Currently, Israel is the only modern nation that has not signed the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (refusal to engage in offensive biological warfare, stockpiling, and use of biological weapons). Also, Israel is the only modern nation that has signed but not ratified the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (refusal to produce, stockpile and use chemical weapons). Should the world suffer a major bio-terror attack or pandemic, Israel will be the #1 suspect.
Abstact: The Bhopal disaster (commonly referred to as Bhopal gas tragedy) was a gas leak incident in India, considered one of the world's worst industrial catastrophes. It occurred on the night of December 2–3, 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. A leak of methyl isocyanate gas and other chemicals from the plant resulted in the exposure of hundreds of thousands of people. The toxic substance made its way in and around the shantytowns located near the plant. Estimates vary on the death toll. The official immediate death toll was 2,259 and the government of Madhya Pradesh has confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release. Others estimate 3,000 died within weeks and another 8,000 have since died from gas-related diseases. A government affidavit in 2006 stated the leak caused 558,125 injuries including 38,478 temporary partial and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries.
UCIL was the Indian subsidiary of Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), with Indian Government controlled banks and the Indian public holding a 49.1 percent stake. In 1994, the Supreme Court of India allowed UCC to sell its 50.9 percent share. Union Carbide sold UCIL, the Bhopal plant operator, to Eveready Industries India Limited in 1994. The Bhopal plant was later sold to McLeod Russel (India) Ltd. Dow Chemical Company purchased UCC in 2001.
Civil and criminal cases are pending in the United States District Court, Manhattan and the District Court of Bhopal, India, involving UCC, UCIL employees, and Warren Anderson, UCC CEO at the time of the disaster. In June 2010, seven ex-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 law. An eighth former employee was also convicted, but died before judgment was passed.
Summary of Background
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. An MIC production plant was added in 1979.
During the night of December 2–3, 1984, water entered Tank 610 containing 42 tons of MIC. The resulting exothermic reaction increased the temperature inside the tank to over 200 °C (392 °F) and raised the pressure. About 30 metric tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC) escaped from the tank into the atmosphere in 45 to 60 minutes. The gases were blown by southeasterly winds over Bhopal.
Theories differ as to how the water entered the tank. At the time, workers were cleaning out a clogged pipe with water about 400 feet from the tank. The operators assumed that owing to bad maintenance and leaking valves, it was possible for the water to leak into the tank. However, this water entry route could not be reproduced. UCC also maintains that this route was not possible, but instead alleges water was introduced directly into the tank as an act of sabotage by a disgruntled worker via a connection to a missing pressure gauge on the top of the tank. Early the next morning, a UCIL manager asked the instrument engineer to replace the gauge. UCIL's investigation team found no evidence of the necessary connection; however, the investigation was totally controlled by the government denying UCC investigators access to the tank or interviews with the operators. The 1985 reports give a picture of what led to the disaster and how it developed, although they differ in details.
Factors leading to the magnitude of the gas leak include:
1. Storing MIC in large tanks and filling beyond recommended levels
2. Poor maintenance after the plant ceased MIC production at the end of 1984
3. Failure of several safety systems (due to poor maintenance)
4. Safety systems being switched off to save money—including the MIC tank refrigeration system which could have mitigated the disaster severity
The problem was made worse by the mushrooming of slums in the vicinity of the plant, non-existent catastrophe plans, and shortcomings in health care and socio-economic rehabilitation.
Previous Warnings and Incidents
A series of prior warnings and MIC-related incidents had occurred:
1. In 1976, the two trade unions reacted because of pollution within the plant.
2. In 1981, a worker was splashed with phosgene. In panic he ripped off his mask, thus inhaling a large amount of phosgene gas; he died 72 hours later.
3. In January 1982, there was a phosgene leak, when 24 workers were exposed and had to be admitted to hospital. None of the workers had been ordered to wear protective masks.
4. In February 1982, an MIC leak affected 18 workers.
5. In August 1982, a chemical engineer came into contact with liquid MIC, resulting in burns over 30 percent of his body.
6. In October 1982, there was a leak of MIC, methylcarbaryl chloride, chloroform and hydrochloric acid. In attempting to stop the leak, the MIC supervisor suffered intensive chemical burns and two other workers were severely exposed to the gases.
7. During 1983 and 1984, leaks of the following substances regularly took place in the MIC plant: MIC, chlorine, monomethylamine, phosgene, and carbon tetrachloride, sometimes in combination.
8. Reports issued months before the incident by UCC engineers warned of the possibility of an incident almost identical to that which occurred in Bhopal. The reports never reached UCC's senior management.
9. UCC was warned by American experts who visited the plant after 1981 of the potential of a "runaway reaction" in the MIC storage tank. Local Indian authorities warned the company of problems on several occasions from 1979 onwards.
In November 1984, most of the safety systems were not functioning. Many valves and lines were in poor condition. Tank 610 contained 42 tons of MIC (disputed), much more than safety rules allowed. During the nights of 2–3 December, a large amount of water is claimed to have entered tank 610. A runaway reaction started, which was accelerated by contaminants, high temperatures and other factors. The reaction generated a major increase in the temperature inside the tank to over 200 °C (400 °F). This forced the emergency venting of pressure from the MIC holding tank, releasing a large volume of toxic gases. The reaction was sped up by the presence of iron from corroding non-stainless steel pipelines. Workers cleaned pipelines with water and claim they were not told to isolate the tank with a pipe slip-blind plate. Because of this, and the bad maintenance, the workers consider it possible for water to have accidentally entered the tank. UCC maintains that a "disgruntled worker" deliberately connected a hose to a pressure gauge connection.
Long Term Health Effects
Victims of Bhopal disaster asked for Warren Anderson's extradition from the USA
It is estimated 100,000 to 200,000 people have permanent injuries. Reported symptoms are eye problems, respiratory difficulties, immune and neurological disorders, cardiac failure secondary to lung injury, female reproductive difficulties and birth defects among children born to affected women. The Indian Government and UCC deny permanent injuries were caused by MIC or the other gases.
Aftermath of the Leakage
Medical staff were unprepared for the thousands of casualties.
Doctors and hospitals were not informed of proper treatment methods for MIC gas inhalation. They were told to simply give cough medicine and eye drops to their patients.
The gases immediately caused visible damage to the trees. Within a few days, all the leaves fell off. 2,000 bloated animal carcasses had to be disposed of.
"Operation Faith": On December 16, the tanks 611 and 619 were emptied of the remaining MIC. This led to a second mass evacuation from Bhopal.
Complaints of a lack of information or misinformation were widespread. The Bhopal plant medical doctor did not have proper information about the properties of the gases. An Indian Government spokesman said that "Carbide is more interested in getting information from us than in helping our relief work."
As of 2008, UCC had not released information about the possible composition of the cloud.
Formal statements were issued that air, water, vegetation and foodstuffs were safe within the city. At the same time, people were informed that poultry was unaffected, but were warned not to consume fish.
Union Carbide's Defense
Now owned by Dow Chemical Company, Union Carbide denies allegations against it on its website dedicated to the tragedy. The corporation claims that the incident was the result of sabotage, stating that safety systems were in place and operative. It also stresses that it did all it could to alleviate human suffering following the disaster.
Investigation into possible sabotage
Theories differ as to how the water entered the tank. At the time, workers were cleaning out pipes with water. The workers maintain that entry of water through the plant's piping system during the washing of lines was possible because a slip-blind was not used, the downstream bleeder lines were partially clogged, many valves were leaking, and the tank was not pressurized. The water, which was not draining properly through the bleeder valves, may have built up in the pipe, rising high enough to pour back down through another series of lines in the MIC storage tank. Once water had accumulated to a height of 6 meters (20 feet), it could drain by gravity flow back into the system. Alternatively, the water may have been routed through another standby "jumper line" that had only recently been connected to the system. Indian scientists suggested that additional water might have been introduced as a "back-flow" from the defectively designed vent-gas scrubber. However, none of these postulated routes of entry could be duplicated when tested by the Central Bureau of Investigators (CBI) and UCIL engineers. The company cites an investigation conducted by the engineering consulting firm Arthur D. Little, which concluded that a single employee secretly and deliberately introduced a large amount of water into the MIC tank by removing a meter and connecting a water hose directly to the tank through the metering port. Carbide claims such a large amount of water could not have found its way into the tank by accident, and safety systems were not designed to deal with intentional sabotage. Documents cited in the Arthur D. Little Report state that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) along with UCIL engineers tried to simulate the water-washing hypothesis as a route of the entry of water into the tank. This all-important test failed to support this as a route of water entry. UCC claims the plant staff falsified numerous records to distance themselves from the incident, and that the Indian Government impeded its investigation and declined to prosecute the employee responsible, presumably because that would weaken its allegations of negligence by Union Carbide.
Safety and Equipment Issues
The corporation denies the claim that the valves on the tank were malfunctioning, claiming that "documented evidence gathered after the incident showed that the valve close to the plant's water-washing operation was closed and leak-tight. Furthermore, process safety systems—in place and operational—would have prevented water from entering the tank by accident". Carbide states that the safety concerns identified in 1982 were all allayed before 1984 and "none of them had anything to do with the incident".
The company admits that "the safety systems in place could not have prevented a chemical reaction of this magnitude from causing a leak". According to Carbide, "in designing the plant's safety systems, a chemical reaction of this magnitude was not factored in" because "the tank's gas storage system was designed to automatically prevent such a large amount of water from being inadvertently introduced into the system" and "process safety systems—in place and operational—would have prevented water from entering the tank by accident". Instead, they claim that "employee sabotage—not faulty design or operation—was the cause of the tragedy".
The company stresses the "immediate action" taken after the disaster and their continued commitment to helping the victims. On December 4, the day following the leak, Union Carbide sent material aid and several international medical experts to assist the medical facilities in Bhopal.
Union Carbide states on its website that it put $2 million into the Indian Prime Minister's immediate disaster relief fund on 11 December 1984. The corporation established the Employees' Bhopal Relief Fund in February 1985, which raised more than $5 million for immediate relief.
According to Union Carbide, in August 1987, they made an additional $4.6 million in humanitarian interim relief available.
Union Carbide states that it also undertook several steps to provide continuing aid to the victims of the Bhopal disaster after the court ruling, including:
1. The sale of its 50.9 percent interest in UCIL in April 1992 and establishment of a charitable trust to contribute to the building of a local hospital. The sale was finalized in November 1994. The hospital was begun in October 1995 and was opened in 2001. The company provided a fund with around $90 million from sale of its UCIL stock. In 1991, the trust had amounted approximately $100 million. The hospital caters for the treatment of heart, lung and eye problems.
2. Providig "a $2.2 million grant to Arizona State University to establish a vocational-technical center in Bhopal, which was constructed and opened, but was later closed and leveled by the government".
3. Donating $5 million to the Indian Red Cross.
4. Developing the Responsible Care system with other members of the chemical industry as a response to the Bhopal crisis, which is designed "to help prevent such an event in the future by improving community awareness, emergency preparedness and process safety standards" (Wikipedia, 2012).