The Bhopal disaster, also referred to as the Bhopal gas tragedy, was a gas leak incident in India, considered the world's worst industrial disaster. It occurred on the night of 2–3 December 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Over 500,000 people were exposed tomethyl isocyanate gas and other chemicals. 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. The government of Madhya Pradesh confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release. Others estimate 8,000 died within two weeks and another 8,000 or more have since died from gas-related diseases. A government affidavit in 2006 stated the leak caused 558,125 injuries including 38,478 temporary partial injuries 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 interest in UCIL to Eveready Industries India Limited. 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 District Court of Bhopal, India, involving UCC 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 Indian law. An eighth former employee was also convicted, but died before the judgment was passed.
The pre-event phase
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. A MIC production plant was added in 1979.After the Bhopal plant was built, other manufacturers including Bayer produced carbaryl without MIC, though at a greater manufacturing cost. However, Bayer also uses the UCC process at the chemical plant once owned by UCC at Institute, West Virginia, USA.
The chemical process employed in the Bhopal plant had methylamine reacting with phosgene to form MIC, which was then reacted with 1-naphthol to form the final product, carbaryl. This "route" differed from the MIC-free routes used elsewhere, in which the same raw materials were combined in a different manufacturing order, with phosgene first reacting with naphthol to form a chloroformate ester, which was then reacted with methylamine. In the early 1980s, the demand for pesticides had fallen, but production continued, leading to buildup of stores of unused MIC.
In 1976, two trade unions complained of pollution within the plant. In 1981, a worker was splashed with phosgene. In a panic, he removed his mask, inhaling a large amount of phosgene gas which resulted in his death 72 hours later. 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 had warned the company of the problem as early as 1979, but constructive actions were not undertaken by UCIC at that time. 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 masks. One month later, in February 1982, a MIC leak affected 18 workers. In August 1982, a chemical engineer came into contact with liquid MIC, resulting in burns over 30 percent of his body. Later that same year, in October 1982, there was another MIC leak. In attempting to stop the leak, the MIC supervisor suffered intensive chemical burns and two other workers were severely exposed...
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