Bhopal disaster

Bhopal disaster
Bhopal-Union Carbide 1 crop memorial.jpg
Memorial by Dutch artist Ruth Kupferschmidt for those killed and disabled by the 1984 toxic gas release
Date2 December 1984 (1984-12-02) – 3 December 1984 (1984-12-03)
LocationBhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India
Coordinates23°16′51″N 77°24′38″E / 23°16′51″N 77°24′38″E / 23.28083; 77.41056
Also known asBhopal gas tragedy
CauseMethyl Isocyanate leak from Union Carbide India Limited plant
Death(s)At least 3,787; over 16,000 claimed
Non-fatal injuriesAt least 558,125

The Bhopal disaster, also referred to as the Bhopal gas tragedy, was a gas leak incident on the night of 2–3 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.[1][2] Over 500,000 people were exposed to methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas. The highly toxic substance made its way into and around the small towns located near the plant.[3]

Estimates vary on the death toll. The official immediate death toll was 2,259. The government of Madhya Pradesh confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release.[4] A government affidavit in 2006 stated that the leak caused 558,125 injuries, including 38,478 temporary partial injuries and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries.[5] Others estimate that 8,000 died within two weeks, and another 8,000 or more have since died from gas-related diseases.[6] The cause of the disaster remains under debate. The Indian government and local activists argue that slack management and deferred maintenance created a situation where routine pipe maintenance caused a backflow of water into a MIC tank, triggering the disaster. Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) argues water entered the tank through an act of sabotage.

The owner of the factory, UCIL, was majority owned by UCC, with Indian Government-controlled banks and the Indian public holding a 49.1 percent stake. In 1989, UCC paid $470 million ($929 million in 2017 dollars) to settle litigation stemming from the disaster. In 1994, UCC sold its stake in UCIL to Eveready Industries India Limited (EIIL), which subsequently merged with McLeod Russel (India) Ltd. Eveready ended clean-up on the site in 1998, when it terminated its 99-year lease and turned over control of the site to the state government of Madhya Pradesh. Dow Chemical Company purchased UCC in 2001, seventeen years after the disaster.

Civil and criminal cases were filed in the District Court of Bhopal, India, involving UCC and Warren Anderson, UCC CEO at the time of the disaster.[7][8] In June 2010, seven former employees, including the former UCIL chairman, were convicted in Bhopal of causing death by negligence and sentenced to two years imprisonment and a fine of about $2,000 each, the maximum punishment allowed by Indian law. An eighth former employee was also convicted, but died before the judgement was passed.[2] Anderson died on 29 September 2014.[9]

The pre-event phase

The UCIL factory was built in 1969 to produce the pesticide Sevin (UCC's brand name for carbaryl) using methyl isocyanate (MIC) as an intermediate.[6] An MIC production plant was added to the UCIL site in 1979.[10][11][12] The chemical process employed in the Bhopal plant had methylamine reacting with phosgene to form MIC, which was then reacted with 1-naphthol to form the final product, carbaryl. Another manufacturer, Bayer, also used this MIC-intermediate process at the chemical plant once owned by UCC at Institute, West Virginia, in the United States.[13][14]

After the Bhopal plant was built, other manufacturers (including Bayer) produced carbaryl without MIC, though at a greater manufacturing cost. This "route" differed from the MIC-free routes used elsewhere, in which the same raw materials were combined in a different manufacturing order, with phosgene first reacting with naphthol to form a chloroformate ester, which was then reacted with methylamine. In the early 1980s, the demand for pesticides had fallen, but production continued, leading to build-up of stores of unused MIC where that method was used.[6][13]

Earlier leaks

In 1976, two local trade unions complained of pollution within the plant.[6][15] In 1981, a worker was accidentally splashed with phosgene as he was carrying out a maintenance job of the plant's pipes. In a panic, he removed his gas mask and inhaled a large amount of toxic phosgene gas, leading to his death just 72 hours later.[6][15] Following these events, journalist Rajkumar Keswani began investigating and published his findings in Bhopal's local paper Rapat, in which he urged "Wake up people of Bhopal, you are on the edge of a volcano".[16][17]

In January 1982, a phosgene leak exposed 24 workers, all of whom were admitted to a hospital. None of the workers had been ordered to wear protective masks. One month later, in February 1982, an MIC leak affected 18 workers. In August 1982, a chemical engineer came into contact with liquid MIC, resulting in burns over 30 percent of his body. Later that same year, in October 1982, there was another MIC leak. In attempting to stop the leak, the MIC supervisor suffered severe chemical burns and two other workers were severely exposed to the gases. During 1983 and 1984, there were leaks of MIC, chlorine, monomethylamine, phosgene, and carbon tetrachloride, sometimes in combination.[6][15]

Other Languages
Afrikaans: Bhopal-ramp
العربية: كارثة بوبال
Bân-lâm-gú: Bhopal Sū-kiāⁿ
Esperanto: Bhopala tragedio
Bahasa Indonesia: Tragedi Bhopal
Basa Jawa: Tragedi Bhopal
Bahasa Melayu: Tragedi Bhopal 1984
Nederlands: Giframp Bhopal
oʻzbekcha/ўзбекча: Bhopal falokati
português: Desastre de Bhopal
Simple English: Bhopal disaster
slovenščina: Bhopalska nesreča
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Bopalska nesreća
Türkçe: Bhopal felaketi
українська: Трагедія Бхопала
Tiếng Việt: Thảm họa Bhopal