and to draw conclusions based on these events.
we will try to include the most likely.
Union Carbide of India Limited storage tank. The storage tank contained methyl isocyanate, (hereafter
introduced, approximately 120-240 gallons, which in combination with the chemical, generated enough
heat to start the reaction. The runaway reaction released an uncontrollable amount of heat and this
resulted in 30-40 tons of the gas being vaporized and spread over approximately 30 square miles, killing
thousands of people and injuring hundreds of thousands.(2)
says, ?Although nominally a liquid at room temperature, methyl isocyanate evaporates so quickly from
an open container that it easily turns into a colorless, odorless highly flammable and reactive gas… I
would hesitate having it in a laboratory.? He also quotes the OHSA standard for exposure to MIC during
THE HEALTH AFFECTS of exposure to MIC is disastrous. At low levels, MIC causes eyes to water
and results in damage to the cornea. At higher concentrations, muscles constrict, and the bronchial
Atlanta, who went to Bhopal to render assistance, said, ?There was edema, substantial destruction…of
alveolar walls, … a ulcerative bronchiolus…? among patients at the severely crowded hospitals.(4)
psychological problems have also been a result.(3)
The long-term affects of MIC exposure are equally disastrous. According to the Indian Council of
Medical Research, at least 50,000 people are still suffering and new chronic cases of asthma keep
showing up as the population ages and 39% of the surrounding population have some form of severe
respiratory impairment.(5) Most of them will suffer for the rest of their lives.(6) It is a conservative
estimate that 5 people die every week as a result of the Bhopal accident.(7) Another consideration is that
Affects on women were profound. Out of 198 women living within 10 miles of the facility, 100 had
abnormal uterine bleeding.(1,5) Of the local women who were pregnant before the accident, 43%
least management failures.
conditions that did not measure up were problems with the manual controls of the MIC feed tank,
division claimed to have fixed all of these, but management never had auditors go back and confirm.
Another inherent problem is that the storage tanks were too large. They had a capacity of 15,000 gallons.
The smallest amount of water introduced into the system would cause an exothermic reaction such as the
one which occurred, on an extremely large scale, instead of on a smaller scale if the tanks did not have
such a high volume.(1)
and Environmental Affairs, did not even have detailed plans of the Indian plant, and the design of safety
procedures was left up to local managers.(9)
When the vapor was released, it was released into a highly populated area. The grounds in the immediate
vicinity were completely surrounded by vast numbers of shacks and homemade temporary dwellings,
some of them right up against the fence line.(10) This was perfectly legal. The local government does
80% of these dwellings.(1,13) There was no buffer zone.(11)
The local population was completely uninformed concerning the hazards involved with living so close to
breathe through a simple wet cloth, thereby preventing any harm from MIC, it is likely fewer deaths and
get away. Noone knew to cover their faces with a wet cloth. One small piece of information would have
made a great difference. (8)
Another factor to consider is that the Indian government insisted as a term of allowing Union Carbide to
relatives of the government officials, instead of the qualified employees who should have been working
there.(12) The local state government had no oversight or regulation of the facility. This was likely due
Union Carbide took advantage of India?s less expensive and laxer safety standards.(12)
The accident may not have occurred had proper maintenance been performed. The failure of the
refrigeration equipment which should have kept the temperature low, so that the MIC did not vaporize,
went completely unnoticed by unskilled maintenance workers.(13) This refrigeration equipment was
supposed to keep the MIC close to 32? F, instead it reached approximately 200? F.(8) It had not been
of the water injected into the MIC storage tank, causing the accident.(15)
neutralize escaping gas was turned off. There was a flare tower, designed to burn off escaping gases. It
was also turned off. Noone has an explanation why.(13)
The lack of emergency response was a contributing factor. The sirens at the facility were turned off.
Noone knows why. The Bhopal community had no emergency plan. When the hospitals flooded with
tens of thousands of seriously ill and dying patients, it was nearly impossible for them to receive medical
RESULTING from the incident at Bhopal is among other things, increased spending on safety and
4%.(16) It is difficult to estimate whether this represents effective spending, but the increased revenues
devoted to safety certainly cannot hurt. Companies have begun attempting to design plants that are ?idiot
proof? as well as ?vandal proof? and are starting to realize the need for back-up equipment, since they
will be blamed in instances of disaster.(12)
business. Since the Bhopal incident, banks have begun turning down loans over environmental concerns.
This has to do with concern over liability and monetary loss instead of any humanitarian concern, but it
has the same end result.(16) Companies that show a poor track record in regard to safety do not get to
have the business opportunities that they would otherwise have. The World Bank insists that projects
receiving its loans comply with safety standards. This includes complying with safer processes to replace
more hazardous ones.(13)
In 1985, Dr. Gareth Green of John?s Hopkins University School of Public Health and Hygiene, remarked
location and quantities of hazardous substances around the country. There needs to be developed plans
for dealing with problems should they occur.?(4) Dr. Green could not have foreseen the future any more
clearly if he were psychic. It took awhile, but in 1992, OSHA enacted the Process Safety Management
Standard. PSM covers such planning.
areas, whether in the U.S. or abroad. Strategic site location could have eliminated the occurrence at
Bhopal almost entirely. The United Nations should have an equivalent department serving an
OSHA-like function in third-world countries, with trade sanctions imposed on those who do not comply.
The U.N. has been involved in many less humanitarian ventures recently. Why not something purely
Worst Industrial Accident?? ENVIRONMENT, Vol. 27, Sept 1985, p. 6-13.
March 1996, p. 6-7.
AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION, Vol. 253, April 12, 1985.
(5)?Persistently Toxic: The Union Carbide Accident In Bhopal Continues to Harm.? Mukerjee,
(6)?The Fallout From Bhopal.? Lepkowski, William. SCIENCE DIGEST. Vol. 94, Jan 1986, p. 52.
(7)?Union Carbide Officials Face Prosecution.? Kumar, Sanjay. NEW SCIENTIST, Vol. 138, May 1,
1993, p. 8.
(8)?BHOPAL: 15th Anniversary.? WWW.Corpwatch.org/Bhopal.
(9)?Bhopal: The Lesson Sinks In.? THE ECONOMIST, Vol. 295, June 22, 1985, p. 91.
(10)?Permanent Scars of the Bhopal Catastrophe.? DISCOVER. Vol. 7, April 1986, p. 9.
(11)?What We Can Learn From Bhopal.?Speth, James. ENVIRONMENT, Vol. 27, Jan/Feb 1985, p 15.
(12)?Gassed in Bhopal.? THE ECONOMIST, Vol. 293, Dec 15, 1984, p. 12-14.
(13)?Poisoned Legacy.? THE ECONOMIST, Vol. 293, Dec 15, 1984, p. 77-78.
(14)?Union Carbide; Not Us.? THE ECONOMIST, Vol. 294, March 23, 1985, p. 78-79.
(15)?New Labor Report on Bhopal Plant.? ENVIRONMENT, Vol. 27, Sept. 1985, p. 23.
(16)?Bhopal: Ten Years On.? THE ECONOMIST, Vol. 333, Dec 1994, p. 78-79.