place. However the lessons of acute and chronic effects of exposure to pesticides and their precursors in Bhopal has not changed agricultural practice patterns. An estimated 3 million people per year suffer the consequences of pesticide poisoning with most exposure occurring in the agricultural developing world. It is reported to be the cause of at least 22,000 deaths in India each year. In the state of Kerala, significant mortality and morbidity have been reported following exposure to Endosulfan, a toxic pesticide whose use continued for 15 years after the events of Bhopal [ 25 ].

Aggressive marketing of asbestos continues in developing countries as a result of restrictions being placed on its use in developed nations due to the well-established link between asbestos products and respiratory diseases. India has become a major consumer, using around 100,000 tons of asbestos per year, 80% of which is imported with Canada being the largest overseas supplier. Mining, production and use of asbestos in India is very loosely regulated despite the health hazards. Reports have shown morbidity and mortality from asbestos related disease will continue in India without enforcement of a ban or significantly tighter controls [ 26 , 27 ].

UCC has shrunk to one sixth of its size since the Bhopal disaster in an effort to restructure and divest itself. By doing so, the company avoided a hostile takeover, placed a significant portion of UCC's assets out of legal reach of the victims and gave its shareholder and top executives bountiful profits [ 1 ]. The company still operates under the ownership of Dow Chemicals and still states on its website that the Bhopal disaster was "cause by deliberate sabotage". [ 28 ].

Some positive changes were seen following the Bhopal disaster. The British chemical company, ICI, whose Indian subsidiary manufactured pesticides, increased attention to health, safety and environmental issues following the events of December 1984. The subsidiary now spends 30–40% of their capital expenditures on environmental-related projects. However, they still do not adhere to standards as strict as their parent company in the UK. [ 24 ].

The US chemical giant DuPont learned its lesson of Bhopal in a different way. The company attempted for a decade to export a nylon plant from Richmond, VA to Goa, India. In its early negotiations with the Indian government, DuPont had sought and won a remarkable clause in its investment agreement that absolved it from all liabilities in case of an accident. But the people of Goa were not willing to acquiesce while an important ecological site was cleared for a heavy polluting industry. After nearly a decade of protesting by Goa's residents, DuPont was forced to scuttle plans there. Chennai was the next proposed site for the plastics plant. The state government there made significantly greater demand on DuPont for concessions on public health and environmental protection. Eventually, these plans were also aborted due to what the company called "financial concerns". [ 29 ].

The tragedy of Bhopal continues to be a warning sign at once ignored and heeded. Bhopal and its aftermath were a warning that the path to industrialization, for developing countries in general and India in particular, is fraught with human, environmental and economic perils. Some moves by the Indian government, including the formation of the MoEF, have served to offer some protection of the public's health from the harmful practices of local and multinational heavy industry and grassroots organizations that have also played a part in opposing rampant development. The Indian economy is growing at a tremendous rate but at significant cost in environmental health and public safety as large and small companies throughout the subcontinent continue to pollute. Far more remains to be done for public health in the context of industrialization to show that the lessons of the countless thousands dead in Bhopal have truly been heeded.

Competing interests

The author(s) declare that they have no competing interests.

Acknowledgements

J. Barab, B. Castleman, R Dhara and U Misra reviewed the manuscript and provided useful suggestions.

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A grave-looking boy holds a placard reading 'no more Bhopal. We want justice'. Behind him a woman holds another placard

The long, dark shadow of Bhopal: still waiting for justice, four decades on

The cloud of poisonous gas that leaked from a rusting chemical plant in 1984 still blights the lives of tens of thousands of people in the Indian city, including many not born then. But Union Carbide never answered for the devastating contamination. Photographer Judah Passow spent a year recording the lives of some victims of the disaster

J ust after midnight on 2 December 1984 a storage tank at the Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal began leaking a gas called methyl isocyanate (MIC). The plant, in Madhya Pradesh, India, was equipped with six safety systems designed to detect such a leak, none of which were operational that night. Twenty-seven tons of MIC gas spread throughout the sleeping city .

As an engineer was flushing water through a corroded pipe in the MIC production complex, a series of valves failed, allowing the water to flow freely into one of the three-storey tanks holding the toxic chemical in a liquid state. This caused a rapid and violent reaction. The tank shattered in its concrete casing and spewed a deadly cloud of MIC, hydrogen cyanide, monomethylamine and other chemicals, all of which hugged the ground.

Vegetation grows up through the old chemical plant’s rusting tangle of pipes, tanks and gantries

The derelict Union Carbide plant sits on a 20-hectare (49-acre) site in Bhopal’s old town

As the toxic cloud blanketed much of Bhopal, people began to die. Aziza Sultan, a survivor, remembers: “At about 12.30am, I woke to the sound of my baby coughing badly. In the half-light, I saw that the room was filled with a white cloud.

“I heard a lot of people shouting. They were shouting ‘Run! Run!’,’ she says. ‘Then I started coughing, with each breath seeming as if I was breathing in fire. My eyes were burning.”

Champa Devi Shukla recalls: “It felt like somebody had filled our bodies up with red chillies; our eyes had tears coming out, noses were watering, we had froth in our mouths. The coughing was so bad that people were writhing in pain.

“Some people just got up and ran in whatever they were wearing, or even if they were wearing nothing at all. People were only concerned as to how they would save their lives, so they just ran.”

In those apocalyptic moments, no one knew what was happening. People started dying in the most hideous ways. Some vomited uncontrollably, went into convulsions and dropped dead. Others choked, drowning in their own body fluids.

A group of women hold candles and portraits of dead relatives. Two sombre children stand at the front

Staff from the Sambhavna clinic hold a vigil in memory of victims. It was built with funds raised in 1994 by the Bhopal Medical Appeal, which appeared in the Guardian and Observer on the disaster’s 10th anniversary. The clinic has treated more than 65,000 people and nearly half of the 55 staff are gas survivors

Many people died in the stampedes through narrow alleyways where street lamps, swamped in gas, burned brown. The crush of fleeing crowds wrenched children’s hands from their parents’ grasp. Families were literally ripped apart.

MIC, used in the production of pesticides, is highly corrosive if inhaled. Half a million people were exposed and at least 25,000 have died as a result. More than 150,000 people still suffer from disorders caused by the accident and the subsequent contamination – respiratory diseases, kidney and liver disorders, cancers and gynaecological issues.

No one knows exactly how many thousands of people died. Union Carbide put the number at 3,800. Municipal workers who collected bodies, loading them on to lorries to be buried in mass graves or burned on funeral pyres, say they handled at least 15,000 corpses. Based on numbers of burial shrouds sold in the city, survivors make the conservative claim that about 8,000 people died in the first week alone. But the dying has never stopped.

A satellite map of Bhopal, with a large area shaded red to show the extent of the toxic gas cloud

A satellite map of Bhopal, showing the extent of the toxic gas cloud, which affected half a million people

Rashida Bi, a survivor who has lost five members of her family to a variety of cancers over the past three decades, considers those who escaped with their lives “the unlucky ones”. She adds: “The lucky ones are those who died on that night.”

Union Carbide shut down the site and left it to rust. It has never been cleaned up and so the poisoning continues. In 1999, testing of groundwater and well-water near the site revealed mercury levels up to 6m times greater than what is accepted as safe by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

A young woman with learning difficulties grimaces and holds her hands to her head

Images showing the plight of the survivors and their children. Many children of local people, whose drinking water was contaminated, were born with developmental issues. Among survivors, respiratory ailments are widespread

Chemicals were found in the water that cause cancer, brain damage and birth defects. Trichloroethene , a chemical shown to impair foetal development, was found at levels 50 times higher than EPA limits . Testing published in a 2002 report revealed poisons such as 1,3,5-trichlorobenzene, dichloromethane, chloroform, lead and mercury in women’s breastmilk.

In 2001, the Michigan-based Dow Chemical Company bought Union Carbide , acquiring its assets and liabilities. Dow, however, has steadfastly refused to clean up the Bhopal site. Nor has it provided safe drinking water, compensated the victims or shared with the Indian medical community any information it holds on the toxic effects of MIC.

The data that Bhopal’s doctors have requested, and say they need in order to deal with the lasting effects of the crisis, Dow has treated like a trade secret and held back.

A distressed older woman holds her hand to her chest, her face contorted with anguish

Vimla Sahu, who lives near the abandoned Union Carbide plant, cannot conceal her anguish

Union Carbide built the Bhopal factory in the 1970s, confident that India represented a huge untapped market for its pesticides. However, sales never met the company’s expectations. Indian farmers, struggling to cope with droughts and floods, lacked the money to buy Union Carbide’s products.

For 15 years before the disaster, Union Carbide routinely dumped highly toxic chemical waste at sites inside and outside the factory.

Two young women are seen reflected in a mirror on a crudely plastered wall. Both stare into space; one grimacing, the other smiling

Twin sisters Shazia and Fouziya in their home in the Nawab area of Bhopal, near the factory, where toxins leaked into the water supplies. They both have severe mental development issues, which doctors believe was due to genetic damage

Thousands of tons of pesticides, solvents, chemical catalysts and byproducts lay strewn across six hectares (16 acres) inside the plant. Evaporation ponds covering 14 hectares outside the factory were filled with thousands of litres of liquid waste.

The plant, which never reached its full production capacity, proved to be a loss-making venture and was shut down in the early 1980s, though large quantities of dangerous chemicals were left abandoned on the site.

Three huge steel tanks continued to hold more than 60 tons of MIC. Although MIC is a particularly unstable gas, Union Carbide’s elaborate safety systems were allowed to fall into disrepair and become ineffective. The factory managers’ reasoning seemed to be that, since production had stopped, no threat remained.

As monsoons battered the decaying plant, rain caused the chemical-waste evaporation ponds to overflow. Toxins penetrated the soil, leaching into underground channels. Contaminated water from wells was pumped into 42 neighbourhoods.

In secret tests carried out by Union Carbide in 1989 , the results of which were subsequently seen by the Bhopal Medical Appeal, the company concluded that the site was lethally contaminated. Groundwater instantly killed fish. Many of the places where the samples were taken were just inside the factory wall – people drew their water from wells and standpipes on the other side of the wall.

Steam is directed at a person’s feet and bare legs

A gas-affected patient undergoes Panchakarma steam treatment, a traditional Ayurvedic therapy, at the Sambhavna clinic. The clinic describes its approach to treating survivors of the disaster as ‘offering drug-free therapies for chemically burdened bodies’

Despite having indisputable proof of the site’s toxicity, Union Carbide chose not to notify local people that the water was unsafe. It attacked those in the community who voiced concern, dismissing them as “troublemakers”.

The full extent of the contamination was not exposed until 1999, when Greenpeace investigators, after running a series of tests, reported that soil and water in and around the plant were contaminated by organochlorines and heavy metals, which are both highly toxic and accumulate in the body.

A follow-up study in 2002, which found mercury, lead and organochlorines in the breastmilk of women living near the plant, also discovered that the children of gas-affected women suffered an array of debilitating illnesses, including birth defects and reproductive disorders.

The “polluter pays” legal principle applies in India but Union Carbide and its parent company, Dow, have refused to pay compensation for this second environmental catastrophe of contaminated water.

A boy crouches down as he scoops water into his mouth from a hand pump

A boy drinks water from a hand pump near the plant. Water samples taken in and around the factory were found to be highly contaminated by organochlorines and heavy metals

In 1989 Union Carbide, in a partial out-of-court settlement with the Indian government, agreed to pay $470m in compensation to the victims of the disaster. But the victims themselves were not consulted in the negotiations, and more than nine in 10 received a maximum of $500 each, or enough to pay medical expenses for five years.

Today, victims of the disaster eke out a perilous existence. More than 50,000 Bhopalis are unable to work because of their injuries. Many have no family left at all.

In 1991, India’s criminal justice system charged Warren Anderson, Union Carbide’s chairman and chief executive at the time of the disaster, with “culpable homicide not amounting to murder”. If he had been convicted in India, he would have faced a maximum of 10 years in prison. Anderson never stood trial. An Indian extradition request languished in the US courts for three and a half years without a response from officials.

In September 2014, a few months before the 30th anniversary of the disaster, Anderson, the son of a Brooklyn carpenter, died aged 92 in a nursing home in Vero Beach, Florida.

Two medics examine an X-ray as the patient sits on a bed with a woolly hat and a tube coming from his nose

Doctors at the Chirayu cancer hospital in Bhopal examine a patient from one of the neighbourhoods around the abandoned plant

Union Carbide was charged with culpable homicide. The corporation, like its former chief executive, refused to face trial in India, and the charges have never been resolved.

Dow and Union Carbide merged in 2001. The agreement submitted to regulators omitted any mention of pending criminal cases against Union Carbide. Dow has been served summons to appear in court at least six times in Bhopal to explain Union Carbide’s continued absence. It has ignored all six notices.

Union Carbide remains liable for the environmental devastation it caused. Environmental damages were not addressed in the 1989 settlement, and the contamination continues to spread; these liabilities became the responsibility of Dow.

Some Dow shareholders tried to stop the merger, knowing that a corporation assumes the assets and the liabilities of a company it buys, according to established corporate law. Indeed, soon after it acquired Union Carbide, Dow settled a US lawsuit, paying out $2.2bn to compensate people in the US affected by Union Carbide’s use of asbestos in legacy products. But Dow maintains that it is not liable for Union Carbide’s actions in Bhopal.

Tim Edwards is executive trustee of the Bhopal Medical Appeal.

Women hold posters showing the face of a small child half-buried, with an adult hand brushing dirt from the corpse. One poster says ‘We want justice’; another says ‘Prime minister Modi and chief minister Shivraj must answer why Bhopal gas victims have still not got compensation.’

Demonstrators marching through the streets of Bhopal to mark the 34th anniversary of the Union Carbide gas disaster in 2018

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How the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy in India has hurt multiple generations

Rhitu Chatterjee

Nearly 39 years after a gas from a pesticide factory poisoned tens of thousands of people in Bhopal, India, a new study finds that it also had health and economic impacts on men born a year later.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Nearly 39 years ago, the central Indian city of Bhopal was hit with what's still considered the world's worst industrial accident. Toxic gas leaked out of a pesticide factory run by the Indian subsidiary of an American company called Union Carbide. Thousands died immediately after that accident, and tens of thousands more have died since. Now a new study finds that the impacts of that horrific accident span generations. Researchers show that the disaster has burdened people who were born in the year after the accident with cancer, disabilities and poverty. NPR's Rhitu Chatterjee joins us now to explain these new findings. Hi, Rhitu.

RHITU CHATTERJEE, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So can you just first tell us a little more about what happened back in 1984? And before you do, I just want to warn listeners that the details here are intense and devastating.

CHATTERJEE: Yeah. So this was on the night of December 3, 1984. The gas leak started shortly after midnight, when everyone was fast asleep. The gas was methyl isocyanate, an extremely toxic chemical used as an intermediary to make pesticides. And an estimated 40 tons of it leaked out and spread through Bhopal, exposing half a million residents. And, you know, people started waking up with their eyes and throats burning. And, you know, there was panic on the streets. And I spoke with this woman named Rehana Bi on the phone, who was only 16 at the time and lived very close to the factory - still does. And she told me that she remembers waking up that night to the sounds of neighbors banging on their door, calling her father's name.

REHANA BI: (Speaking Hindi).

CHATTERJEE: She says when they opened the door, they saw lots of people outside, all coughing and blinded by the gas. She says the air felt as if someone was burning tons of chilis. And so Rehana Bi and her family joined their neighbors on the street, trying to run away from the gas, but they couldn't escape it. Also, her mother was eight months pregnant, so they couldn't really run very fast. And a few hours after daybreak, she says, her 3-year-old brother died.

BI: (Speaking Hindi).

CHATTERJEE: And by that evening, her father had died, as had her pregnant mother. And this next thing, Ailsa, is really hard to hear. It kept me up at night after I talked to Rehana Bi. She told me that several of her family members saw the baby in her dead mother's womb moving until the following day, and then it died, too.

CHANG: Oh, my God, how devastating. Her family, though - they were just, you know, among thousands of people who lost loved ones - right? - immediately after.

CHATTERJEE: Exactly. And, you know, even the people who survived, people like Rehana Bi, have continued to struggle with a host of chronic health issues and are still struggling today.

CHANG: Right. Let's talk about that. I want to get into this new study. It shows that this tragedy, this disaster, had long-term effects on the following generations as well. Tell us more about what this study found.

CHATTERJEE: So the study used data from India's National Family Health Survey to try and get a sense of whether the generation that was in utero at the time of the accident - whether that generation was affected by the accident as well. And the study finds that indeed it was. In fact, that generation is doing worse than those who lived through the disaster, even. Here's study author Gordon McCord of the University of California San Diego.

GORDON MCCORD: All the way out to 100 kilometers from Bhopal, that 1985 birth cohort was very strange.

CHATTERJEE: Firstly, he says that there were fewer male babies born that year compared to previous years and later years. And he told me that that's not totally surprising because we know that male fetuses are more vulnerable to any kind of harmful exposure in utero.

CHANG: Oh, really? I had no idea. Well, what about the babies who were born that very year and who are now adults? How are they faring?

CHATTERJEE: So McCord says that the generation of men born in 1985 in Bhopal is worse off in terms of health, education and employment compared to those who were born before and after.

MCCORD: They have a higher likelihood of reporting to have cancer. They have a higher likelihood of reporting to have a disability that prevents them from being employed, and they on average have two years less of education.

CHATTERJEE: And that, you know, means that this generation was more likely to remain trapped in poverty because of the disaster, and the findings after this ongoing global discussion about what do we as a society owe future generations for damages caused by disasters.

CHANG: Yeah. Well, what do you think, Rhitu? Do you think these findings are likely to help the survivors of this accident or their children in any way?

CHATTERJEE: So it's too early to say anything about that. Now, those who lived through the disaster themselves have received very little compensation so far, and not a single person born after the disaster has received anything. But one advocate for Bhopal survivors that I spoke to recently told me that India hasn't yet shut the door on compensating the next generation. So she is hopeful that this study will, in time, help make a difference on that front.

CHANG: That is NPR's Rhitu Chatterjee. Thank you, Rhitu.

CHATTERJEE: Thank you, Ailsa.

(SOUNDBITE OF IMAN OMARI SONG, "MOVE TOO FAST (FEAT. ANNA WISE)")

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  • International Dimensions of Ethics Education in Science and Engineering

Case Study: Bhopal Plant Disaster

M.J. Peterson , University of Massachusetts - Amherst Follow

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International Dimensions of Ethics Education Case Study Series

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The Bhopal case is an in-depth study of the industrial accident at the Union Carbide factory in India that immediately killed 2,000 people, injured another 200,000 to 300,000 more, and immediately raised questions about plant safety and corporate responsibility around the world. Includes seven detailed appendices: A.) Chronology, B.) Stakeholders and Level of Responsibility, C.) Economic/industrial climate of India, D.) Union Carbide Corporation, E.) Issues in Chemical Processing, F.) Assessing Responsibility: The Legal/Regulatory System, G.) Assessing Responsibility: The Engineers and Scientists, and H.) Technical Expertise and Managerial Responsibility.

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Bhopal: 40 Years of Injustice

December 2024 marks 40 years since the Bhopal gas leak disaster in Madhya Pradesh state, India. This was one of the worst industrial catastrophes and corporate negligence cases in living memory. This report provides an update on the situation of Bhopal survivors since 2014, when Amnesty last reported comprehensively on the case.

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Bhopal: A Root Cause Analysis of the Deadliest Industrial Accident in History

I was an employee of union carbide corp. (ucc), and like other employees, i know exactly where i was when i first heard the news. analyzing the root cause of this horrible accident provides insight and opportunities to learn from the mistakes that led to bhopal..

Tank obstructed by overgrowth

In the 11th century, Raja Bhoj of Dhar founded a city on the shores of a beautiful lake in central India. Today, that city, Bhopal, is a bustling metropolis of 2 million people. The city and surrounding area is home to a large wildlife refuge, a museum of Indian tribal life, a collection of historical palaces and temples, and Stone Age cave paintings.

Almost anywhere else in the world, this city would be a major tourist attraction, but Bhopal is well-known for something else: It is the site of the deadliest industrial accident in history.

The Accident

In the early morning hours of 3 December, 1984, a large amount of toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas was released from a Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant, which swept over a large, densely populated area south of the plant. The cloud also wafted over a railway station 2 km away, where many people waiting for and arriving on trains died.

About 500,000 people downwind were exposed to the gas cloud. Thousands of people died in the immediate aftermath, although the precise number is unknown. A commonly accepted number is 2,000 (D’Silva 2006), but it may be as high as 8,000 (Amnesty International 2004). Tens of thousands were severely injured, thousands of whom died prematurely from their injuries in the months and years following the release.

A Personal Connection

I was an employee of Union Carbide Corp. (UCC), the US parent company of UCIL at the time of the accident. Like other UCC employees, I know exactly where I was when I first heard the news.

While traveling in India recently, I traveled to Bhopal to see the site of the accident.

The plant has been idle for 30 years, rusting away, and overgrown with trees and shrubs. Many have clamored for years to have the plant demolished and the site cleaned up. Others have petitioned that it be maintained as a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization World Heritage site.

Today, the accident is still alive in the neighborhood around the plant. Billboards and graffiti demand restitution. Hospitals and rehabilitation centers continue to treat the injured. Thousands still seek medical attention for problems, especially lung damage, and also immune system impairment, neurological damage, cancers, gynecological disorders, and mental health issues (Amnesty International).

The accident caused social and economic problems. For example, an already poor area was made much poorer, many families lost their sole breadwinners, and others lost their employment. Young women exposed to the gas cloud carry a social stigma and have had difficulty finding husbands.

I am frequently struck by how little people know about this accident. As the 30th anniversary of the event approaches, I think that it is important to remember those killed and injured in the accident, and to further resolve to learn from this accident, so that nothing like it will ever happen again.

Seeking the Truth

We will never know the whole truth about Bhopal. It is difficult to investigate a catastrophe of this magnitude, and it was particularly difficult to investigate Bhopal becauseof interference from vested interests.

A great deal has been written about the incident and the plight of the affected people and communities, but much of it was speculation, or was written to achieve the specific objectives of various involved parties.

I have sorted through competing narratives and claims to present the following, which is based on my experiences and research.

The Political, Legal, Economic and Social Environment

Trevor Kletz, a renowned safety expert, argued that there is no such thing as a root cause, but only a point at which we stop asking questions.

In this case, I think that it is appropriate to begin the inquiry during the days of the British Raj, the colonial occupation of India, because the residue of colonialism affected the psyche of the people and the political and legal systems of the country in ways that contributed to the tragedy.

ogf-2014-06-fig1culture.jpg

Fig. 1 illustrates the cultural environment at the time of the accident.

  • On the left, four drivers of the culture are
  • The recent history of colonialism (the domination of India by a foreign power)
  • The general poverty of the country and abject poverty of many people living near the  plant
  • The appeal of socialism in India at the time in history
  • The lack of a safety culture

Fig. 1 also shows the effects of the drivers, which include

  • The development of a legal system that was unashamedly pro-India, pro-citizen, and antiforeign corporation. This made it difficult for western companies to make a profit, and even more difficult to expatriate any profits that they managed to make. Most western companies, including IBM and Coca-Cola, left the country.
  • A shantytown developed quickly in the undeveloped land around the plant, which was supposed to be a buffer area. Local politicians supported the squatters and rebuffed UCIL’s attempts to evict them from the property.
  • Employees’ mistrust of management made it difficult to instill a safety culture that was appropriate to the inherent risks associated with the plant. It was impossible to even investigate incidences and near misses because they were covered up by the workers. 

ogf-2014-06-fig2culture.jpg

The plant was not making money for a couple of reasons. Sales were much lower than predicted because of economic hardships in India and unexpected competition. Manufacturing costs were high due to problems with the technology. It cost four times as much to make the pesticide in Bhopal as it did to make it in the United States (Fig. 2) .

UCIL had decided to permanently shut down the plant and ship it out of India. The plant was in its last production run at the time of the accident, working off the last batch of MIC.

It was against this legal, political, economic, and social backdrop that the final events and decisions leading to the tragedy unfolded.

Description of the Plant

Fig. 3 illustrates the pesticide production facilities at which the MIC was produced on site in the production plant and consumed on site as a raw material in the pesticide plant (MIC consumer).

ogf-2014-06-fig3culture.jpg

The plant design (partially batch) required MIC storage, which was to be kept at minimum volumes. A caustic scrubber was provided to neutralize the MIC vented from the storage tanks, and a flare was used to burn the vented MIC. A refrigeration system was provided to keep the stored MIC cold to decrease the rate of MIC’s reaction with water and other contaminants.

Initiating Event: Operator Error or Sabotage?

Accidents begin with one triggering (initiating) event. The initiating event for Bhopal was the introduction of a large amount of water into the tank (about 200 gal). MIC is a stable compound, but is very reactive with water, generating an exothermic (gives off heat) reaction. As the reaction progressed, the tank’s temperature and pressure increased, slowly at first, then at an accelerating rate until the venting began.

There is controversy over how the water got there. One story is that operators in another part of the plant were water-washing the vent header and did not properly isolate the header, allowing water to reach the MIC tank. However, this story does not pass technical muster. Simple pressure drop calculations show the scenario to be impossible (Kalelkar 1988). But this scenario sounds plausible, and is still argued by some who have vested legal and political interests in its acceptance.

It is likely that the true cause was sabotage. A disgruntled worker intentionally injected water into the tank, presumably to ruin the batch of MIC (D’Silva 2006; Kalelkar 1988).

Bypassed or Broken Safeguards

Significant safeguards were designed into the plant to prevent an MIC release, or at least to minimize its impact. Although the safeguards were probably adequate for handling typical initiating events, they may not have been adequate to handle the quantity of water injected into the tank on that day. We will never know, because all of the other safeguards were bypassed, out-of-service that night, or otherwise rendered ineffective.

No Means of Adding Water to the Tank

It is common in industrial facilities to install valves and drains in piping systems to make it easy to vent and drain the systems and inject water, steam, nitrogen, or air for purging or cleaning the systems. The designers of the Bhopal facility were aware that accidental injection of water could be catastrophic. Hence, the installed system had no drains or vents. Investigation (Kalelker) suggested that the injection of water could not have been a simple human error. It appears that the saboteur removed a pressure gauge and installed a hose connection in its place.

Minimizing the Stored Volume of MIC

The simplest of the safeguards was a safety directive to minimize the quantity of stored MIC stored. As indicated in Fig. 3, there were three storage tanks. According to the procedure, two tanks should have been empty and the third should have been at less than 50% level.

The actual level in Tank E-610 was about 70% (and Tank E-611 also contained MIC). Had there been less MIC in the tank, operators may have had the options to add diluent to slow the reaction.

Refrigeration System Out of Service

The rate of an exothermic reaction is decreased by decreasing the temperature. A refrigeration system was provided to keep the MIC at about 30°F. Had the tank been operated at that temperature, the reaction rate would have been much lower and the event may have been far less catastrophic.

Ironically, the refrigeration system was turned off months before the accident as a safety measure. The seals of the pump circulating the MIC through the refrigeration unit were prone to leaks. After one catastrophic seal failure, the refrigeration system was shut down permanently.

Caustic Scrubber

The vented MIC escaped through the vent gas scrubber (caustic scrubber). In the scrubber, it should have contacted caustic (sodium hydroxide), which would have neutralized at least some of the MIC.

There are conflicting reports on the operation of the scrubber. Some report that the scrubber was out of service for maintenance, while others report that it was operating, but that the flowmeter was not working. Hence, we have no direct evidence that caustic was pumped to the scrubber.

Even if the scrubber was in service, it probably had little effect. Scrubbers function by causing intimate contact between the liquid and gas streams. The gas flow rate on the night of the accident was probably from four to five times the scrubber design rate. At that flow rate, the vapor/liquid contact would have been poor.

Flare Out of Service

As in most processing facilities, the ultimate line of defense against vented gases is the flare, which is designed to burn the vented gases going through it. On the night of the accident, the flare was out of service. A section of pipe in the flare header was corroded and the flare had been taken out of service. 

Shantytown in the Plant Buffer Area

India is a crowded country with inadequate public transportation. The UCIL plant was a major employer, so it was natural that people would want to live near the plant. The poorest of the poor set up a shantytown along the plant perimeter, many literally using the plant’s concrete fence as one wall of their house. UCIL had tried multiple times to have the shantytown removed, but was unsuccessful because the shantytown residents were voters, and the local politicians supported them.

Ineffective Emergency Response

No on-duty UCIL employees were killed in the event because as the plant operators became aware of what was happening, including the direction from which the wind blew, they chose an appropriate evacuation route.

An effective emergency response would undoubtedly have saved many people in the community. UCIL issued no alarm to the community and provided no information to civil authorities until about 2 hours after the initial release of the gas.

Ineffective Treatment of the Injured

A final safeguard would have been effective treatment of the injured. In the immediate aftermath, the doctors did not know the cause of the incident and were unable to determine the appropriate treatment of the injured.

Local groups argue that still today, thousands are suffering from the exposure and that the funding allotted for their treatment is inadequate.

Internal Communication Failures

It was a remarkable series of defeated safeguards and it seems incredible that a plant would be operated in this manner. As I read the various accident reports, I sensed that the decisions were made by different people at different times. It was possible that no single person knew that all of the safeguards were out of service. It is a fundamental weakness of defense in depth when an individual can bypass a single safeguard, convinced that other available safeguards will provide adequate protection.

The Perfect Storm

In all or most major accidents, we see a similar pattern of multiple things going wrong. The list of things that went wrong at Bhopal is striking, including:

  • The plant was losing money, which resulted in staff and maintenance budget cutbacks.
  • A social system that dismissed safety culture and created extreme tension between management and workers to the extent that one disgruntled worker was willing to intentionally ruin a batch of MIC.
  • The plant was to close permanently, which, no doubt, significantly affected operator morale and contributed to the lack of maintenance and the bypassing of safety systems.
  • Adverse meteorological conditions contributed to the harm done. Stable conditions with low wind speed kept the gas cloud intact for an extended period of time and moved it slowly over a large section of the city.
  • The complete failure or lack of an emergency response program.
  • Ineffective treatment of the injured.

It is unlikely that there will ever be another industrial accident as deadly as Bhopal, which was a “perfect storm” event.

What We Learned

Bhopal has had a significant effect on safety culture across multiple industries in the world.  The legacy of Bhopal includes many things today that we take for granted, such as hazard and operability analysis, management of change, permit to work, and dispersion modeling.

Plants around the world immediately moved to limit the storage and shipping of toxic materials. It is unlikely that anyone will ever again store 15,000 gal of a substance as toxic as MIC.

What We Have Not Learned

There were significant problems with the Bhopal plant design. Since then, we have learned to design safer plants. But the plant design played only a small role in the accident, which was caused largely by the failure to operate the plant as the designers intended (e.g., the bypassing of safeguard systems in particular and the violations in adhering to standard operating procedures [SOPs] in general).

UCC recognized the failure to follow SOPs as a root cause and launched a corporatewide program to update SOPs and instill a culture of using them effectively. In the years since, the airline industry has learned to make the following of SOPs a priority, resulting in improvements in the safety of air travel—a lesson that the oil and gas industry has yet to learn.

For Further Reading

D’Silva, T. 2006. The Black Box of Bhopal: A Closer Look at the World’s Deadliest Industrial Accident . Trafford Publishing. (The author worked in the UCC agricultural products division at the time of the accident and participated in the accident investigation. He wrote this book after he retired. I consider it to be the definitive book on the accident. The majority of the information in this article can be found in D’Silva’s book.)

Jung, B. and Bloch, K. 2012. The Bhopal Disaster. Hydrocarbon Processing June.

Kalelkar, A. 1988. Investigation of Large-Magnitude Incidents: Bhopal as a Case Study. Oral presentation given at the Institution of Chemical Engineers Conference on Preventing Major Chemical Accidents, London, England, May 1988. http://www.bhopal.com/~/media/Files/Bhopal/casestdy.pdf (downloaded 25 April 2014). (The speaker discussed why it was difficult to investigate major accidents and why it was especially difficult to investigate Bhopal. He provided the best arguments that I have seen for why the cause was most likely a sabotage.)

Mukherjee, S. 2010. Surviving Bhopal: Dancing Bodies, Written Texts, and Oral Testimonials of Women in the Wake of an Industrial Disaster . Palgrave Macmillan. (Results from an oral history project.)

Sinha, I. 2008. Animal’s People . Simon and Schuster. (A novel about people injured in the Bhopal accident and a group of activists.)

Union Carbide Corp. 1985. Bhopal Methyl Isocyanate Incident: Investigation Team Report. http://nepis.epa.gov/Exe/ZyPURL.cgi?Dockey=2000W9PM.txt (Attachment One).

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Bhopal Gas Tragedy : Causes, effects and aftermath

The Bhopal gas tragedy occurred at midnight of December 2nd- 3rd December 1984 at the Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL) pesticide facility in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. This catastrophe affected around 500,000 people along with many animals. People who were exposed are still suffering as a result of the gas leak’s long-term health impacts. Chronic eye difficulties and respiratory problems were some issues due to it. Children who have been exposed have stunted growth and cognitive impairments. 

Table of Content

Bhopal Gas Tragedy

Bhopal gas tragedy case study, causes of bhopal gas tragedy, effects of bhopal gas tragedy, aftermath of bhopal gas tragedy.

Bhopal Gas Tragedy

Union Carbide was an American company that produced pesticides. MIC – methyl isocyanide, a dangerous poisonous gas began to leak at midnight on 2nd December 1984 from the Union Carbide factory. This MIC caused the Bhopal gas tragedy. The Bhopal gas tragedy was a fatal accident. It was one of the world’s worst industrial accidents. 

UCIL was a pesticide manufacturing plant that produced the insecticide carbaryl. Carbaryl was discovered by the American company Union Carbide Corporation, which owned a significant share in UCIL. As an intermediary, UCIL produced carbaryl using methyl isocyanate (MIC). Other techniques for producing the ultimate product are available, but they are more expensive. The very toxic chemical MIC is extremely dangerous to human health. Residents of Bhopal in the area of the pesticide plant began to feel irritated by the MIC and began fleeing the city.

Bhopal UCIL constructed three underground MIC storage tanks which were named E610, E611, and E619. On October 1984, E610 was not able to maintain its nitrogen gas pressure and so the liquid which is present inside the tank would not pump out, because of which 42 tons of MIC in E610 was wasted. The chemical in E610 was left unpumped as they were not able to re-establish its pressure, which later became responsible for Bhopal Gas Tragedy.

The main causes of Bhopal Gas Tragedy are as follows:

  • During the buildup to the spill, the plant’s safety mechanisms for the highly toxic MIC were not working. The alarm off tanks of the plant had not worked properly.
  • Many valves and lines were in disrepair, and many vent gas scrubbers were not working, as was the steam boiler that was supposed to clean the pipes.
  • The MIC was stored in three tanks, with tank E610 being the source of the leak. This tank should have held no more than 30 tonnes of MIC, according to safety regulations.
  • Water is believed to have entered the tank through a side pipe as technicians were attempting to clear it late that fatal night.
  • This resulted in an exothermic reaction in the tank, progressively raising the pressure until the gas was ejected through the atmosphere.

The main effects of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy are as follows:

  • Thousands had died as a result of choking, pulmonary edema, and reflexogenic circulatory collapse.
  • Neonatal death rates increased by 200 percent.
  • A huge number of animal carcasses have been discovered in the area, indicating the impact on flora and animals. The trees died after a few days. Food supplies have grown scarce due to the fear of contamination. 
  • Fishing was also prohibited.
  • In March 1985, the Indian government established the Bhopal Gas Leak Accident Act, giving it legal authority to represent all victims of the accident, whether they were in India or abroad.
  • At least 200,000 youngsters were exposed to the gas.
  • Hospitals were overcrowded, and there was no sufficient training for medical workers to deal with MIC exposure.

In the United States, UCC was sued in federal court. In one action, the court recommended that UCC pay between $5 million and $10 million to assist the victims. UCC agreed to pay a $5 million settlement. The Indian government, however, rejected this offer and claimed $3.3 billion. In 1989, UCC agreed to pay $470 million in damages and paid the cash immediately in an out-of-court settlement.

Warren Anderson, the CEO and Chairman of UCC was charged with manslaughter by Bhopal authorities in 1991. He refused to appear in court and the Bhopal court declared him a fugitive from justice in February 1992. Despite the central government’s efforts in the United States to extradite Anderson, nothing happened. Anderson died in 2014 without ever appearing in a court of law.

Bhopal Gas Tragedy continues to be an important warning sign for industrialization, for developing countries and in particular India, with human, environmental, and economic pitfalls. The economy of India is growing at a fast rate but at the cost of environmental health as well as public safety.

Frequently Asked Questions

What were the reasons behind bhopal gas tragedy.

The reasons behind Bhopal gas tragedy was a large volume of water had been introduced into the MIC tank and has caused a chemical reaction which did force the pressure release valve, which allowed the gas to leak.

What is the name of Bhopal gas case law?

The name is Union Carbide Corporation v.

Which gas was leaked in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy?

The gas which was leaked in the Bhopal Gas Tragedy is methyl isocyanate.

Was Bhopal gas tragedy an accident or experiment?

Bhopal gas tragedy was the world’s most worst industrial accident.

How many people died in the Bhopal Gas?

A total of 3,787 deaths were registered related to the gas release in case of Bhopal Gas Tragedy.

What were the four main demands of the Bhopal Gas victims?

The 4 demands of Bhopal Gas victims include: Proper medical treatment. Adequate compensation. Fixation of criminal responsibility Steps for prevention of such disasters in future.

How was Bhopal Gas Tragedy fixed?

Bhopal Gas Tragedy was fixed with construction of a secure landfill for holding the wastes from the two on-site solar evaporation ponds.

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The Bhopal disaster and its aftermath: a review

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On December 3 1984, more than 40 tons of methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, immediately killing at least 3,800 people and causing significant morbidity and premature death for many thousands more. The company involved in what became the worst industrial accident in history immediately tried to dissociate itself from legal responsibility. Eventually it reached a settlement with the Indian Government through mediation of that country's Supreme Court and accepted moral responsibility. It paid $470 million in compensation, a relatively small amount of based on significant underestimations of the long-term health consequences of exposure and the number of people exposed. The disaster indicated a need for enforceable international standards for environmental safety, preventative strategies to avoid similar accidents and industrial disaster preparedness.

Since the disaster, India has experienced rapid industrialization. While some positive changes in government policy and behavior of a few industries have taken place, major threats to the environment from rapid and poorly regulated industrial growth remain. Widespread environmental degradation with significant adverse human health consequences continues to occur throughout India.

Peer Review reports

December 2004 marked the twentieth anniversary of the massive toxic gas leak from Union Carbide Corporation's chemical plant in Bhopal in the state of Madhya Pradesh, India that killed more than 3,800 people. This review examines the health effects of exposure to the disaster, the legal response, the lessons learned and whether or not these are put into practice in India in terms of industrial development, environmental management and public health.

In the 1970s, the Indian government initiated policies to encourage foreign companies to invest in local industry. Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) was asked to build a plant for the manufacture of Sevin, a pesticide commonly used throughout Asia. As part of the deal, India's government insisted that a significant percentage of the investment come from local shareholders. The government itself had a 22% stake in the company's subsidiary, Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) [ 1 ]. The company built the plant in Bhopal because of its central location and access to transport infrastructure. The specific site within the city was zoned for light industrial and commercial use, not for hazardous industry. The plant was initially approved only for formulation of pesticides from component chemicals, such as MIC imported from the parent company, in relatively small quantities. However, pressure from competition in the chemical industry led UCIL to implement "backward integration" – the manufacture of raw materials and intermediate products for formulation of the final product within one facility. This was inherently a more sophisticated and hazardous process [ 2 ].

In 1984, the plant was manufacturing Sevin at one quarter of its production capacity due to decreased demand for pesticides. Widespread crop failures and famine on the subcontinent in the 1980s led to increased indebtedness and decreased capital for farmers to invest in pesticides. Local managers were directed to close the plant and prepare it for sale in July 1984 due to decreased profitability [ 3 ]. When no ready buyer was found, UCIL made plans to dismantle key production units of the facility for shipment to another developing country. In the meantime, the facility continued to operate with safety equipment and procedures far below the standards found in its sister plant in Institute, West Virginia. The local government was aware of safety problems but was reticent to place heavy industrial safety and pollution control burdens on the struggling industry because it feared the economic effects of the loss of such a large employer [ 3 ].

At 11.00 PM on December 2 1984, while most of the one million residents of Bhopal slept, an operator at the plant noticed a small leak of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas and increasing pressure inside a storage tank. The vent-gas scrubber, a safety device designer to neutralize toxic discharge from the MIC system, had been turned off three weeks prior [ 3 ]. Apparently a faulty valve had allowed one ton of water for cleaning internal pipes to mix with forty tons of MIC [ 1 ]. A 30 ton refrigeration unit that normally served as a safety component to cool the MIC storage tank had been drained of its coolant for use in another part of the plant [ 3 ]. Pressure and heat from the vigorous exothermic reaction in the tank continued to build. The gas flare safety system was out of action and had been for three months. At around 1.00 AM, December 3, loud rumbling reverberated around the plant as a safety valve gave way sending a plume of MIC gas into the early morning air [ 4 ]. Within hours, the streets of Bhopal were littered with human corpses and the carcasses of buffaloes, cows, dogs and birds. An estimated 3,800 people died immediately, mostly in the poor slum colony adjacent to the UCC plant [ 1 , 5 ]. Local hospitals were soon overwhelmed with the injured, a crisis further compounded by a lack of knowledge of exactly what gas was involved and what its effects were [ 1 ]. It became one of the worst chemical disasters in history and the name Bhopal became synonymous with industrial catastrophe [ 5 ].

Estimates of the number of people killed in the first few days by the plume from the UCC plant run as high as 10,000, with 15,000 to 20,000 premature deaths reportedly occurring in the subsequent two decades [ 6 ]. The Indian government reported that more than half a million people were exposed to the gas [ 7 ]. Several epidemiological studies conducted soon after the accident showed significant morbidity and increased mortality in the exposed population. Table 1 . summarizes early and late effects on health. These data are likely to under-represent the true extent of adverse health effects because many exposed individuals left Bhopal immediately following the disaster never to return and were therefore lost to follow-up [ 8 ].

Immediately after the disaster, UCC began attempts to dissociate itself from responsibility for the gas leak. Its principal tactic was to shift culpability to UCIL, stating the plant was wholly built and operated by the Indian subsidiary. It also fabricated scenarios involving sabotage by previously unknown Sikh extremist groups and disgruntled employees but this theory was impugned by numerous independent sources [ 1 ].

The toxic plume had barely cleared when, on December 7, the first multi-billion dollar lawsuit was filed by an American attorney in a U.S. court. This was the beginning of years of legal machinations in which the ethical implications of the tragedy and its affect on Bhopal's people were largely ignored. In March 1985, the Indian government enacted the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster Act as a way of ensuring that claims arising from the accident would be dealt with speedily and equitably. The Act made the government the sole representative of the victims in legal proceedings both within and outside India. Eventually all cases were taken out of the U.S. legal system under the ruling of the presiding American judge and placed entirely under Indian jurisdiction much to the detriment of the injured parties.

In a settlement mediated by the Indian Supreme Court, UCC accepted moral responsibility and agreed to pay $470 million to the Indian government to be distributed to claimants as a full and final settlement. The figure was partly based on the disputed claim that only 3000 people died and 102,000 suffered permanent disabilities [ 9 ]. Upon announcing this settlement, shares of UCC rose $2 per share or 7% in value [ 1 ]. Had compensation in Bhopal been paid at the same rate that asbestosis victims where being awarded in US courts by defendant including UCC – which mined asbestos from 1963 to 1985 – the liability would have been greater than the $10 billion the company was worth and insured for in 1984 [ 10 ]. By the end of October 2003, according to the Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation Department, compensation had been awarded to 554,895 people for injuries received and 15,310 survivors of those killed. The average amount to families of the dead was $2,200 [ 9 ].

At every turn, UCC has attempted to manipulate, obfuscate and withhold scientific data to the detriment of victims. Even to this date, the company has not stated exactly what was in the toxic cloud that enveloped the city on that December night [ 8 ]. When MIC is exposed to 200° heat, it forms degraded MIC that contains the more deadly hydrogen cyanide (HCN). There was clear evidence that the storage tank temperature did reach this level in the disaster. The cherry-red color of blood and viscera of some victims were characteristic of acute cyanide poisoning [ 11 ]. Moreover, many responded well to administration of sodium thiosulfate, an effective therapy for cyanide poisoning but not MIC exposure [ 11 ]. UCC initially recommended use of sodium thiosulfate but withdrew the statement later prompting suggestions that it attempted to cover up evidence of HCN in the gas leak. The presence of HCN was vigorously denied by UCC and was a point of conjecture among researchers [ 8 , 11 – 13 ].

As further insult, UCC discontinued operation at its Bhopal plant following the disaster but failed to clean up the industrial site completely. The plant continues to leak several toxic chemicals and heavy metals that have found their way into local aquifers. Dangerously contaminated water has now been added to the legacy left by the company for the people of Bhopal [ 1 , 14 ].

Lessons learned

The events in Bhopal revealed that expanding industrialization in developing countries without concurrent evolution in safety regulations could have catastrophic consequences [ 4 ]. The disaster demonstrated that seemingly local problems of industrial hazards and toxic contamination are often tied to global market dynamics. UCC's Sevin production plant was built in Madhya Pradesh not to avoid environmental regulations in the U.S. but to exploit the large and growing Indian pesticide market. However the manner in which the project was executed suggests the existence of a double standard for multinational corporations operating in developing countries [ 1 ]. Enforceable uniform international operating regulations for hazardous industries would have provided a mechanism for significantly improved in safety in Bhopal. Even without enforcement, international standards could provide norms for measuring performance of individual companies engaged in hazardous activities such as the manufacture of pesticides and other toxic chemicals in India [ 15 ]. National governments and international agencies should focus on widely applicable techniques for corporate responsibility and accident prevention as much in the developing world context as in advanced industrial nations [ 16 ]. Specifically, prevention should include risk reduction in plant location and design and safety legislation [ 17 ].

Local governments clearly cannot allow industrial facilities to be situated within urban areas, regardless of the evolution of land use over time. Industry and government need to bring proper financial support to local communities so they can provide medical and other necessary services to reduce morbidity, mortality and material loss in the case of industrial accidents.

Public health infrastructure was very weak in Bhopal in 1984. Tap water was available for only a few hours a day and was of very poor quality. With no functioning sewage system, untreated human waste was dumped into two nearby lakes, one a source of drinking water. The city had four major hospitals but there was a shortage of physicians and hospital beds. There was also no mass casualty emergency response system in place in the city [ 3 ]. Existing public health infrastructure needs to be taken into account when hazardous industries choose sites for manufacturing plants. Future management of industrial development requires that appropriate resources be devoted to advance planning before any disaster occurs [ 18 ]. Communities that do not possess infrastructure and technical expertise to respond adequately to such industrial accidents should not be chosen as sites for hazardous industry.

Following the events of December 3 1984 environmental awareness and activism in India increased significantly. The Environment Protection Act was passed in 1986, creating the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) and strengthening India's commitment to the environment. Under the new act, the MoEF was given overall responsibility for administering and enforcing environmental laws and policies. It established the importance of integrating environmental strategies into all industrial development plans for the country. However, despite greater government commitment to protect public health, forests, and wildlife, policies geared to developing the country's economy have taken precedence in the last 20 years [ 19 ].

India has undergone tremendous economic growth in the two decades since the Bhopal disaster. Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita has increased from $1,000 in 1984 to $2,900 in 2004 and it continues to grow at a rate of over 8% per year [ 20 ]. Rapid industrial development has contributed greatly to economic growth but there has been significant cost in environmental degradation and increased public health risks. Since abatement efforts consume a large portion of India's GDP, MoEF faces an uphill battle as it tries to fulfill its mandate of reducing industrial pollution [ 19 ]. Heavy reliance on coal-fired power plants and poor enforcement of vehicle emission laws have result from economic concerns taking precedence over environmental protection [ 19 ].

With the industrial growth since 1984, there has been an increase in small scale industries (SSIs) that are clustered about major urban areas in India. There are generally less stringent rules for the treatment of waste produced by SSIs due to less waste generation within each individual industry. This has allowed SSIs to dispose of untreated wastewater into drainage systems that flow directly into rivers. New Delhi's Yamuna River is illustrative. Dangerously high levels of heavy metals such as lead, cobalt, cadmium, chrome, nickel and zinc have been detected in this river which is a major supply of potable water to India's capital thus posing a potential health risk to the people living there and areas downstream [ 21 ].

Land pollution due to uncontrolled disposal of industrial solid and hazardous waste is also a problem throughout India. With rapid industrialization, the generation of industrial solid and hazardous waste has increased appreciably and the environmental impact is significant [ 22 ].

India relaxed its controls on foreign investment in order to accede to WTO rules and thereby attract an increasing flow of capital. In the process, a number of environmental regulations are being rolled back as growing foreign investments continue to roll in. The Indian experience is comparable to that of a number of developing countries that are experiencing the environmental impacts of structural adjustment. Exploitation and export of natural resources has accelerated on the subcontinent. Prohibitions against locating industrial facilities in ecologically sensitive zones have been eliminated while conservation zones are being stripped of their status so that pesticide, cement and bauxite mines can be built [ 23 ]. Heavy reliance on coal-fired power plants and poor enforcement of vehicle emission laws are other consequences of economic concerns taking precedence over environmental protection [ 19 ].

In March 2001, residents of Kodaikanal in southern India caught the Anglo-Dutch company, Unilever, red-handed when they discovered a dumpsite with toxic mercury laced waste from a thermometer factory run by the company's Indian subsidiary, Hindustan Lever. The 7.4 ton stockpile of mercury-laden glass was found in torn stacks spilling onto the ground in a scrap metal yard located near a school. In the fall of 2001, steel from the ruins of the World Trade Center was exported to India apparently without first being tested for contamination from asbestos and heavy metals present in the twin tower debris. Other examples of poor environmental stewardship and economic considerations taking precedence over public health concerns abound [ 24 ].

The Bhopal disaster could have changed the nature of the chemical industry and caused a reexamination of the necessity to produce such potentially harmful products in the first place. However the lessons of acute and chronic effects of exposure to pesticides and their precursors in Bhopal has not changed agricultural practice patterns. An estimated 3 million people per year suffer the consequences of pesticide poisoning with most exposure occurring in the agricultural developing world. It is reported to be the cause of at least 22,000 deaths in India each year. In the state of Kerala, significant mortality and morbidity have been reported following exposure to Endosulfan, a toxic pesticide whose use continued for 15 years after the events of Bhopal [ 25 ].

Aggressive marketing of asbestos continues in developing countries as a result of restrictions being placed on its use in developed nations due to the well-established link between asbestos products and respiratory diseases. India has become a major consumer, using around 100,000 tons of asbestos per year, 80% of which is imported with Canada being the largest overseas supplier. Mining, production and use of asbestos in India is very loosely regulated despite the health hazards. Reports have shown morbidity and mortality from asbestos related disease will continue in India without enforcement of a ban or significantly tighter controls [ 26 , 27 ].

UCC has shrunk to one sixth of its size since the Bhopal disaster in an effort to restructure and divest itself. By doing so, the company avoided a hostile takeover, placed a significant portion of UCC's assets out of legal reach of the victims and gave its shareholder and top executives bountiful profits [ 1 ]. The company still operates under the ownership of Dow Chemicals and still states on its website that the Bhopal disaster was "cause by deliberate sabotage". [ 28 ].

Some positive changes were seen following the Bhopal disaster. The British chemical company, ICI, whose Indian subsidiary manufactured pesticides, increased attention to health, safety and environmental issues following the events of December 1984. The subsidiary now spends 30–40% of their capital expenditures on environmental-related projects. However, they still do not adhere to standards as strict as their parent company in the UK. [ 24 ].

The US chemical giant DuPont learned its lesson of Bhopal in a different way. The company attempted for a decade to export a nylon plant from Richmond, VA to Goa, India. In its early negotiations with the Indian government, DuPont had sought and won a remarkable clause in its investment agreement that absolved it from all liabilities in case of an accident. But the people of Goa were not willing to acquiesce while an important ecological site was cleared for a heavy polluting industry. After nearly a decade of protesting by Goa's residents, DuPont was forced to scuttle plans there. Chennai was the next proposed site for the plastics plant. The state government there made significantly greater demand on DuPont for concessions on public health and environmental protection. Eventually, these plans were also aborted due to what the company called "financial concerns". [ 29 ].

The tragedy of Bhopal continues to be a warning sign at once ignored and heeded. Bhopal and its aftermath were a warning that the path to industrialization, for developing countries in general and India in particular, is fraught with human, environmental and economic perils. Some moves by the Indian government, including the formation of the MoEF, have served to offer some protection of the public's health from the harmful practices of local and multinational heavy industry and grassroots organizations that have also played a part in opposing rampant development. The Indian economy is growing at a tremendous rate but at significant cost in environmental health and public safety as large and small companies throughout the subcontinent continue to pollute. Far more remains to be done for public health in the context of industrialization to show that the lessons of the countless thousands dead in Bhopal have truly been heeded.

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Broughton, E. The Bhopal disaster and its aftermath: a review. Environ Health 4 , 6 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1186/1476-069X-4-6

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the bhopal disaster case study

Bhopal Gas Tragedy – Case Study And Legal Consequences

Introduction:.

The industrial manufacturing sector is pivotal for the buoyancy of the Indian economy. Since this production sector extended its hands to facilitate economic sustainability, it has branched with diversified industries indulged and engaged in manufacturing automobiles, pieces of machinery, equipment, mental and electric appliance, mineral-extractions, so on. To utilize our demographic dividend, Indian is supposed to alleviate unemployment. The attainment of such an object necessitates the growth of the industrial sector, which is capable to create large-scale employment opportunities for youths. Consequently, millions of families will move out of poverty and fulfill their economic needs.

On the other hand, every single thing has its highlights and challenges. With having an eye on accomplishing economic and technological culmination, the human community is resting in a vain attempt to bring back or keep up the ecological footprint. The status quo industrial societies are pervaded with noxious or hazardous substances; indeed without the same nothing could be processed and produced. Negligence in treatment, usage, or disposal of such kinds of stuff has its ramifications in all walks of human life; even history tells us the same. India has witnessed countless industrial accidents; one of the notable incidents which have still deeply-rooted in the minds of Indians is the Bhopal gas leak tragedy.

Brief About the Incident:

To produce the pesticide named  Sevin  comprises the reagents, Methyl Isocyanate and Alpha Naphthol;   the American enterprises entitled the Union Cambridge Corporation has established its subsidiary in Bhopal as qua the central place with excellent transport links. Later, the established Indian subsidiary was named The Union Cambridge India Limited (UCIL) since the Indian public had owned the ownership, nearly 40.1% share in the corporation.

The incident happened on the night of December 2 to 3, 1984, when the forty tons of Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) was massively escaped from the Tank E106 at the UCC’s Indian subsidiary laid on at Bhopal. Since the plant has established in a crowded and inhabited area, within less than an hour, a great number of people and animals were befallen as victims and consequently died due to the toxicity of the leaked MIC. The estimated number of immediate death was 3500+, and the critical injury was 6+ lakh. Approximately, over the past decades since the incident, the death count has reached 20000. As per the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) estimation, 62.58% of the Bhopal population had suffered from inhalational toxicity, withal having survivors might have experienced and developed bodily morbidities.

Concerning the treatment and Medicare, due to lack of information about the gas ebullition, the doctors did not play an efficient role. One of the causes for such a ramification is that the UCC’s refusal to disclose the precise proportion of the escaped gas by relying on the trade secrecy as a reasonable exemption.

Following the mishap, the victims have gone on an endless travel quest for justice, who have either lost their lives or sustained permanent disability. The two-fold question presented before the law for consideration is that, on what basis, the parameters for quantifying the liabilities of the corporation engaged in processing such a dangerous substance with nullified safety standards will be fixed? And the further aspect was how the government is going to tackle and prevent future damages by the installation of necessary safety protocols.

Legal Consequences of Bhopal Gas Tragedy:

The Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985:

Soon after the man-disaster, noticing the multitude of the suits arising out of the incident, the Indian parliament has passed the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act on 29th March 1985. This Act confers the government to file suit for damages in place as a representative of the victims (either survived or deceased). For the purpose of effective enforcement of the Act, Section 9 authorizes the central government to frame a scheme; amounts to the introduction of the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Registration and Processing of Claims) Scheme in 1985. The aforementioned government’s power to represent the affected party, both within and outside of India [1] , was predicated by the doctrine of  parens patriae.  However, the government has heavily criticized as, by enacting the Bhopal Act, it is attempting to smother the claimant from taking actions against the UCIL, since the government qua stakeholder at UCIL, is eligible to hold partially liable. Per contra, the government has managed to substantiate such enactment as, its  quo animo  is to secure the claims arising out of, or connected with, the Bhopal gas leak disaster, are dealt with speedily, effectively, equitably, and to the best advantage of the claimants and for matters incidental thereto . [2]

Does the Bhopal Act ultra vires the constitution:

Indeed, few allegations were brought before the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the Bhopal Act in relation to Article 14 , 19 and 21. It was confronted that Sections 3, 4 and 11 of the Bhopal Act violated the right of Indian citizens under the Constitution of India to choose their own counsel, and alleging a conflict of interest by the Indian government, for it could not represent the victims because of its shared responsibility for the disaster by failing to enforce safety regulations. [3]  However, the Apex court rejected the appeal and upheld its constitutionality [4] .

Initial litigation:

Following the Act’s promulgation, in April 1985, the Indian government filed a suit against the UCC (the parent company of UCIL) in the Federal District Court of the southern district of New York, claiming 3.3 billion US dollars i.e. Rs. 3900 Crores. The skepticisms are that, why the Indian government does propose the American judiciary on behalf of the claimants, despite preferring the Indian judiciary system? Whether India has mistrusted its own judicature, or perhaps, it is strategically a ligation, which desires a significant sum of damages that the American judiciary could award? Nevertheless, the UCC fruitfully availed of the aforementioned issues under discussion and requested for the case dismissal on the grounds of  forum non-conveniens. Withal, they pleaded that, since the accident was taken place in India (Bhopal), it might be more convenient to be tried in India. 

Thus the litigation seeking both damages and punitive damages, invoking UCC’s liabilities such as absolute liability, strict liability, multinational enterprises liability theories, misrepresentation, negligence, and breach of warranty, was dismissed by the federal District Court after accepting the plea of UCC on May 12, 1986.

Rejection of settlement offers:

Since the parent company is responsible for the tortuous acts of the subsidiary company abroad, several efforts were taken by the UCC for outside court settlement but it went vain attempt after rejection by the Indian government. The negotiated settlement initiated by Union Carbide stood ready to provide 350 million dollars, which was accepted by the private lawyers representing the injured (both victims and the deceased) but dismissed by the Indian government.

Justice combats in Indian courts:

After getting rejected by the American Court, the suit pursued battle in India. In 1986 the Indian union brought this issue before the Bhopal District Court to recover 3.5 billion rupees damages. Subsequently, the same was reduced by 30% to 2.5 billion rupees by the high court of Madhya Pradesh. Later on, the Indian government appealed against the reduced interim award, rendered by the Madhya Pradesh high court before the apex court.

The five-judge bench heard the case, concerning the condition and status of victims, who were filled with hopelessness and experiencing the agony of despair. After four years of the chronicle’s worst industrial catastrophe, to end the wild goose chase and provide the immediate remedy, the Apex court rendered its judgment on 14th February 1989.

The matter of fact is that the people have lacked credibility since their collective thought was that the wrongdoer might get them self out of liabilities by invoking the exceptions of the doctrine of strict liability. Per contra, relying on the absolute liability Doctrine, the Apex Court [5]  upheld the liabilities of UCC and ordered them to pay the sum of 470 million USD (approximately Rs. 700 crores) as compensation.

Although the Indian government has brought the golden justice by fixing the liability of the company to pay $470 million, it is deemed to be a bad move qua the fixed damages is hardly 15% of the original claim for $3.3 million. Lucidly, it is not a sufficient sum to compensate for all the damage caused in relation to the tragedy.

Concerning the distribution of the awarded compensation, Rs. 1 lakh was provided to the deceased person’s family, Rs. 50000 for persons suffering lasting damage and Rs. 25,000 for the temporarily injured.

Criticisms on the settlement:

As mentioned, firstly, it was assailed for the total sum of the compensation amount, as being the full and final settlement of all claims, rights, and liabilities arising out of that disaster, [6] the fixed amount leads to inadequacy of sum to compensate. Secondly, in terms of the final payment, vide its judgment ‘ this settlement shall finally dispose of all past, present and future claims, causes of action and civil and criminal proceedings (of any nature whatsoever wherever pending) by all Indian citizens’. Comprehensibly, it quashed the criminal proceedings and concluded all the civil proceedings, further limited the liabilities for the claims which were filed later.

Considering the aforesaid criticisms,  in 1989, the Apex Court clubbed several petitions and revived the criminal proceedings, and held that if there is any shortage in the amount of compensation the state is bound to bridge the gap [7] .

In 1990, the Indian government sanctioned Rs. 258 crores funds to aid the victims for economic, social, environmental, and medical rehabilitation. Later in 2010, former UCIL chairman and other 6 Ex-employees were convicted for the term of 2 years with a 2000 USD fine for the offense of causing death by negligence.

Employed principle:

Absolute liability:.

The trite English principle of strict liability was laid by the case of Ryland v. Fletcher [8]  in 1868. The said principle states that the person will be held responsible for the leakage of any hazardous substance from his premises. Withal, it is noteworthy that, even though there is no negligence on his part, he will be held accountable for the act of keeping the dangerous things in his premises.  Vide  this case’s judgment; it elucidates the ingredients that are essential to invoke strict liability viz. there should be the possession of dangerous substances, it must be escaped from defendant’s premises, and it has been kept for non-natural use of the land. In addition, there are certain exceptions to this rule, which are as follows,

  • The fault of the plaintiff
  • Act of the third party
  • Consent of the party

Till the date of the  MC Mehta v Union of India case, [9] the rule of strict liability has governed the Indian judicature in relation to the matter of fact in issue. But then, the rule of absolute liability was introduced in the said oleum gas leak case, wherein the oleum gas was escaped from the fertilizer plant of Shriram foods and fertilizers enterprises. Since the enterprises had engaged in an ultra-hazardous activity, it is their absolute and non-delegable duty to safeguard others from getting injured out of their industrial process. In the case of any failure in discharging the obliged duties, the enterprises will be held liable to pay damages under tort law regardless of the cited strict liability exceptions. Indeed, the same was held in this oleum gas leak gas. Thus, in simple words, the concept of absolute liability is the strict liability without any exceptions, which means under no grounds a person could escape the liabilities.

Conclusion and Analysis:

After analyzing the given circumstance, it is pretty evident that the legislative lacunae lasted at the time of tragedy. Though the factories Act, 1948 was propounded even before the Bhopal catastrophe, it prioritizes the welfare of the workers employed in industries and factories and there is no first place law to deal with the concerned situation. This incident led to breakthroughs in the Indian legislature, the catena of legislations related to the environmental safeguard and determination of penalties were enacted. The status quo is that any similar incident that occurs now will be tried before the National Green tribunal and fall under the ambit of the Environmental protection Act, 1986. Even though, under the provisions of the Public liability Act, 1991, the injured could claim damages for the caused injury because of the leaked hazardous chemicals. In addition, the said Act of 1991 out on the basis of the concept of ‘no-fault liability.

Concerning the disposal of hazardous wastes from industry, we have Hazardous Wastes (Management, Handling, and Transboundary Movement) Rules, 2008, to govern the storage and disposal of such toxic substances with the aid of the pollution control board. Further, In the case of Foundation for Science, Technology and Natural Resource policy v. Union of India, [10] the Apex court upholds the constitutionality of the Hazardous wastes (Management & Handling) Rules, 1989, and the applicability of directions provided in the BASEL Convention. Prior to this, Chemical Accidents (Emergency Planning, Preparedness, and Response) Rules, 1996 was legislated to address gas leaks and to monitor the industries handling those deadly chemicals .

Thus, the aftermath of the Bhopal gas leak tragedy has substantially informed us about the importance of environmental protection and the concept of sustainable development . The wider array of Article 21 of the Indian constitution in relation to the r ight to a clean and healthy environment [11] has also been obtained only after the catena of judicial decisions interpreted the same. Besides, the Indian constitution prescribes the state as well as citizens to protect the environment under its Article, 39(b), 47, 48, 49, 48 A, and 51 A (g).

Even we have sufficient legislations to address the gas leaks issue; it is an absolute challenge to measure the injuries sustained by a person. However, the injured will receive damages in the light of law (Ubi jus ibi remidium). But then, how far it recompenses their loss? What about the people who lost their lives or happened to suffer the morbidities. Their psychological and physiological distresses are immeasurable. Hence, prevention is always better than cure by the mean, the government, industries, and citizens are obliged to take reasonable care because, ultimately, this is our environment.

References:

  • https://blog.ipleaders.in/bhopal-gas-tragedy-case-study/#_ednref28
  • https://www.scconline.com/blog/post/tag/bhopal-gas-tragedy/
  • https://indianjudiciarynotes.com/case-study/case-study-mc-mehta-vs-union-of-india/
  • https://scholarship.law.unc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=1464&context=ncilj

[1] Section 3(1) of the Bhopal Act, 1985.

[2] THE BHOPAL GAS LEAK DISASTER (PROCESSING OF CLAIMS) ACT, 1985, https://www.indiacode.nic.in/bitstream/123456789/1855/1/A1985-21.pdf.

[3] Lewin,  Carbide Is Sued in U.S. by India in Gas Disaster,  N.Y. Times, April 9, 1985, at D2, col.4

[4] State of Madras v. V. G. Row,   AIR 1952 SC 607.

[5] Union Carbide Corporation v. Union of India, 1990 AIR 273.

[6] Supra note 5.

[7] Zia Modi, 10 Judgments that changed India, 44, {2013}

[8] Rylands v Fletcher (1868) LR 3 HL 330

[9] 1987 AIR 1086.

[10] AIR 2012 SC 2627.

[11] Subhash Kumar v. the State of Bihar, 1991 AIR 420, 1991 SCR (1) 5.

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the bhopal disaster case study

Snegapriya V S

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Bhopal Gas Tragedy

Bhopal Gas Tragedy: A Case Study on One of the World’s Worst Industrial Disasters

  • Post published: November 17, 2023
  • Post category: Environmental Engineering
  • Post comments: 1 Comment

Introduction

The Bhopal gas tragedy is one of the deadliest incidents that occurred in the city of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India, during two nights on December 2 and 3, 1984. Unfortunately, people are still suffering its ill effects even today. Affected by this tragedy.

This incident came to light in Bhopal-based Union Carbide Private Limited Corporation. The highly poisonous chemical methyl isocyanate (MIC) present in the company leaked. The gas dispersed into the atmosphere after reacting with water, affecting residential areas around the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant. The impact was severe, with approximately, 3800 lives lost.

However, conflicting data emerges. Official reports stated a much lower figure of 1,430 during the parliamentary session in 1991. Subsequently, concerns were raised against the government for possible data manipulation or tabulation errors.

Bhopal gas tragedy

Here are the Learning Outcomes of The Case Study,

  • Basic Overview OF the Tragedy
  • History OF UCIL
  • Why This Incident Happened, and Who Is responsible For this Tragedy
  • What is the Learning Outcomes From these Incidents – As a Engineer

Background of the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) Plant

Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), founded in 1907, was an American multinational corporation, initially known for being one of the world’s largest producers of industrial chemicals, including plastics, pesticides, and gases. The company also made consumer products such as batteries and flashlights.

In 1934, UCC set up a plant in Bhopal and Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) became its subsidiary. UCIL produced a wide variety of products ranging from batteries and carbon products to welding equipment, plastics, industrial chemicals, pesticides and marine products.

One of the most significant industrial disasters, the Bhopal gas tragedy in 1984, brought UCC into the spotlight. Following an incident where 500 litters of water entered the MIC (methyl isocyanate) tank, reacting with the MIC (methyl isocyanate) and evaporating into the atmosphere, many lives were lost and people suffered from various diseases. The company faced allegations of prioritizing profits over safety and failing to adequately warn employees and residents about the dangers of MIC (methyl isocyanate) .

In 1989, UCC settled a class-action lawsuit filed by victims of the tragedy for $470 million. In 1994, UCC sold its stake in UCIL, which was renamed Eveready Industries India Limited. In 2001, UCC filed for bankruptcy, and its assets were eventually acquired by Dow Chemical Company.

Here is a timeline of major events in the history of the UCC and UCIL

1907: Union Carbide Corporation was established.

1934: Union Carbide India Limited was established.

1984: Bhopal gas tragedy occurred.

1989: UCC settled a class-action lawsuit filed by victims of the Bhopal tragedy for $470 million.

1994: UCC sold its stake in UCIL and the company was renamed Eveready Industries India Limited.

2001: UCC files for bankruptcy.

2001: Dow Chemical Company acquired the assets of UCC.

The Incident: Causes and Events Leading to the Tragedy

1

Security lapses and negligence

In the corporation, workers explained that sometimes, when process units encounter problems, UCC workers need to clean units. To fix the issue, they clean it with water. For ease and efficiency, there is a shortcut pipe that leads directly to the MIC (methyl isocyanate) storage area, allowing interchangeable use of equipment but permanently linking lethal chemicals and other plant operations. This pipe provides a direct path for water into the MIC (methyl isocyanate) Storage tank. But When They used The Water for the cleaning purposes There will be A Slip – line Under the pipes which can block the water, so The water will not Go Directly into the MIC (methyl isocyanate) Storage Tank, but This Safety Measures Are Missing as per the worker’s Slip Line Was not connected In the pipe that the times.

The Another Incident or Negligence on the same day was happened

On the December 2, When the cleaning work started at around 9.30 pm in Night, the Worker noticed that water was not coming from the external point. However, (or the other side Of the Pipe) , he ignored this, assuming that the water would move through the connecting pipes until it reached the MIC (methyl isocyanate) tank, which was the first malfunction that night.

Slip lines designed to stop the flow of water and create a watertight seal on the pipe were not in place. As a result, the water reached the MIC tank. Plant outlines indicate that inert nitrogen gas should be pumped into the MIC (methyl isocyanate) tank as a final barrier, providing a safe high-pressure layer. However, the plant workers said there was a glitch in the system.      

SA per the Workers said, Before the November 30 incident, workers had tried to repair the pressurized E610 but failed. The readings were incorrect, and reports were not submitted for operation for various reasons. The investigation team suspected that some trained employee had deliberately supplied water to the MIC tank.

Mistake: – If workers or individuals can notice the defects at that time, there is a chance of preventing such significant disasters and saving thousands of people’s lives. It was a carelessness at that time, not checking properly,

Challenges Faced by UCIL Management: Unravelling the Issues Beyond the Bhopal Disaster

As per the Employs or workers in the plant faced difficulties in achieving sales targets over the years. The company struggled to sell its products as expected, due to the Continuous loss of The management to cut costs. In an attempt to reduce expenses, safety measures at the plant were significantly compromised. Reports indicate that workers in the plants reported a widespread neglect of safety, with minor leaks becoming common in UCIL. Between 1981 and 1984, at least five incidents occurred, and even before the Bhopal disaster, there were reports of incidents, such as one where three people were injured and one worker died. Despite these incidents, UCIL operations continued without significant improvements in safety measures.

Reports revealed that the missing slip line triggered budget cuts and maintenance supervisors were fired to cut costs. The main flaw was in the plant’s design, which was unprepared for significant disasters, with minimal safety measures.

Multiple safety lapses and negligence on the part of the plant management and the parent company, Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), were one of the main causes of the Bhopal gas tragedy. The safety procedures at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) plant were seriously compromised due to several reasons.

Most importantly, not enough attention was paid to maintaining and adhering to the stringent safety requirements. Management’s priority appeared to be generating profits and cutting costs rather than putting the well-being of employees and the local community first. Routine maintenance and safety checks were not done as thoroughly as they should have been. Gas leak detectors and emergency shut-off systems are two examples of critical safety equipment and gadgets that were either not working properly or were not maintained properly. As a result, potential hazard warning signals were either ignored or missed. Additionally, the company’s workers received insufficient training in hazardous materials handling, including industrial process use of methyl isocyanate (MIC). Enterprises dealing with toxic substances must have effective training and awareness programs in place to ensure that employees are aware of the hazards and prepared for emergencies.

In addition to lapses in security procedures, the coordination and communication between management and staff were clearly inadequate. When the gas leak happened, the staff was not well-prepared to deal with such problems. The concern was made worse by a lack of well-defined rescue procedures and a handful of training sessions. The disaster was also caused by the underlying organization, Union Carbide Corp. (UCC), which has its corporate headquarters in the United States. There were allegations that the UCIL plant did not receive adequate funding and support from the UCC as per safety norms. Although it was aware of the risks associated with handling methyl isocyanate (MIC) , it was criticized for neglecting to deliver the most contemporary security technologies and procedures to the Bhopal site.

2

Storage and Handling of Hazardous Chemicals

At the Bhopal plant, Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) storage facility was provided below the bunker, primarily using three tanks – E610, E611 and E619. Despite the Corporation’s stipulation that one tank should be kept on standby for emergency purposes, on that particular day, all three tanks were filled beyond their capacity.

The E610, which had a leak, was not properly calibrated, resulting in it being filled more than 75% . Contrary to corporation rules, which recommend filling only up to 50% for MIC storage, this deviation had serious consequences. About 42% of MIC evaporated into the atmosphere after reacting with water.

The Bhopal plant has three underground 68,000-litre (18,000 US gal) liquid MIC storage tanks. However, the events of that day highlighted significant discrepancies in adherence to safety guidelines.

Failure of Safety Systems

In power plants or specifically where such dangerous chemicals are stored, it is necessary to follow some guidelines and adhere to strict safety measures to save workers’ lives and prevent any operational losses. But the Basic Safety Measures are missing in Bhopal plant,

Let’s Categorized into the 3 Parts Bhopal gas Plant Safety Measures which is Necessary as per the Plant before operational

Several security systems were found not to function properly

1 st is Bent Scrubber Tower is Not working

2 nd Flyers Tower is also Not working,

3 rd Water Pipes or pumps not working up to the mark

1st is Bent Scrubber Tower is Not working

A gas scrubber is a device used to remove gases from a gas stream. It is employed to control pollution and neutralize hazardous gases, preventing them from directly flowing into the atmosphere and contributing to increased air pollution. Gas scrubbers work by passing the gas stream through a liquid or solid absorbent material. The absorbent material removes the gases from the gas stream by absorbing them or reacting with them. Gas scrubbers are used in a variety of industrial applications, including power plants, chemical plants, steel mills, and other industries.

Tech articals

The same technology was used in the Bhopal plant as the initial storage control to prevent significant disasters by not allowing the hazardous gas to flow directly into the atmosphere. The bent gas scrubbers or (putting leaked gas into the bottle-shaped tank and neutralizing it with caustic soda) were intended to neutralize the MIC gas by passing it through a solution and sodium hydroxide. However, the sodium hydroxide solution was not properly diluted, and the scrubbers were not operating at full capacity. As a result, the scrubbers were unable to effectively neutralize the methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas, leading to a gas leak into the atmosphere

A gas scrubber helps us to control OR

Removal of Pollutants: Gas scrubbers are designed to capture and remove pollutants, such as particulate matter, acidic gases, or volatile organic compounds (VOCs), from industrial emissions.

Air Quality Improvement: By removing harmful pollutants, gas scrubbers contribute to improving air quality and ensuring compliance with environmental regulations.

Typical Components and Operation or the Gernel Gas Scrubbers

Inlet Duct: Contaminated gas enters the scrubber through an inlet duct.

Scrubbing Section: The gas comes into contact with a liquid scrubbing solution (often water or a chemical solution) in this section. Pollutants are absorbed or chemically reacted with the liquid.

Mist Eliminator: A mist eliminator or demister is used to remove liquid droplets from the gas stream before it exits the scrubber.

Outlet Duct: The cleaned gas is released into the atmosphere through an outlet duct.

Note: The above operation was not working properly, but we have another option or safety measure. In the event of any issues with the scrubbers, there is the Flare Tower, which can burn the gas.”

2 nd  Flare Tower

The flare tower at the Bhopal plant was designed to burn off excess gases from the plant’s chemical processes. It served as an important safety feature, preventing the release of hazardous gases into the atmosphere. However, on that day, the tower was also not working to burn the methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas at the time of the Bhopal disaster

Flare towers have three main components:

  • a flame arrestor.

The burner is responsible for igniting the gases that are released into the flare tower. The stack is responsible for venting the gases away from the plant. The flame arrestor is responsible for preventing the flame from the burner from propagating back into the plant.

In the Bhopal plant, the flare tower was not properly maintained. The burner was not working properly, and the flame arrestor was not in place. As a result, the flare tower was not able to burn off the excess gases that were released from the methyl isocyanate (MIC) tank. This allowed the gases to leak into the atmosphere, causing the Bhopal disaster.

The failure of the flare tower was another major factor in the Bhopal disaster, highlighting the mishandling of the plant and underscoring the importance of quality maintenance. This disaster underscores the crucial need for proper maintenance and operation of flare towers, especially in industrial settings where hazardous materials are being used

3 rd is Water Pipes or pumps not working properly,

After releasing the gas from the chimney, the biggest failure was the maintenance, but the methyl isocyanate (MIC) did not evaporate into the atmosphere; instead, it crawled on the ground, affecting people within a radius of 5 to 8 km. Immediate action could have been taken by workers or those responsible in the plant. They could have neutralized it through water, as water pipes were available on the plant. However, the water pipes and pump lengths were not sufficient to reach the chimney and neutralize the methyl isocyanate (MIC) . Other factors contributing to the failure of the water-cooling system include:

  • The water tubes were corroded and leaking.
  • The pumps were not working properly.
  • The plant’s operators were not properly trained on how to use the cooling system.
  • The plant’s management did not properly maintain the cooling system

3

Inadequate Emergency Response

When the gas leak occurred, there was no effective emergency response strategy to deal with such a critical situation. The impact on the affected population was made worse by the lack of quick and efficient emergency actions. Due to the inadequate preparation of emergency response teams to address the scope and severity of the gas leak, the prevention and mitigation of the disaster took longer than expected. Facility staff and local officials were inadequately equipped and unprepared, making it difficult for them to act quickly and effectively.

Following the gas leak, a serious lapse in the emergency response was the failure by plant employees to immediately inform the public. There was lack of awareness among workers regarding appropriate measures to be taken in case of gas leakage. As a result, they failed to transmit critical information through alarms or sirens to alert the public about leaked MIC and other gas they are not well ware or not sure which gas was released. The Team was Not well Trained

This lack of communication had serious consequences, as it overwhelmed medical and emergency response teams. The medical staff was not prepared to handle the sudden influx of affected persons. People running towards hospitals in panic and chaos inadvertently inhaled poisonous gas, which increased the number of casualties.

The evacuation process was hampered by poor coordination and inadequate communication. The absence of a well-defined emergency protocol contributed to the overall chaos. Medical staff had difficulty providing timely and effective assistance to those affected due to lack of prior knowledge of the nature of the incident.

This critical phase during the gas leak highlights the importance of a strong emergency response plan and effective communication channels in preventing further damage and saving lives. 

4

Impact on the Community and Environment

Residents living near the factory were immediately affected by the gas discharge. and Thousands of people died within hours of being exposed to the deadly gas. Many people died due to respiratory distress and other serious health problems. Fearing the invisible and deadly gases resulting from the gas leak, people fled for their lives, which resulted in widespread panic.

Those who made it through early exposure experienced a variety of health concerns, such as respiratory distress, eye discomfort, skin conditions, and gastrointestinal problems. The health of those exposed to methyl isocyanate (MIC) was seriously and permanently affected. Additionally, the gas caused problems for pregnant mothers, resulting in birth abnormalities and developmental problems in the offspring.

Those who survived and their families suffered significant emotional trauma as a result of the disaster. Many people experience immense loss and emotional pain after losing their loved ones. Families were separated, and as a result, the social fabric of the affected towns was severely damaged.

5

Impacts on the environment

The leakage of toxic gas from the UCIL plant had a profound impact on the environment in and around Bhopal. Vegetation and crops dried up in the affected areas, and water sources were contaminated, posing a serious health risk to the people who depend on them for their daily needs. The soil and groundwater in the area were also severely polluted by the chemicals released during the gas leak. Environmental pollution has had long-term effects on agricultural productivity and water quality in the region, affecting the livelihoods of local communities. In addition, toxic gases emitted during the disaster contributed to air pollution, which not only affected Bhopal but also spread to neighbouring areas. The gas leak continued to affect the health and well-being of people living in the vicinity for years after the tragedy.

6

Legal Battles and Compensation

Following the disaster, legal proceedings were initiated to hold Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) and its subsidiary, Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) , responsible for the tragedy. Both the Government of India and the affected individuals filed lawsuits against the UCC in the United States, seeking justice and compensation.

The legal battles were complex and lengthy, involving multiple jurisdictions and legal systems. Challenges arose due to the international nature of the case, with the parent company, UCC , being based in the United States while the disaster occurred in India. This led to jurisdictional issues and differences in the legal framework of the two countries.

When the CEO, Warren Anderson of UCC, arrived in India, he was reportedly arrested at the airport. However, according to Rajkumar Keswani, the police action was deemed more of a spectacle than a genuine arrest. Allegedly, the CEO was not detained at the lockup but instead accommodated in the guest house of UCC, a beautiful place in Bhopal. After a certain period, the CEO was released on bail and returned to his home country.

7

Compensation After The bhopal gas tregedy

One of the primary concerns following the tragedy was providing adequate compensation to the victims and their families. The UCC agreed to a settlement with the Indian government in 1989, amounting to $470 million. The agreement was aimed at providing compensation to the victims and assistance for their medical treatment and rehabilitation.

However, considering the scale of the tragedy and the long-term health consequences for the survivors, the amount of compensation was heavily criticized as inadequate. Many argued that the compensation provided was not sufficient to address the immense suffering and loss suffered by the affected individuals and families.

Legal battles and compensation issues continued for years as various parties sought justice and fair compensation. Efforts were made to revise and increase the amount of compensation to better address the needs of the victims.

Ultimately, legal proceedings and compensation efforts highlight the challenges of seeking justice and reparation in the aftermath of large-scale industrial disasters. The Bhopal gas tragedy case underscored the importance of a strong legal framework and international cooperation in dealing with such complex and international matters.

Despite settlement and compensation efforts, many victims and their families continue to grapple with the long-term health and social consequences of the gas leak. The tragedy is a reminder of the need for corporations to prioritize safety and responsibility in their operations and for governments to ensure stringent regulations and mechanisms to protect the well-being of their citizens.

Lessons Learned: Changes in Industrial Safety Regulations

The Bhopal gas tragedy had a profound impact on industrial safety regulations, not only in India but globally. The disaster served as a wake-up call, prompting governments, industries, and international organizations to re-evaluate and strengthen safety protocols to prevent similar incidents in the future. Several important lessons were learned from this tragedy, which led to important changes in industrial safety regulations:

Stringent Safety Standards : The Bhopal gas tragedy highlighted the critical importance of implementing stringent safety standards in industries dealing with hazardous substances. Governments began revising and strengthening safety regulations to ensure that industries followed best practices in storing, handling, and disposing of toxic chemicals.

Better Emergency Response Plans: The inadequacy of emergency response during the gas leak underscored the need for well-defined and efficient emergency response plans. Industrial facilities were required to develop comprehensive emergency protocols and conduct regular drills to ensure that workers and surrounding communities could respond quickly and effectively in the event of a disaster.

Compliance and Monitoring: This tragedy highlights the importance of strict compliance with safety regulations and the need for regular monitoring of industrial facilities. Governments and regulatory bodies increased inspections and audits to ensure that industries followed safety guidelines and took the necessary precautions to prevent accidents.

Community Awareness and Participation: Due to the gas leak in Bhopal, the nearby residents were not prepared for such a disaster. As a result, emphasis was placed on community awareness programs to educate people about the potential risks and safety measures in case of an emergency. Involving the local community in safety discussions has become an important aspect of industrial operations.

Corporate Responsibility and Accountability: The Bhopal gas tragedy raised questions about the accountability of corporations operating in developing countries. This sparked a debate about the responsibility of parent companies for the actions of their subsidiaries. As a result, there is an increasing emphasis on corporate responsibility and ethical business practices in multinational companies.

International Cooperation: The international nature of the case created challenges in seeking justice and compensation. The tragedy prompted discussion on the need for international cooperation and a standardized legal framework to deal with industrial disasters that cross national boundaries.

Focus on environmental protection : The environmental impact of the gas leak highlights the importance of protecting the environment from industrial disasters. Stringent regulations were put in place to ensure that industries follow eco-friendly practices and reduce their environmental impact.

The Bhopal gas tragedy led to significant changes in industrial safety regulations around the world. It stressed the need for strong security measures, emergency preparedness, and corporate accountability. Lessons learned from the disaster shape safety practices and regulations, ensure a safe working environment for industrial workers, and protect communities from potential industrial hazards.

Continuing Challenges and the Road to Recovery

The Bhopal Gas Tragedy’s haunting impact lingers, leaving scars on the hearts of survivors and their families. A tale of unimaginable suffering and resilience unfolds as we witness the aftermath of this catastrophic disaster. Despite efforts to bring justice and implement safety reforms, the road to recovery has been fraught with challenges.

As we reflect on the heartbreaking story of the Bhopal gas tragedy, emotions roll in like tidal waves, filling us with sadness and determination. This devastating disaster has left an indelible mark on humanity, sparking a collective desire for change and justice.

The horrifying memories of suffering and loss remind us that industrial disasters should never be forgotten but must be inscribed in our collective consciousness as a solemn pledge to safeguard life and protect the environment. We stand at a crossroads where compassion, corporate responsibility, and stringent security measures intersect.

In our search for healing, we must not waver. The survivors, the brave souls who bear the burden of unimaginable pain, deserve nothing less than a future full of hope and promise. Our duty to them is irrevocable: to ensure that they get the care, support, and justice they rightfully deserve.

Through community empowerment and participation, we create a path towards resilience and innovation. Every voice, every heart, and every hand united in healing becomes a beacon of hope, illuminating the darkest corners of tragedy.

May the legacy of the Bhopal gas tragedy constantly remind us that our world can change. Let us turn our sorrow and empathy into action, demand greater accountability from corporations, and embrace a culture of safety and compassion.

Together, we must stand firm against complacency and indifference, paving the way for stronger regulations and continuous improvement in industry practices. Only then can we create a future where such disasters become a relic of the past.

As we end this emotional journey, let us keep the stories of the Bhopal gas tragedy in our hearts, not as a burden but as a collective commitment to build a safer, more compassionate world. Through unity and perseverance, we have the power to heal wounds, rebuild hope, and shape a future where every life is cherished and protected.

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What is Bhopal Gas Tragedy? (Detailed Case study)

The Bhopal gas tragedy also known as the Bhopal gas disaster, was a gas leak incident on the wintry night of 2 December 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. It is considered to be the world’s worst industrial disaster.

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Table of Contents

MIC Chemical Reactions :

Bhopal disaster

Bhopal gas tragedy case study :

On 2nd December night, the night shift staff of the Union Carbide Factory, Bhopal, took around 11 p.m. There were three double-walled, partly buried S.S. tanks (No. 610, 611and 619) each of 60-tonne capacity and all containing the poisonous gas MIC (Methyl isocyanate) to be used to produce a deadly pesticide Carbaryl.

At 11-30, pm. workers in the plant realized that there was a MIC leak somewhere: their eyes began to tear. A few of them went to the MIC structure and noticed a drop of liquid with yellowish-white gas, about 50 feet off the ground. They told the supervisor who, however, decided to deal with the leak after the tea break which ended at 12:40 night. Meanwhile, the events had moved very fast.

The temperature of tank 610 had reached 25°C at the top of its scale and the pressure was increased twenty times rushing towards 40 psi at which the emergency safety valve was to open. Soon the pressure gauge showed 55 psi, the top of the scale, and the safety valve had opened releasing MIC With a loud hissing sound and tremendous heat. A white cloud drifting over the plant was moving towards the sleeping neighborhood.

The workers tried to operate the safety devices, but nothing seemed to work. The water jet failed to reach the top of the 120-foot stack from which MIC was escaping. The vent gas scrubber to neutralize the escaping gas did not work. The scrubber was under maintenance, the flow meter was not indicating the circulation of caustic soda whose concentration was also not known since October.

The flare tower to burn off the gas could not be ‘used because its piping was corroded and not replaced. The refrigeration system, of 30-tonne capacity, to keep the MIC in a liquid state at 0°C was closed down in June 1984 as an economy drive and the gas was at 15°-20°C Which was unsafe. For approximately two hours, the safety valve remained open releasing over 50,000 pounds of MIC (which might also contain Phosgene, Chloroform, Hydrogen cyanide. Carbon dioxide, etc.) out of 90,000 pounds stored in tank No. 610 at the time of the incident. Sometime between 1-30 to 2-30 am. the safety valve was reseated as the tank pressure went below 40 psi.

As per official records, the Bhopal gas leak killed 3,787 people. The figures were updated by the Madhya Pradesh government later as the immediate official estimate had put the death toll due to a gas leak from the Union Carbide factory at 2,259.

However, activists fighting for justice for Bhopal gas tragedy victims put the figures of death between 8,000 and 10,000. In an affidavit, submitted in 2006, the government said that the Bhopal gas leak caused 5,58,125 injuries that included approximately 3,900 severe and permanently disabling injuries.

Bhopal gas tragedy  Causes of the Accident :

(a) unsafe conditions of the bhopal gas tragedy  .

From the published press reports they seem to be:

  • The refrigeration system to keep the gas cool was closed for since long.
  • The vent gas scrubber was under-designed, not repaired, and not connected.
  • The corroded flare tower pipe was not replaced and was not connected.
  • The water curtain jests were under-designed to reach the maximum height.
  • All three tanks were filled in while one ought to have been kept empty to use as an emergency bypass.
  • The computerized pressure/temperature sensing system, a warning device to give the alarm and control the situation at the time of abnormal conditions was not installed.
  • The carbon steel valves were used instead of stainless steel and the valves ‘were notorious for leaking.
  • The instruments to check the valve leakage were not available.
  • The wind direction and velocity indicator were not installed to warn the people about leakage direction and severity.
  • The neighboring community was not told of the significance of the danger alarm and the dangers posed by the materials used in the plant.
  • Control instruments at the plant were faulty.
  • Maintenance and operational practices deteriorated.
  • Chemical reactors, piping, and valves were not purged, washed, and aired before maintenance operations.
  • The blind disc to disallow the water in the tank through the valve was missing.
  • Underqualified workers were running the factory.
  • People with chemical engineering backgrounds were replaced by less skilled operators.
  • The workers’ strength was reduced from 850 to 642 during the preceding two years and the operator’s duty relieving system was suspended.
  • The operating manual was grossly inadequate, not specifying all necessary emergency procedures to control abnormal conditions.
  • At the time of the accident, in the MIC control room, there was only one operator who found it virtually impossible to check the 70-odd panels, indicators, and controllers.
  • A design modification of the jumper line to interconnect the relief valve vent header and the process vent header was defective, as it allowed the water to go into the MIC tank.

(B) Unsafe Actions of Bhopal gas tragedy   :

  • The leak was not attended as soon as it was reported. Initial time passed in the tea break.
  • The first information about the five-fold pressure rise was dismissed in the belief that the pressure gauge could be faulty.
  • A newly recruited supervisor had asked a novice operator to clean a pipe and the blind disc was not inserted while doing so.
  • The public siren was put on around 1 am. nearly an hour after the gas leakage and that too for a few minutes.
  • The correct antidotes and medical treatments were not suggested to surrounding doctors. On the contrary confusion of MIC or Phosgene or Hydrogen cyanide was confounded.

(C) Unsafe Reactions of Bhopal gas tragedy  :

The above unsafe conditions and actions lead to the violent unsafe reaction. Different hypotheses have been expounded by Carbide’s scientists, Indian experts, and Dr. S. Varadrajan, who lead the investigations on behalf of the Government. According to him a small quantity of water reacted with Phosgene in the tank, mixed with MIC as an impurity to make it unstable. The Phosgene water reaction (hydrolysis) produced heat, CO2, and HCI.

The heat and HCI acted as the accelerators of the polymerization, additions, and degradation of MIC leading to a runaway reaction. According to others, the increased temperature of MIC (it vaporizes above 38°C) generated heat, pressure, and side reactions, higher than normal amounts of Chloroform in the stored MIC and an iron catalyst lead to the violent reaction. Because of the colder night of December, the escaped MIC settled down and traveled downward covering the sleeping surroundings with the blanket of death and damages.

What is Methyl isocyanate –

Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) is a chemical that is used in the manufacture of polyurethane foam, pesticides, and plastics. It is handled in liquid form which can be easily burned and explosive. It evaporates quickly in the air and has a strong odor. Its molecular formula is CH3NCO or C2H3NO and its molecular weight is approx. 57.05 g/mol. It is used in the production of pesticides, polyurethane foam, and plastics.

Remedial Measures of the Bhopal Gas Disaster :

All the 25 major causes of this accident stated above in (A) and (B) suggest remedial measures. To avoid repetition, all these contributing causes should be removed first and necessary steps should be taken to run the plant always safe and sound, with all the safety devices properly working. The working conditions must be improved and unsafe actions must be removed by proper policy, training, and education.

The Bhopal incident opened my eyes and gave many lessons to multinationals, developed countries, and developing countries.

Human life must be equally valued everywhere. No double standard for developed and developing countries. ‘Right to Know’ and ‘Obligation to Tell’ concepts are to be covered by the legislation. Training to staff, and workers, emergency procedures, highest standards for plant operation and maintenance and safety equipment, ‘worst case’ study and assessment, etc. were incorporated in 1987.

After the Bhopal gas leak incident :

Bhopal had a population of about 8.5 lakh back in 1984 and more than half of its population was coughing, complaining of itching in the eyes, skin and facing breathing problems. The gas caused internal hemorrhage, pneumonia, and death. The villages and slums in the neighboring areas of the factory were the worst affected.

The alarm system of the Union Carbide did not work for hours. No alarm was raised by the factory managers. Suddenly thousands of people started running to hospitals on the morning of December 3 with their complaints.

Unlike today, Bhopal in 1984 did not have too many hospitals. Two government hospitals could not have accommodated half of the population of the city. People were suffering, finding it difficult to breathe and confused. So were doctors, who did not immediately know the reasons for the sudden illness that afflicted every new rushing patient.

Patients complained of dizziness, breathlessness, skin irritation, and rashes, some others reported sudden blindness. Doctors of Bhopal had never faced a situation like this. They had no experience in dealing with industrial disasters.

Symptoms of methyl isocyanate exposure were not immediately known to them. And, the two hospitals reportedly treated around 50,000 patients in the first two days of the Bhopal gas leak. Officially, the government declared that the gas leakage was contained for eight hours, but the city is still finding it difficult to come out of its grip even 33 years later. So Bhopal incident was the world’s worst  industrial mishap .

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Records smashed – new WMO climate report confirms 2023 hottest so far

Rising sea levels are causing the regular flooding of homes in Bangladesh.

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Records were once again broken for greenhouse gas levels, surface temperatures, ocean heat and acidification, sea level rise, ice cover and glacier retreat, a new global report issued by the UN weather agency (WMO) on Tuesday shows.

Heatwaves, floods, droughts, wildfires and rapidly intensifying tropical cyclones caused misery and mayhem, upending everyday life for millions and inflicting many billions of dollars in economic losses, according to the WMO State of the Global Climate 2023 report .

“ Sirens are blaring across all major indicators ... Some records aren’t just chart-topping, they’re chart-busting. And changes are speeding up,” said UN Secretary-General António Guterres in a video message for the launch.

Based on data from multiple agencies, the study confirmed that 2023 was the warmest year on record, with the global average near-surface temperature at 1.45°C above the pre-industrial baseline. It crowned the warmest ten-year period on record.

Dr Celeste Saulo (centre), Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) at the launch of the State of the Global Climate 2023 report

“The scientific knowledge about climate change has existed for more than five decades, and yet we missed an entire generation of opportunity ,” WMO Secretary-General Celeste Saulo said presenting the report to the media in Geneva. She urged the climate change response to be governed by the “welfare of future generations, but not the short-term economic interests”.  

“As Secretary-General of the World Meteorological Organization, I am now sounding the red alert about the state of the global climate,” she emphasised. 

World in disarray 

However, climate change is about much more than air temperatures, the WMO experts explain. The unprecedented ocean warmth and sea level rise, glacier retreat and Antarctic sea ice loss, are also part of the grim picture. 

On an average day in 2023, nearly one third of the ocean surface was gripped by a marine heatwave, harming vital ecosystems and food systems, the report found. 

The glaciers observed suffered the largest loss of ice on record – since 1950 – with extreme melt in both western North America and Europe, according to preliminary data. 

Alpine ice caps experienced an extreme melting season, for instance, with those in Switzerland loosing around 10 per cent of their remaining volume in the past two years. 

The Antarctic sea ice loss was by far the lowest on record – at one million square kilometres below the previous record year – equivalent to the size of France and Germany combined .

Observed concentrations of the three main greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide – reached record levels in 2022 and continued increase in 2023, preliminary data shows. 

Global repercussions

According to the report, weather and climate extremes are either the root cause or serious aggravating factors that in 2023 triggered displacement, food insecurity, biodiversity loss, health issues and more.

The report, for example, cites figures that the number of people who are acutely food insecure worldwide has more than doubled, from 149 million before the COVID-19 pandemic to 333 million in 2023 in 78 countries monitored by the World Food Programme ( WFP ).

“The climate crisis is the defining challenge that humanity faces. It is closely intertwined with the inequality crisis – as witnessed by growing food insecurity and population displacement, and biodiversity loss,” said Ms. Saulo.

A glimmer of hope

The WMO report not only raises alarm but also offers reasons for optimism. In 2023, renewable capacity additions soared by almost 50 per cent, totalling 510 gigawatts (GW) - the highest observed rate in two decades. 

The surge in renewable energy generation, primarily fuelled by solar radiation, wind, and the water cycle, has positioned it as a leading force in climate action for achieving decarbonization goals.

Effective multi-hazard early warning systems are crucial for mitigating the impact of disasters. The  Early Warnings for All initiative aims to ensure universal protection through early warning systems by 2027. 

Since the adoption of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction , there has been an increase in the development and implementation of local disaster risk reduction strategies.

From 2021 to 2022, global climate-related finance flows nearly doubled compared to 2019-2020 levels, reaching nearly $1.3 trillion . 

However, this amounts to only about one percent of global GDP, underscoring a significant financing gap. To achieve the objectives of a 1.5°C pathway, annual climate finance investments must increase more than sixfold, reaching almost $9 trillion by 2030, with an additional $10 trillion needed by 2050.

Cost of inaction

The cost of inaction is staggering, the report warns. Between 2025 and 2100, it may reach $1,266 trillion , representing the difference in losses between a business-as-usual scenario and a 1.5° C pathway. Noting that this figure is likely a significant underestimate, the UN weather experts call for immediate climate action. 

The report is launched ahead of the Copenhagen Climate Ministerial meeting, where climate leaders and ministers from around the world will gather for the first time since  COP28 in Dubai to push for accelerated climate action, including delivering an ambitious agreement on financing at COP29 in Baku later this year – to turn national plans into action.

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The UB MBA and MS Ambassadors Blog

The UB MBA and MS Ambassadors Blog

Enriching Experience: Why I’m Pursuing an MBA after Two Master’s Degrees

Written by: Neetu Sharma, MBA ’24

Embarking on the pursuit of an MBA at the University at Buffalo stands as a testament to the strategic orchestration of my educational trajectory, interwoven with the pursuit of multidisciplinary knowledge. My academic journey has been an evolutionary expedition, encompassing diverse domains and encapsulating the essence of adaptability and multifaceted expertise. Earning my bachelor’s in economics laid the groundwork by introducing me to the fundamental principles that underpin business dynamics and economic landscapes.

Venturing further, the acquisition of a Master’s in Advertising and Public Relations Management broadened my horizons, delving into the intricacies of marketing and strategic communication. This immersive experience not only honed my creative acumen but also instilled in me profound understanding of the symbiosis between business strategy and effective communication, expanding the dimensions of my expertise.

A subsequent pursuit led me to a Master’s in Information Technology at Valparaiso University, a pivotal juncture where I delved into technological innovation. This phase fortified my analytical capabilities, marrying technology with business strategy and equipping me with a robust understanding of the intersection between digital landscapes and organizational success.

Now, standing at the threshold of pursuing an MBA at the University at Buffalo specializing in finance and analytics, my academic odyssey converges into a strategic inflection point. This decision is not just an augmentation of my academic repertoire, but a calculated progression towards comprehensive professional adeptness. The University at Buffalo’s MBA program embodies the quintessence of my career aspirations. Its specialized curriculum aligns seamlessly with my prior educational odyssey, synergizing my expertise in economics, marketing and technology with a focus on financial strategy and analytical prowess.

This decision is not just about acquiring knowledge, it’s about leveraging a comprehensive skill set honed across diverse disciplines. It’s about harnessing the power of holistic education to navigate the intricacies of modern business landscapes, armed with a multifaceted toolkit encompassing financial acumen and analytical dexterity.

Moreover, the collaborative ecosystem and experiential learning opportunities at the University at Buffalo promise an immersive educational expedition. Engaging with a diverse cohort of accomplished individuals mirrors real-world scenarios, fostering adaptability and fortifying collaboration – crucial skills in the dynamic global business sphere. The pursuit of an MBA at the University at Buffalo represents the culmination of my educational journey, a testament to the deliberate cultivation of diverse expertise. It symbolizes an amalgamation of my prior educational endeavors, propelling me towards a career trajectory that integrates financial strategy, analytical insights, and a multidisciplinary approach to impactful leadership.

Neetu Sharma, MBA '24

Bio: Neetu is from Bhopal, India – well known as city of lakes in the state of Madhya Pradesh. Bhopal is also known for its unfortunate Bhopal Gas Tragedy that badly hit the city in December 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal. Apart from this tragic incident, her city offers beautiful landscape surrounded by the lakes and excellent flora and fauna that makes her city an ideal place to dwell with fresh air.

Having travelled over the world, Neetu still feels connected with her home & often feels nostalgic!

She earned her Bachelor of Arts in Economics from her hometown and moved out to pursue her first master’s degree in advertising and Public Relations Management. After her first graduate degree, she realized how fast the world is moving and how she needs to plan out her career and personal life in tandem with the changing times. After successfully working in the Advertising & Media domain, she decided for a master’s degree in information technology since IT was changing everything from the mundane life to the corporate affairs! This phenomenal change in the global level motivated her to study Information Technology from Valparaiso University, Indiana, USA.

While she was pursuing her masters in IT – she decided for an MBA but the COVID pandemic shook her plans. Her firm dedication and constant efforts were finally heard, and she got her MBA admission to the University at Buffalo with a Connection 2 Excellence scholarship.

In her free time she loves to research about Indian economic and political scenario, about the great Indian leaders who worked hard in building India – which is known for not just its culture but also its diversity and unity! Neetu simply loves travelling either solo or with her husband, enjoys cooking, arts, and is a fitness freak who hardly got any time during the MBA program to work on her fitness!

Last but not the least, Neetu is a huge dog lover!

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A Baltimore bridge collapsed in the middle of the night and two metro newsrooms leapt into action

Coverage from The Baltimore Sun and The Baltimore Banner had much in common but with some marked differences — especially in visuals.

the bhopal disaster case study

Nothing gets pulses racing faster in a metro newsroom than a huge disaster story that breaks unexpectedly. That scenario played out twice early Tuesday — at the 186-year-old Baltimore Sun and the upstart 2-year-old Baltimore Banner — when a massive container ship hit the tall Key Bridge, knocking it over.

Their coverage had much in common but some marked differences too, especially in visuals. Editors of both papers told me they were scrambling all day Tuesday for the up-to-the-minute coverage that would satisfy readers, giving almost no thought to their local competitor.

Here is a story of the story:

The ship hit the bridge at about 1:30 a.m. At both newsrooms, the response was quick but not instantaneous. The first order was to wake people up. A reporter seeking to rouse top editors at one newsroom Slacked them, “Y’all are some heavy sleepers because I’ve called everyone!!”

Journalists had heard about the accident by 3 and posted their first stories before 4. By about then, teams of flood-the-zone reporters and photographers were headed to the scene.

Video was a strength of the Sun throughout the day. It was the first to post a grainy one-minute clip from the Port of Baltimore, a feed that showed the collision and then the bridge falling abruptly, that was widely used in broadcast coverage.

The Sun, now owned by Sinclair Broadcasting executive chairman David D. Smith, also benefited from video borrowed by Sinclair’s local station, Fox 45. So the Sun could show live press conferences from Gov. Wes Moore and other officials, which began mid-afternoon.

The Banner has not prioritized on-site video, editor-in-chief Kimi Yoshino conceded. At first, the Banner focused on Instagram and TikTok . “We had no template for what our new CEO Bob Cohn called a ‘World War III scenario’ — a full-span takeover of the home page.” She set a product team to work hacking the site.

The Banner made up that deficit with canny use of photos from its own photographers and other sources. The homepage was styled with a single striking image topping the coverage, with substitutions as the day went on. A particularly powerful one was posted mid-morning as readers might still be trying to figure out what happened and how. It showed the ship from a sea-level angle, highlighting its massive scale as it headed into the bridge.

I saw contrasts, too, in text treatments. I’m influenced by years of sitting next to Poynter writing expert Roy Peter Clark. From that perspective, the Banner was a model of crisp, short sentences and plain wording.

A sample Wednesday headline: “A frantic three minutes. How the ship’s pilot tried to prevent Key Bridge collapse.”

The Sun unaccountably stuck with the same lead all day Tuesday with light updates. It was a single 45-word sentence, and not an especially graceful one — a classic suitcase lead jamming in all sorts of detail:

Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge collapsed early Tuesday morning after a support column was struck by a container ship, sending at least seven cars into the Patapsco River, launching a search-and-rescue operation and prompting Gov. Wes Moore to declare a state of emergency.

Writing style points were not the point, however.

“The Sun has long been the best in my opinion when it comes to breaking local news,” editor-in-chief Trif Alatzas emailed me. “We take great pride that people from this region and around the world relied on The Sun for information about this catastrophic event given our long track record in covering this community with fairness, accuracy and urgency.”

Without providing exact numbers, he said that the Sun hit new records Tuesday for both online and print traffic. There were similar results at the digital-only Banner, Yoshino said, and it “was one of our top 10 days for new subscriber starts.”

To my eyes, the story hit a climactic point mid-afternoon Tuesday with the news that the boat operator had issued a timely mayday signal. That allowed authorities to block motorists from getting on the bridge and evacuate those whose vehicles were on the span already.

Yes and no, Yoshino said. “The mayday warning was definitely a dramatic point in the day. It underscored that while tragic, the human toll could have been much higher. I wouldn’t say that the action shifted then to impacts and safety; we were on those other angles early.”

The pilot’s quick action has figured in subsequent tick-tock reconstructions of how the accident happened, national as well as local.

And national newspapers were not inconsequential. The Washington Post and USA Today are both a short drive to Baltimore and dispatched their own teams. USA Today had early and particularly good maps and other graphics.

“National outlets with deeply-sourced reporters were a … concern,” Yoshino said. “Some of those outlets had overnight desks or breaking news reporters ready to file from London and beyond.”

My former editor and mentor Gene Roberts, from the glory days of The Philadelphia Inquirer in the 1970s and 80s, believed in fire drills for his editors — not only planning on how to handle the worst that could happen in the coverage area, and not just writing it out, but role-playing. That came in handy when the Three-Mile Island disaster hit .

It’s good practice but not all that necessary, the two editors said, with experienced reporters who work fast and track secondary and next-day stories by instinct.

An editor friend from her last posting at the Los Angeles Times wrote Yoshino in all caps: “EMPTY THE NEWSROOM!!!”

“I was already doing that,” she said. “I’m a big believer in throwing everyone on a big story when it’s merited.”

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IMAGES

  1. Bhopal Gas Tragedy Project Pdf

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  2. Bhopal Gas Tragedy : World's Worst Industrial Disaster

    the bhopal disaster case study

  3. What Is Bhopal Gas Tragedy?|Detailed Case Study|

    the bhopal disaster case study

  4. Bhopal Disaster Case Study Ppt

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  5. The Bhopal Gas Tragedy: Causes, Affects, & Why Centre Tried to Reopen

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  6. Bhopal Disaster-Case Study

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VIDEO

  1. Data Disaster Case Study

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  3. bhopal gas tragedy|bhopal disaster|bhopal tragedy 1984|what happened 1984👈

  4. Case Study the Bhopal Disaster

  5. Bhopal Gas Tragedy

  6. Bhopal Gas Tragedy

COMMENTS

  1. Case Study: Bhopal Gas Tragedy (1983-84)

    A Three Hour Time Line of the Disaster. December 3, 1984 12:40 am: A worker, while investigating a leak, stood on a concrete slab above three large, partly buried storage tanks holding the chemical MIC. The slab suddenly began to vibrate beneath him and he witnessed at least a 6 inche thick crack on the slab and heard a loud hissing sound.

  2. Bhopal disaster

    Bhopal disaster, chemical leak in 1984 in the city of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh state, India.At the time, it was called the worst industrial accident in history.. On December 3, 1984, about 45 tons of the dangerous gas methyl isocyanate escaped from an insecticide plant that was owned by the Indian subsidiary of the American firm Union Carbide Corporation. ...

  3. The Bhopal disaster and its aftermath: a review

    Abstract. On December 3 1984, more than 40 tons of methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, immediately killing at least 3,800 people and causing significant morbidity and premature death for many thousands more. The company involved in what became the worst industrial accident in history immediately tried to ...

  4. Case Study: Bhopal Plant Disaster

    Case Study Series Bhopal Plant Disaster - Situation Summary M.J. Peterson Revised March 20, 2009 During the night of 2-3 December 1984, a leak of some 40 tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas mixed with unknown other gasses from a chemical plant owned and operated by Union Carbide (India) Limited, a

  5. Bhopal disaster

    The Bhopal disaster or Bhopal gas tragedy was a chemical accident on the night of 2-3 December 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. ... Bhopal as a Case Study (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 October 2008.

  6. The long, dark shadow of Bhopal: still waiting for justice, four

    J ust after midnight on 2 December 1984 a storage tank at the Union Carbide chemical plant in Bhopal began leaking a gas called methyl isocyanate (MIC). The plant, in Madhya Pradesh, India, was ...

  7. (PDF) Case study for Bhopal Gas Tragedy

    Case study for Bhopal Gas Tragedy. Bhopal disaster, chemical leak in 1984 in the city of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh state, India. At the time, it was called the worst industrial accident in history ...

  8. Bhopal gas leak disaster of 1984 left a devastating toxic legacy, says

    Bhopal gas leak disaster of 1984 left a devastating toxic legacy, says new study : Goats and Soda The 1984 gas leak in Bhopal, India, killed thousands. New research finds babies born to mothers ...

  9. How the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy in India has hurt multiple ...

    Nearly 39 years after a gas from a pesticide factory poisoned tens of thousands of people in Bhopal, India, a new study finds that it also had health and economic impacts on men born a year later.

  10. "Case Study: Bhopal Plant Disaster" by M.J. Peterson

    The Bhopal case is an in-depth study of the industrial accident at the Union Carbide factory in India that immediately killed 2,000 people, injured another 200,000 to 300,000 more, and immediately raised questions about plant safety and corporate responsibility around the world. Includes seven detailed appendices: A.) Chronology, B.) Stakeholders and Level of Responsibility, C.) Economic ...

  11. PDF Case Study

    Bhopal as a Case Study - Union Carbide Corp. Page 1 of 16. Given the significant amount of damage that is typically associated with a large-magnitude ... In the case of the disaster at Bhopal in 1984, the cause célèbre was the "missing slip-blind" during a water-washing operation. An assertion was made that failure to insert a slip-blind

  12. Bhopal: 40 Years of Injustice

    December 2024 marks 40 years since the Bhopal gas leak disaster in Madhya Pradesh state, India. This was one of the worst industrial catastrophes and corporate negligence cases in living memory. This report provides an update on the situation of Bhopal survivors since 2014, when Amnesty last reported comprehensively on the case. View Report in […]

  13. PDF The World's Worst Industrial Disaster: Bhopal, 1984

    NATIONAL CENTER FOR CASE STUDY TEACHING IN SCIENCE Background Bhopal is a city in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. In 1969, the Bhopal plant was built as a formulation ... The nighttime temperature during the Bhopal disaster was roughly 40 °C. The boiling point of MIC is 39.1 °C.

  14. Bhopal: A Root Cause Analysis of the Deadliest Industrial ...

    Surviving Bhopal: Dancing Bodies, Written Texts, and Oral Testimonials of Women in the Wake of an Industrial Disaster. Palgrave Macmillan. (Results from an oral history project.) Sinha, I. 2008. Animal's People. Simon and Schuster. (A novel about people injured in the Bhopal accident and a group of activists.) Union Carbide Corp. 1985.

  15. PDF Bhopal gas Tragedy: A safety case study

    1. Introduction. On December 3 1984, in the city of Bhopal, a highly toxic cloud of methyl isocyanate(MIC) vapor burst from the Union Carbide pesticide plant. Of the 800,000 people living in Bhopal at the time, 2,000 died immediately, and as many as 300,000 were injured1.

  16. Bhopal Gas Tragedy : Causes, effects and aftermath

    Bhopal Gas Tragedy Case Study. Bhopal UCIL constructed three underground MIC storage tanks which were named E610, E611, and E619. On October 1984, E610 was not able to maintain its nitrogen gas pressure and so the liquid which is present inside the tank would not pump out, because of which 42 tons of MIC in E610 was wasted.

  17. Operational risk assessment: A case of the Bhopal disaster

    Case study: the Bhopal disaster. The Bhopal disaster is the most catastrophic gas leak accident in the world's history. About 42 t of extremely toxic MIC gas was released from a storage tank to the atmosphere on December 3, 1984. Thousands of local residents were killed and the affected area was about 40 km 2 (Broughton, 2005).

  18. The Bhopal disaster and its aftermath: a review

    The Bhopal disaster could have changed the nature of the chemical industry and caused a reexamination of the necessity to produce such potentially harmful products in the first place. ... Castleman B PP: Appendix: the Bhopal disaster as a case study in double standards. The export of hazards: trans-national corporations and environmental ...

  19. PDF The Bhopal Disaster of 1984

    Within 4 years of operation, on December 2, 1984, 30 metric tons of highly poisonous MIC gas spewed fromtheUCILplant.Itisestimatedthatalmost20,000 people died, and nearly 200,000 people were exposed to the poisonous gas by varying degrees. The plant closedaftertheaccident,andUnion Carbidebecamea subsidy of Dow Chemical in 1999.

  20. Bhopal Gas Tragedy

    Soon after the man-disaster, noticing the multitude of the suits arising out of the incident, the Indian parliament has passed the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act on 29th March 1985. This Act confers the government to file suit for damages in place as a representative of the victims (either survived or deceased).

  21. Bhopal Gas Tragedy: A Case Study On One Of The World's Worst Industrial

    The Bhopal gas tragedy case underscored the importance of a strong legal framework and international cooperation in dealing with such complex and international matters. Despite settlement and compensation efforts, many victims and their families continue to grapple with the long-term health and social consequences of the gas leak.

  22. What is Bhopal Gas Tragedy? (Detailed Case study)

    The Bhopal gas tragedy is also known as the Bhopal gas disaster, was a gas leak incident on 2 December 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant. ... Bhopal gas tragedy case study: On 2nd December night, the night shift staff of the Union Carbide Factory, Bhopal, took around 11 p.m. There were three double-walled, partly buried S ...

  23. Bhopal gas Tragedy: A safety case study

    Metadata. This report provides an overview of the Bhopal Gas disaster which occurred at the Union Carbide pesticide production plant in India in 1984. A large amount of Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) was released from tank 610 within the facility, a failure of safety and alarm systems allowed the gas cloud spread and kill thousands of people resulting ...

  24. Global: Dow's Failure to Offer Remedy for Bhopal Disaster Has Created a

    The failure of the US-based chemical company Dow to provide remedy to victims of a deadly gas leak from a pesticide plant in India that resulted in the deaths of more than 22,000 people has created a "sacrifice zone" in which 500,000 more continue to suffer, Amnesty International said in a new report today ahead of the 40 th anniversary of one of the world's worst industrial disasters.

  25. new WMO climate report confirms 2023 hottest so far

    Since the adoption of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, there has been an increase in the development and implementation of local disaster risk reduction strategies. From 2021 to 2022, global climate-related finance flows nearly doubled compared to 2019-2020 levels, reaching nearly $1.3 trillion.

  26. Enriching Experience: Why I'm Pursuing an MBA after Two Master's

    Bhopal is also known for its unfortunate Bhopal Gas Tragedy that badly hit the city in December 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal. Apart from this tragic incident, her city offers beautiful landscape surrounded by the lakes and excellent flora and fauna that makes her city an ideal place to dwell with ...

  27. A Baltimore bridge collapsed in the middle of the night and ...

    The Poynter Institute for Media Studies, Inc. is a non-profit 501(c)3. The EIN for the organization is 59-1630423. You can view The Poynter Institute's most-recent public financial disclosure ...

  28. Why did the bridge collapse and what is the death toll?

    Divers recovered the remains of two of the six missing workers more than a day after a cargo ship smashed into Baltimore's Francis Scott Key Bridge. The bodies of two men were found in a red ...

  29. Disaster risk management, climate change adaptation and the role of

    The paper reviews the literature and planning instruments applied in the selected case studies, as well as interviews with key stakeholders and decision makers. The results confirm the hypothesis that traditional disaster management is evolving towards Disaster Risk Management, clearly recognizing that Climate Change modifies and increases threats.

  30. Impact of Media Information on Social Response in Disasters: A Case

    Disaster information content is an objective mapping of disaster situations, social response, and public opinions. ... Based on the 2008 freezing-rain and snowstorm disasters in southern China, this study used Python to extract 7,857 case-related media reports and applied natural language processing for text analysis. It used three typical ...