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Bhopal Disaster, Bhopal gas Tragedy memorial-Madhya Pradesh

Bhopal Disaster, Bhopal gas Tragedy memorial-Madhya Pradesh

Description

The Bhopal disaster or Bhopal gas tragedy was a chemical accident on the night of 2–3 December 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. In what is considered the world’s worst industrial disaster, over 500,000 people in the small towns around the plant were exposed to the highly toxic gas methyl isocyanate (MIC). Estimates vary on the death toll, with the official number of immediate deaths being 2,259. In 2008, the Government of Madhya Pradesh paid compensation to the family members of 3,787 victims killed in the gas release, and to 574,366 injured victims. 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. Others estimate that 8,000 died within two weeks, and another 8,000 or more have since died from gas-related diseases.

The owner of the factory, UCIL, was majority-owned by the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) of the United States, with Indian government-controlled banks and the Indian public holding a 49.1 percent stake. In 1989, UCC paid $470 million (equivalent to $970 million in 2022) 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 filed in the United States against UCC and Warren Anderson, chief executive officer of the UCC at the time of the disaster, were dismissed and redirected to Indian courts on multiple occasions between 1986 and 2012, as the US courts focused on UCIL being a standalone entity of India. Civil and criminal cases were also filed in the District Court of Bhopal, India, involving UCC, UCIL, and Anderson. In June 2010, seven Indian nationals who were UCIL employees in 1984, including the former UCIL chairman Keshub Mahindra, 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. All were released on bail shortly after the verdict. An eighth former employee was also convicted, but died before the judgement was passed.

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 to the UCIL site in 1979. The chemical process employed in the Bhopal plant had methylamine reacting with phosgene to form MIC, which was in turn 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.

After the Bhopal plant was built, other manufacturers (including Bayer) produced carbaryl without MIC, though at a greater manufacturing cost. UCIL’s process differed from the MIC-free routes used elsewhere, in which the same raw materials were combined in a different manufacturing order, with phosgene initially reacting with naphthol to form a chloroformate ester, which was later reacted with methylamine. In the early 1980s, although the demand for pesticides had fallen, production continued leading to an accumulation of unused MIC at the Bhopal site.

Earlier leaks
In 1976, two local trade unions complained of pollution within the plant. 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 72 hours later. 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.”

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 equipment. 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% of his body. 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.

The Bhopal pesticide plant of Union Carbide India Limited in early 1986, around a year after the disaster.

Date 2 December 1984 – 3 December 1984
Time (UTC+05:30)
Location Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India
Also known as Bhopal gas tragedy
Type Chemical accident
Cause Methyl isocyanate leak from the E610 storage tank on the Union Carbide India Limited plant
Deaths At least 3,787; over 16,000 claimed
Non-fatal injuries At least 558,125

21/D, Kalipared Industrial Area, Berasia Rd, opp. Union Carbide, JP Nagar, Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh 462001

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