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Bhopal disaster (1984)

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Jessie Phallon
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« on: June 19, 2009, 01:15:16 pm »

Bhopal disaster

The Bhopal disaster or Bhopal gas tragedy was an industrial disaster that took place at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in the Indian city of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. On 3 December 1984, the plant released 42 tonnes of toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas, exposing more than 500,000 people to toxic gases. The first official immediate death toll was 2,259. A more generally accepted figure is that 8,000- 10,000 died within 72 hours, and it is estimated that 25,000 have since died from gas-related diseases.[1][2]
The Bhopal disaster is frequently cited as the world's worst industrial disaster.[1][2][3][4][5] The International Medical Commission on Bhopal was established in 1993 to respond to the longterm health effects of the disaster.

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Jessie Phallon
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« Reply #1 on: June 19, 2009, 01:16:17 pm »

Summary of background and causes

The Union Carbide India, Limited (UCIL) factory was established in 1969 near Bhopal. 51% was owned by Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) and 49% by Indian authorities. It produced the pesticide carbaryl (trademark Sevin). Methyl isocyanate (MIC), an intermediate in carbaryl manufacture, was also used. In 1979 a plant for producing MIC was added to the site. MIC was used instead of less toxic (but more expensive) materials, and UCC was aware of the substance's properties and how it had to be handled.[6][7][8]

During the night of December 2–3, 1984, large amounts of water entered tank 610, containing 42 tonnes of methyl isocyanate. The resulting reaction increased the temperature inside the tank to over 200 °C (392 °F), raising the pressure to a level the tank was not designed to withstand. This forced the emergency venting of pressure from the MIC holding tank, releasing a large volume of toxic gases. The reaction sped up because of the presence of iron in corroding non-stainless steel pipelines. A mixture of poisonous gases flooded the city of Bhopal, causing great panic as people woke up with a burning sensation in their lungs. Thousands died immediately from the effects of the gas and many were trampled in the panic.

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Jessie Phallon
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« Reply #2 on: June 19, 2009, 01:17:13 pm »

Theories of how the water entered the tank differ. At the time, workers were cleaning out pipes with water, and some claim that owing to bad maintenance and leaking valves, it was possible for the water to leak into tank 610.[3] In December 1985 the New York Times reported that according to UCIL plant managers the hypothesis of this route of entry of water was tested in the presence of the Central Bureau Investigators and was found to be negative. [9] UCC also maintains that this route was not possible, and that it was an act of sabotage by a "disgruntled worker" who introduced water directly into the tank.[10] However, the company's investigation team found no evidence of the necessary connection.[11]
The 1985 reports[11][12][13] give a quite clear picture of what led to the disaster and how it developed, although they differ in details. However, the Varadarajan (CSIR) Report failed to mention that when the water-washing hypothesis was tested and that there was not sufficient pressure for water to rise even to the very first valve.
Factors leading to this huge gas leak include:
•   The use of hazardous chemicals (MIC) instead of less dangerous ones
•   Storing these chemicals in large tanks instead of over 200 steel drums.
•   Possible corroding material in pipelines
•   Poor maintenance after the plant ceased production in the early 1980s
•   Failure of several safety systems (due to poor maintenance and regulations).
•   Safety systems shut down to save money - including the MIC tank refrigeration system which alone would have prevented the disaster.

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« Reply #3 on: June 19, 2009, 01:17:35 pm »

Plant design modified by Indian engineers to abide by government regulations and economic pressures to reduce expenses contributed most to the actual leak. The problem was then made worse by the plant's location near a densely populated area, non-existent catastrophe plans and shortcomings in healthcare and socio-economic rehabilitation. Analysis shows that the parties responsible for the magnitude of the disaster are the two owners, Union Carbide Corporation and the Government of India, and to some extent, the Government of Madhya Pradesh.[1][2][14]

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« Reply #4 on: June 19, 2009, 01:18:02 pm »

Public information

Much speculation arose in the aftermath. The closing of the plant to outsiders (including UCC) by the Indian government, and the failure to make data public contributed to the confusion. The CSIR report[13] was formally released 15 years after the disaster. The authors of the ICMR studies[15] on health effects were forbidden to publish their data until after 1994. UCC has still not released their research about the disaster or the effects of the gas on human health. Soon after the disaster UCC was not allowed to take part in the investigation by the government. The initial investigation was conducted entirely by the government agencies - Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) under the directorship of Dr. Varadajan and Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

UCC and the Government of India maintained until 1994, when the International Medical Commission on Bhopal met, that MIC had no longterm health effects.[1][2]

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Jessie Phallon
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« Reply #5 on: June 19, 2009, 01:19:01 pm »



Union carbide MIC plant
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« Reply #6 on: June 19, 2009, 01:19:42 pm »

Plant production process

Union Carbide produced the pesticide, Sevin (a trademarked brand name for carbaryl), using MIC as an intermediate. Until 1979, MIC was imported from the USA.[2] Other manufacturers, such as Bayer, made carbaryl without MIC, though at greater manufacturing costs.[17]

The chemical process, or "route" used in the Bhopal plant was to react methylamine with phosgene to form MIC, which was then reacted with 1-naphthol to form the final product. This route is different from the MIC-free route used elsewhere, in which the same raw materials are used in a different manufacturing order, with phosgene first reacted with the naphthol to form a chloroformate ester, which is then reacted with methyl amine. In the early 1980s, the demand for pesticides had fallen though production continued, leading to buildup of stores of unused MIC.[2][17]

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« Reply #7 on: June 19, 2009, 01:20:31 pm »

Work conditions

Attempts to reduce expenses affected the factory's employees and their conditions.
•   Kurzman argues that "cuts ... meant less stringent quality control and thus looser safety rules. A pipe leaked? Don't replace it, employees said they were told ... MIC workers needed more training? They could do with less. Promotions were halted, seriously affecting employee morale and driving some of the most skilled ... elsewhere".[18]
•   Workers were forced to use English manuals, even though only a few had a grasp of the language.[3][19]
•   By 1984, only six of the original twelve operators were still working with MIC and the number of supervisory personnel was also cut in half. No maintenance supervisor was placed on the night shift and instrument readings were taken every two hours, rather than the previous and required one-hour readings.[3][18]
•   Workers made complaints about the cuts through their union but were ignored. One employee was fired after going on a 15-day hunger strike. 70% of the plant's employees were fined before the disaster for refusing to deviate from the proper safety regulations under pressure from management.[3][18]
•   In addition, some observers, such as those writing in the Trade Environmental Database (TED) Case Studies as part of the Mandala Project from American University, have pointed to "serious communication problems and management gaps between Union Carbide and its Indian operation", characterised by "the parent companies [sic] hands-off approach to its overseas operation" and "cross-cultural barriers".[20]
•   The personnel management policy led to an exodus of skilled personnel to better and safer jobs.[3][16]
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Jessie Phallon
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« Reply #8 on: June 19, 2009, 01:21:07 pm »

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« Reply #9 on: June 19, 2009, 01:21:26 pm »

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« Reply #10 on: June 19, 2009, 01:21:49 pm »

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« Reply #11 on: June 19, 2009, 01:22:09 pm »

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« Reply #12 on: June 19, 2009, 01:22:34 pm »

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« Reply #13 on: June 19, 2009, 01:22:54 pm »

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« Reply #14 on: June 19, 2009, 01:23:17 pm »

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