Twenty years ago today, during the pre-dawn hours of December 3, 1984, more than 40 tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC), hydrogen cyanide, mono-methyl amine and other lethal gases spewed from Union Carbide Corporation’s pesticide factory in Bhopal, India. According to some, routine maintenance operations caused a large quantity of water to enter MIC gas storage tank #610, triggering a run-away reaction.
Union Carbide (now a Dow subsidiary) claimed publicly that the gas leak was caused by sabotage, that a “disgruntled employee” deliberately connected a water hose to the storage tank and put water into the tank, causing a massive chemical reaction, and that safety systems had been put in place that would have kept the water from entering into the tank by accident. See Union Carbide’s chronology of events listed here.
Union Carbide’s position, however, was severely undermined by its own failure to release the name of the suspected employee or to bring charges against him. At the same time, there was significant evidence that supported a contrary view that Union Carbide (both the parent company and its Indian subsidiary) was a negligent company that had failed to improve its deteriorating plant. For example, based on a May 1982 report of the Indian subsidiary conducted by a three-member safety team from the Union Carbide headquarters in the U.S., Union Carbide knew that a serious potential existed for a sizable release of toxic materials in the MIC unit, either due to equipment failure, operating problems, or maintenance problems, and that various changes were required to reduce the danger of that plant. Yet there are no indications that any such changes were ever implemented.
See Part 2, Sat., 12/4/04