Themes: Ethics in Business
Period : 1980-2001
Organization : Union Carbide India Limited
Pub Date : 2002
Countries : India
Industry : Chemicals
- A Union Carbide official commenting on the safety systems in the Bhopal pesticide plant.
- Dr Loya, Union Carbide's official doctor in Bhopal, commenting on Methyl Isocyanate, after the tragedy.
In the early morning hours of December 3, 1984, a poisonous grey cloud (forty tons of toxic gases) from Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL's)1 pesticide plant at Bhopal spread throughout the city. Water carrying catalytic material had entered Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) storage tank No. 610. What followed was a nightmare.
The catastrophe raised some serious ethical issues. The pesticide factory was built in the midst of densely populated settlements. UCIL chose to store and produce MIC, one of the most deadly chemicals (permitted exposure levels in USA and Britain are 0.02 parts per million), in an area where nearly 120,000 people lived. The MIC plant was not designed to handle a runaway reaction. When the uncontrolled reaction started, MIC was flowing through the scrubber (meant to neutralize MIC emissions) at more than 200 times its designed capacity.
MIC in the tank was filled to 87% of its capacity while the maximum permissible was 50%. MIC was not stored at zero degree centigrade as prescribed and the refrigeration and cooling systems had been shut down five months before the disaster, as part of UCC's global economy drive. Vital gauges and indicators in the MIC tank were defective. The flare tower meant to burn off MIC emissions was under repair at the time of the disaster and the scrubber contained no caustic soda.
As part of UCC's drive to cut costs, the work force in the Bhopal factory was brought down by half from 1980 to 1984. This had serious consequences on safety and maintenance. The size of the work crew for the MIC plant was cut in half from twelve to six workers. The maintenance supervisor position had been eliminated and there was no maintenance supervisor. The period of safety-training to workers in the MIC plant was brought down from 6 months to 15 days.
1] Subsidiary of the US based Union Carbide Corporation (UCC).
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