The Bhopal Disaster of 1984
Roli Varma and Daya R. Varma Bulletin of Science Technology & Society 2005 25: 37 DOI: 10.1177/0270467604273822 The online version of this article can be found at: http://bst.sagepub.com/content/25/1/37
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BULLETIN OF SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY & SCIENCE / Month 2005
Varma, Varma / BHOPAL DISASTER 10.1177/0270467604273822
The Bhopal Disaster of 1984
Roli Varma University of New Mexico Daya R. Varma McGill University The 20th anniversary of the Bhopal calamity fell on December 3, 2004. The world’s worst industrial disaster in Bhopal, India, happened because of inadequate maintenance by Union Carbide and poor monitoring by the Indian authorities. Malfunctioning safety measures, inappropriate location of the plant, and lack of information about the identity and toxicity of the gas worsened the effects of the accident on people and livestock. The Bhopal disaster has raised questions about the implications of the transfer of potentially hazardous technology to the developing countries. Even after 20 years, Bhopal has not recovered. In this article, we present what happened and why and what lessons can be learned at this terrible cost. Keywords: hazards; green revolution; methyl isocyanate; multinationals; pesticides; poisonous gas; safety failures; Union Carbide ndia became independent on August 15, 1947, and its first major problem was to deal with food shortage. The problem persisted by varying degrees until the Green Revolution, a popular term referring mainly to the tremendous increases in cereal grain production in certain underdeveloped areas especially India, Pakistan, and the Philippines in the late 1960s through the cultivation of hybrid strains and economic changes brought by new agricultural rural practices in those countries. For a number of years now, India has been a food surplus country. The change from traditional farming to capitalist farming under the Green Revolution required pesticides among other things. Bhopal, capital of Madhya Pradesh (MP) in central India, is a beautiful historic city. MP is a poor province by Indian standards. Until very recently the Indian National Congress Party (Congress) was in power in MP, and Mr. Arjun Singh, currently the federal Minister for Human Resources and Development, was the Chief Minister of MP in 1984. Singh played a key role in having the agricultural office of Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) move from Bombay to Bhopal in 1968. It was supposed to help in the development of MP. In 1969, the Bhopal plant was built as the formulation plant: The Sevin Technical Concentrate was imported from the United States, and the work of blending and grinding was done in Bhopal. The manufacture of the pesticide Sevin using methyl isocyanate (MIC) was started in 1980. Within 4 years of operation, on December 2, 1984, 30 metric tons of highly poisonous MIC gas spewed from the UCIL plant. It is estimated that almost 20,000 people died, and nearly 200,000 people were exposed to the poisonous gas by varying degrees. The plant closed after the accident, and Union Carbide became a subsidy of Dow Chemical in 1999. Given the magnitude of the tragedy, it is not surprising that the Bhopal disaster has continued to draw the attention of media, scholars, and activists throughout...