Exploratory Notes

Topics: Bhopal disaster, Bhopal, Dow Chemical Company Pages: 14 (5034 words) Published: June 25, 2013

“…the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” -Milan Kundera (The Book of Laughter and Forgetting)


Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1977710


Electronic copy available at: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1977710

BHOPAL GAS TRAGEDY – A SOCIAL, ECONOMIC, LEGAL AND ENVIRONMENTAL ANALYSIS Introduction The industrial catastrophe that occurred on the midnight of December 2, 1984 at Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant in Bhopal, India was the worst industrial accident in the world. The official count was around 3000 deaths, but unofficial estimates are around 8000 – 10000 deaths (Bogart, 1989). Since then, a report in NY Times indicates the death toll has reached a high of 14,410 due to the chronic diseases caused by the gas leakage (NYT, 08/02/2002). This is a complex case, involving critics from all sides accusing the Government of India, U.S. Government, and Union Carbide and the workers that handle the case. The purpose of examining this case for this class, about Environmental Law is due to the fact that this involves a large-scale environmental pollution accident and the legal difficulties in international prosecution laws, extradition treaties and non-uniform regulations across countries which could be exploited by companies. This paper, as the title suggests examines the social, environmental, legal and economic aspects of this evolving tragedy. History of the Accident However tragic the circumstances turned out to be, the opening of the pesticide plant in Bhopal was well meant. The period was before Green Revolution. India was plagued with periodic droughts which resulted in famine. After centuries of British rule and mismanaged kingdoms before that, India was reduced to poverty level subsistence existence for 75% of its citizens. After partition there were two droughts and subsequent famines in the Northeastern part of India. This brought the world’s attention to this region. Several research projects later, drought resistant varieties of wheat originally from the Sonora region of Mexico was developed to adapt to Indian conditions This wheat variety had bigger inflorescence, were resistant to rain and wind. This however required higher fertilizer application and had higher pesticide requirement. The Government of India began approving pesticide factories all over India, and thus the pesticide factory in India was opened in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh in 1969 (Morehouse 3

and Subramaniam, 1986). This plant produced the pesticide carbaryl, also called as Sevin (Kurzman, 1987). The first intermediate product in this process was phosgene, which was produced from the reaction of carbon monoxide with chlorine. Phosgene in turn reacted with monomethylamine to produce methyl iscyanate (MIC), the deadly gas that was reason for the Bhopal tragedy. MIC was reacted with alpha-naphthol to produce carbaryl. MIC is highly combustible therefore it was kept under a blanket of nitrogen in two storage tanks in the Bhopal plant. This storage location on site of the factory was illadvised since the factory was located among densely populated areas (Morehouse and Subramaniam, 1986). This location was rejected by the municipality authorities of Bhopal, but then the Central Government gave approval. By the malfunctioning of the valve, on the night of December 2nd, 1984, water got into the storage tanks, and reacted with nitrogen and thus the blanket gone, MIC leaked out. Within 2 hours the storage tank was empty. The reaction was catastrophic. The gas leaked over the city, carried by the wind into the shantytowns where squatters were living, into residential areas where working people and wealthy were living, to the railway station, where at least 200 people were found dead lying on the platforms. The wind carried the...

References: Bogart, William., 1989, The Bhopal Tragedy: Language, Logic, and Politics in the Production of a Hazard (Westview Press, Colorado) Kurzman, Daniel., 1987, Killing Wind: Inside Union Carbide and the Bhopal Catastrophe (McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York) Lapierre, D. and J. Moro., 2002, Five Past Midnight in Bhopal (Warner Books, New York) Marcus, A. A., and R. S. Goodman, 1991, Victims and Shareholders: The Dilemmas of Presenting Corporate Policy during a Crisis, The Academy of Management Journal 34(2), 281-305 Morehouse, W., and M. A. Subramaniam, The Bhopal Tragedy: What Really happened and What it Means for American Workers and Communities at Risk (Council of International and Public Affairs, UN, New York) Salinger, M., Value Event Studies, The Review of Economics and Statistics 74(4), 671-677 Websites: www.bologi.com/cwfs/wfs0001.htm www.bhopal.com www.geocities.com/Athens/Forums/8266/Bhopal-2.htm www.greenpeace.org www.india-today.com http://in.news.yahoo.com/030216/2178w.html www.NYT.com: 08/02/2002 www.NYT.com: 03/05/2000 http://web.lexis-nexis.com a. United States Court of Appeals Second Circuit, Bano v. Union Carbide b. United States Court of Appeals Second Circuit, Union of India v. Union Carbide c. United States District Court of Southern District of New York, Bano v. Union Carbide d. United States District Court of Southern District of New York, Union of India v. Union Carbide www.worldbank.org/nipr/india/india-back.htm
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