The Bhopal gas leak that killed at least 15,000 people resulted from operating errors, design flaws, maintenance failures, training deficiencies and economy measures that endangered safety, according to present and former employees, company technical documents and the Indian Government’s chief scientist.
The Dec. 3 1984 leak of toxic methyl isocyanate gas at a Union Carbide plant in the central Indian city of Bhopal produced history’s worst industrial disaster, stunning India and the world. The breakdown of safety precautions ran into dozens of examples, most of these were filed and forgotten by the Union Carbide senior management, who were targeted on cost-saving and staff reduction measures.
At least 15,000 died, with over 150,000 seriously injured. The reasons for the disaster were many. The plant had never been profitable, as the target market, Indian farmers, were scratching a living anyway, and the sophisticated chemicals produced by the Bhopal plant were far too expensive for routine purchase by unsophisticated farmers. The whole plant had been virtually shut down, but, because moving, in bulk, 45 tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC), a dangerous and volatile chemical compound would have been extraordinarily expensive, the whole shebang was left to lie; an accident waiting to happen.
But worse was to follow the decision to leave the MIC within the plant. The safe storage of the MIC was totally dependent upon the refrigeration plant, which cooled the volatile chemical to preordained safe limits; this, as well as a spray system for gas leaks being operational; and a flare tower to accommodate the expanding gases. Because the whole plant was a financial step-child, no one in the Union Carbide Engineering hierarchy was told that the Refrigeration plant was switched off to save cash, the spray system was never strong enough to have reached to the expanding gases, and the flare tower besides being built to the wrong parameters, was also disconnected, and unavailable when needed.
But the truly criminal element, which some engineers believe was the final link which caused the explosion, was the simple fact that one of the elements of MIC is phosgene. Phosgene, to those whose reading of the First World War history books has faded, is another name for THE POISON GAS used in the WW1 trenches by both Germans and the Allies. Phosgene reacts with water and types of stainless steel, and the explosion was thought to have occurred when a disused pipe was flushed, without checking whether the valves were signalled ‘closed’.
Union Carbide disclaimed all responsibility for the accident, all the senior management staff had already left; no substantial compensation was paid to anyone; The plant still remains, befouling the entire soil for decades; the birth defects of the third generation are now coming to light; and the American Multi-National Dow Chemical corporation, who bought the whole Bhopal pile of garbage, continue to obfuscate and delay any objective enquiry into the Bhopal disaster.
The reader may, by this time, wonder why I excavate history of an industrial accident. Well, since most have been reading and watching anything Chinese Virus-related, there were reports of a toxic gas leak from a plastics factory in the Indian city of Vishakhapatnam. The Japanese firm LG owns the plant, where styrene escaped into the streets, causing chaos, death & panic.
I wonder how the Indian government will react with a Plant Owner which is not American?