Bhopal disaster

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [2]

The Bhopal disaster was an industrial disaster that occurred in Bhopal, India, resulting in the death of more than 3,000 people, according to the Indian Supreme Court. A more probable figure is that 8,000 died within two weeks, and it is estimated that the same number have since died from gas related diseases. However, testimonies from doctors who provided medical assistance during the tragedy claim over 15,000 were dead in the first month alone.[1][2]

The incident took place in the early hours of the morning of December 3 1984,[3] in the heart of the city of Bhopal in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. A Union Carbide subsidiary pesticide plant released 40 tonnes of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas, killing approximately 3,800 people.[4] Bhopal is frequently cited as one of the world's worst industrial disasters.[1][2][5][6] The International Medical Commission on Bhopal was established in 1993 to respond to the disasters.

Today, more than 100,000 people have permanent injuries, light or severe. The groundwater around the plant area is contaminated, and the question of cleaning up the area is still unsolved.

Background and causes, summary

The Union Carbide India, Limited (UCIL) plant was established in 1969. 51% was owned by Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) and 49% by Indian authorities. It produced the pesticide carbaryl (trade mark Sevin). Methyl isocyanate (MIC), an intermediate in carbaryl manufacture, was used instead of less toxic but more expensive materials. In 1979, a plant for producing MIC was added. UCC was responsible for all technique and design. The plant was located close to a densely populated area, instead of on the other side of the town where UCIL was offered an area. MIC was stored in a few large tanks instead of several small tanks. The safety systems were inadequate from the start. The alarms did not direct the inhabitants.

The management soon deteriorated in order to cut down expenses, ordered by UCC. The staff was reduced; educated personnel replaced by uneducated. The plant was not maintained appropriately.

There were many warnings. In 1974, cows died from drinking poisonous water from an adjacent well. In 1978, the trade unions wrote a letter to the managers and the MP government about the risks in the plant. In 1978, there was a large fire at the plant. Between 1981 and 1984 there were several releases of different kinds. Workers were injured, one even died. Many articles were published. In 1984, UCIL received the safety audit made by UCC in 1982.

In November 1984, most of the safety systems were not functioning. Many valves and lines were in poor condition. Tank 610 contained 42 tonnes of MIC, much more than allowed according to safety rules.

During the nights of 2-3 December, large amounts of water entered tank 610. The resulting reaction generated a major increase in the temperature of liquid inside the tank (to over 200°C). The MIC holding tank then gave off a large volume of toxic gas, forcing the emergency release of pressure. The reaction was sped up by the presence of iron from corroding non-stainless steel pipelines.

There have been several theories on the reason to the water entering the tank. The workers claim that, because of the bad maintenance with leaking valves etc, it was possible for the water to climb from the point where the pipeline washing was performed to the tank 610. UCC maintains that this was not possible, and that a "disgruntled worker" made sabotage through entering water directly into the tank. Sabotage would have been improbable if maintenance had been good, the safety systems had been working and the saboteur would have wanted to save his own life and health.

However, considering the magnitude of the disaster, it is not important how the water entered the tank. The factors deciding the outcome were the plant design (location near a densely populated area, using hazardous chemicals instead of less dangerous, storing in large tanks, corroding material in pipelines etc), the defective management because of the economic pressure from UCC (poor education of operators, safety systems not functioning etc), and, in the aftermath, negligence of the governments of India and Madhya Pradesh as well as of UCC.

Time line, summary

At the plant

21.00 Water cleaning of pipes start.
22.00 Water enters 610. Reaction starts.
22.30 Gases coming out from the VGS-tower.
00.30 The large siren sounds and is turned off.
00.50 The siren is heard within the plant area. The workers escape.


22.30 First sensations. Suffocation, cough, eyes, vomiting.
1.00 Police alerted. People escaped. UC-director denied.
2.00 The first people reached Hamidia hospital. Half blind, gasping for air, frothing at the mouth, vomiting.
2.10 The alarm was heard.
4.00 The gases reduced.
6.00 The police's loudspeaker: "Everything is normal".
Morning: Thousands of dead bodies and hundreds of dead cattle lying on the streets.[1][2][7]

Health effects

Because of the hypothesized reactions that took place within the storage tank and in the surrounding atmosphere, it is probable that apart from MIC, phosgene, hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, hydrogen chloride, nitrous oxides and carbon dioxide were present in the gas cloud. All these gases are heavier than air, so oxygen deficiency most likely contributed to the health effects.

The gas cloud rolled along the ground, spreading over the sleeping shanty town. People woke up, coughing, vomiting, with burning eyes and a feeling of suffocation. They fled away from the plant, in the same direction as the toxic cloud. Those who ran inhaled more than those who had a vehicle. Those who were short (the children) inhaled a more concentrated mixture than those who were tall. Many people were trampled trying to escape.

The next day, thousands of dead bodies were lying on the streets. The corpses were collected and dumped into Narmada river. There were mass funerals and mass cremations. 170,000 people were treated at hospitals and temporary dispensaries. 2,000 buffaloes, goats, and other animals had to be collected and buried. Within a few days, leaves on trees went yellow and fell off. Business stopped and food did not get into town, as the farmers did not dare to come close. Fishing was forbidden. The town was invaded by health care staff and American lawyers. There was contradictory information from the authorities.

A total of 36 wards were marked by the authorities as being "gas affected", with a population of 520,000. Of these 200,000 were below 15 years of age and 3,000 were pregnant women. In 1991, 3,928 deaths had been certified. Independent organizations recorded 8,000 dead the first days. Other estimations vary between 10,000 and 20,000.

Acute health effects
Air ways: cough, broncho constriction, bronchiolitis, pulmonary oedema etc.
Eyes: Severe irritation, blepharospasm, corneal ulcers.
Pregnancies: Miscarriages, death of fetus, increased infant death rate.
Autopsy: Oedema of brain. Kidneys swollen, necrotic.

The majority of deaths and serious injuries were related to pulmonary edema, but the gas caused a wide variety of other ailments. Signs and symptoms of methyl isocyanate exposure normally include coughing, dyspnea, chest pain, lacrimation, eyelid edema, and unconsciousness. These effects tend to progress over 24 to 72 hours following exposure to include acute lung injury, cardiac arrest, and death.

Long term health effects
The quality of the epidemiological and clinical research varies. However, the different reports support each other, and the findings are also supported by animal experiments. Reported and studied symptoms are eye problems, symptoms from the respiratory system, the immune system and the neurological system, cardiac failure secondary to lung injury, psychological effects, effect on women’s reproductive health, suspected genetic effects and general over-morbidity. Many other symptoms and diseases are often related to the gas exposure, but there is no good research supporting this.

References: "Chemical Industry and Public Health" [1] (download), "The Bhopal Saga" [2]

Cost-cutting measures

A long-term cause of the catastrophe was the location of the plant; authorities had tried and failed to persuade Carbide to build the plant away from densely-populated areas. Carbide explained their refusal on the expense that such a move would incur.[8]

Union Carbide produced their pesticide, Sevin (the name of carbaryl), using MIC as a intermediate. Until 1979, MIC was imported from USA.[2] Other manufacturers, such as Bayer, made Sevin without MIC, although this caused greater expenses.[8]

The Bhopal route was to react methyl amine with phosgene (also a deadly gas & chemical warfare agent) to form MIC, the MIC was then reacted with 1-naphthol to form the final product. This route is different to the MIC free route used elsewhere with the same raw materials in a different manufacturing order: phosgene is reacted with the naphthol first to form a chloroformate ester which is then reacted with methyl amine.

In the early 1980s, the demand for pesticides had fallen: the factory was operating at a loss and overproducing MIC that was not being sold, leading to a series of cost-cutting measures from around 1982 onwards. These measures affected the two interrelated areas of workers and their conditions, and the equipment and safety regulations installed at the plant.[8]

Work conditions

Attempts to reduce expenses affected the factory’s employees and their conditions. For details, see Eckerman[9] and Chouhan

  • Workers were forced to use English manuals, despite the fact that only a few had a grasp of the language.[10]
  • By 1984, only six of the original twelve operators were still working with MIC and the number of supervisory personnel was also cut in half. No maintenance supervisor was placed on the night shift and instrument readings were taken every two hours, rather than the previous and required one-hour readings.[11]
  • Workers made complaints about the cuts through their union but were ignored. One employee was fired after going on a 15-day hunger strike. 70% of the plant’s employees were fined before the disaster for refusing to deviate from the proper safety regulations under pressure from management.[11]
  • In addition, some observers, such as those writing in the Trade Environmental Database (TED) Case Studies as part of the Mandala Project from American University, have pointed to “serious communication problems and management gaps between Union Carbide and its Indian operation”, characterised by “the parent companies [sic] hands-off approach to its overseas operation” and “cross-cultural barriers”.[12]

Equipment and safety regulations

Cost-cutting initiatives affected the quality of equipment and the effectiveness of safety regulations:

  • It emerged in 1998, during civil action suits in India, that, unlike Union Carbide plants in the USA, its Indian subsidiary plants were not prepared for problems. No action plans had been established to cope with incidents of this magnitude. This included not informing local authorities of the quantities or dangers of chemicals used and manufactured at Bhopal.[8]
  • The MIC tank’s alarms had not worked for 4 years.[13]
  • There was only one manual back-up system, not the four-stage system used in the USA.[13]
  • The flare tower and the vent gas scrubber had been out of service for 5 months before the disaster. The gas scrubber therefore did not attempt to clean escaping gases with sodium hydroxide (caustic soda), which may have brought the concentration down to a safe level.[13] Even if the scrubber had been working, according to Weir, investigations in the aftermath of the disaster discovered that the maximum pressure it could handle was only one-quarter of that which was present in the accident. Furthermore, the flare tower itself was improperly designed and could only hold one-quarter of the volume of gas that was leaked in 1984.[14]
  • To reduce energy costs, the refrigeration system, designed to inhibit the volatilization of MIC, had been left idle – the MIC was kept at 20 degrees Celsius, not the 4.5 degrees advised by the manual, and some of the coolant was being used elsewhere.[13]
  • The steam boiler, intended to clean the pipes, was out of action for unknown reasons.[13]
  • Slip-blind plates that would have prevented water from pipes being cleaned from leaking into the MIC tanks via faulty valves were not installed. Their installation had been omitted from the cleaning checklist.
  • Water sprays designed to “knock down” gas leaks were poorly designed – set to 13 metres and below, they could not spray high enough to reduce the concentration of escaping gas.[13]
  • The MIC tank had been malfunctioning for roughly a week. Other tanks had been used for that week, rather than repairing the broken one, which was left to “stew”. The build-up in temperature and pressure is believed to have affected the explosion and its intensity.[13]
  • Carbon-steel valves were used at the factory, despite the fact that they corrode when exposed to acid.[8] On the night of the disaster, a leaking carbon-steel valve was found, allowing water to enter the MIC tanks. The pipe was not repaired because it was believed it would take too much time and be too expensive.[13]
  • According to Lepowski, “virtually every relevant safety instrument” was “either in short supply, malfunctioning or designed improperly”, and “internal documents show that the company knew this prior to the disaster, but did nothing about it”.[13]
  • Themistocles D'Silva contends in The Black Box of Bhopal that the design of the MIC plant, following government guidelines, was "Indianized" by UCIL engineers to maximize the use of indigenous materials and products. It also dispensed with the use of sophisticated instrumentation as not appropriate for the Indian plant. Because of the unavailability of electronic parts in India, the Indian engineers preferred pneumatic instrumentation.

Previous warnings and accidents

A series of prior warnings and MIC-related accidents had been ignored:

  • Reports issued months before the incident by scientists within the Union Carbide corporation warned of the possibility of an accident almost identical to that which occurred in Bhopal. The reports were ignored and never reached senior staff.[8]
  • Union Carbide 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 warned the company of problems on several occasions from 1979 onwards. Again, these warnings were not heeded.[8]
  • From 1981, inhalation accidents were reported at the factory. Five workers were hospitalised in 1982 after a leak of MIC.[8]


  1. Slip-blind water isolation plates being excluded from an adjacent tank's maintenance procedure causes water leak into the tank that exploded on the fateful day.
  2. The water reacts with the MIC in the tank.
  3. 43 tonnes of MIC becomes an explosive intermediate almost within no time.
  4. The optimum temperature of the tank was 80 degree celsius.
  5. Maximum temperature to be supported by the tank was 175 degree celsius.
  6. Overheating not noticed by tank maintenance employees but they did not take it seriously and they apparently thought it was due to the morning dew - it was normal for the tank to overheat a bit due to morning dew.
  7. The tanks security systems could have easily protected it but on that day all the systems failed. View a picture of security failure here
  8. The tank exploded out of its cement sarcophagus.
  9. The gas leaked onto the roads, there was nowhere to run.
  10. Security staff were the first ones to be killed - even before they could react to the sound of the explosion.

"Those who fell were not picked up by anybody, they just kept falling, and were trampled on by other people. People climbed and scrambled over each other to save their lives – even cows were running and trying to save their lives and crushing people as they ran." In those apocalyptic moments no one knew what was happening. People simply started dying in the most hideous ways. Some vomited uncontrollably, went into convulsions and fell dead. Others choked to death, drowning in their own body fluids. Many died in the stampedes through narrow gullies(small roads) where street lamps burned a dim brown through clouds of gas. The force of the human torrent wrenched children's hands from their parents' grasp. Families were whirled apart," reported the Bhopal Medical Appeal in 1994.

Aftermath of the explosion

In the immediate aftermath of the explosion:[8]

  • Though the audible external alarm was activated to warn the residents of Bhopal, it was quickly silenced to avoid causing panic among the residents. Thus, many continued to sleep, unaware of the unfolding drama, and those that had woken assumed any problem had been sorted outTemplate:Fix/category[citation needed]. Many woke to painful sensations and difficulty breathing as the MIC gas diffused among residential areas.[15]
  • Doctors and hospitals were not informed of proper treatment methods for MIC gas inhalation. They were told to simply give cough medicine and eye-drops to their patients.[1][2]
  • The recent discovery of documents, obtained through discovery in the course of a lawsuit against Union Carbide, for environmental contamination before a New York Federal District Court, revealed that Carbide had exported "untested, unproven technology" to the Indian plant."Unproven Technology". 2002-11-14. Retrieved 2008-04-11. 

Union Carbide’s defense

Now owned by Dow Chemical Company, Union Carbide denies allegations against it on its website dedicated to the tragedy. The corporation believes that the accident was the result of sabotage, claiming that safety systems were in place and operative. It also stresses that it did all it could to alleviate human suffering following the disaster.[16]

Investigation into possible sabotage

The company cites an investigation conducted by the engineering consulting firm Arthur D. Little, which concluded that a single employee secretly and deliberately introduced a large amount of water into the MIC tank by removing a meter and connecting a water hose directly to the tank through the metering port. Carbide claims such a large amount of water could not have found its way into the tank by accident, and safety systems were not designed to deal with intentional sabotage. UC says that the rest of the plant staff falsified numerous records to distance themselves from the incident, and that the Indian Government impeded its investigation and declined to prosecute the employee responsible, presumably because that would weaken its allegations of negligence against Union Carbide.Template:Fix/category[citation needed]

Union Carbide has never publicly named or identified the employee it claims sabotaged its Bhopal plant or attempted to prosecute. Nevertheless, on the company’s Bhopal Information Center website, Carbide claims that “the Indian authorities are well aware of the identity of the employee and the nature of the evidence against him”.[17]

Safety and equipment issues

The corporation denies the claim that the valves on the tank were malfunctioning, claiming that “documented evidence gathered after the incident showed that the valve close to the plant's water-washing operation was closed and leak-tight. Furthermore, process safety systems – in place and operational – would have prevented water from entering the tank by accident”. Carbide states that the safety concerns identified in 1982 were all allayed before 1984 and “none of them had anything to do with the incident”.[17]

The company admits that “the safety systems in place could not have prevented a chemical reaction of this magnitude from causing a leak”. According to Carbide, “in designing the plant's safety systems, a chemical reaction of this magnitude was not factored in” because “the tank's gas storage system was designed to automatically prevent such a large amount of water from being inadvertently introduced into the system” and “process safety systems – in place and operational – would have prevented water from entering the tank by accident”. Instead, they believe that “employee sabotage – not faulty design or operation – was the cause of the tragedy”.[17]


The company stresses the “immediate action” taken after the disaster and their continued commitment to helping the victims. On December 4th, the day following the leak, Union Carbide sent material aid and several international medical experts to assist the medical facilities in Bhopal.[17]

Carbide put $2 million into the Indian Prime Minister’s immediate disaster relief fund on 11th December 1984.[17] The corporation established the Employees' Bhopal Relief Fund in February 1985, which raised more than $5 million for immediate relief.[3]

In August 1987, Carbide made an additional $4.6 million in humanitarian interim relief available.[3]

Union Carbide also undertook several steps to provide continuing aid to the victims of the Bhopal disaster after the court ruling, including:

  • The sale of its 50.9 percent interest in UCIL in April 1992 and establishment of a charitable trust to contribute to the building of a local hospital. The sale was finalized in November 1994. The hospital was begun in October 1995 and was opened in 2001. The company provided to fund with around $90 million from sale of its UCIL stock. In 1991, the trust had amounted approximately $100 million. The hospital caters for the treatment of heart, lung and eye problems.[16]
  • Providing "a $2.2 million grant to Arizona State University to establish a vocational-technical center in Bhopal, which was constructed and opened, but was later closed and leveled by the government”.[4]
  • Donating $5 million to the Indian Red Cross.[4]
  • Developing the Responsible Care system with other members of the chemical industry as a response to the Bhopal crisis, which is designed “to help prevent such an event in the future by improving community awareness, emergency preparedness and process safety standards”.[3]

Long-term fallout

Legal action against Union Carbide has dominated the aftermath of the disaster. However, other issues have also continued to develop. These include the problems of ongoing contamination, criticisms of the clean-up operation undertaken by Union Carbide, and a 2004 hoax.

Legal action against Union Carbide

Legal issues began affecting Union Carbide, the US and Indian governments, the local authorities in Bhopal and the victims of the disaster immediately after the catastrophe.

Legal proceedings leading to the settlement

On 14th December 1984, the Chairman and CEO of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson, addressed the US Congress, stressing the company’s “commitment to safety” and promising to ensure that a similar accident “cannot happen again”. However, the Indian Government passed the Bhopal Gas Leak Act in March 1985, allowing the Government of India to act as the legal representative for victims of the disaster,[3] leading to the beginning of legal wrangling.

March 1986 saw Union Carbide propose a settlement figure, endorsed by plaintiffs’ US attorneys, of $350 million that would, according to the company, “generate a fund for Bhopal victims of between $500-600 million over 20 years”. In May, litigation was transferred from the US to Indian courts by US District Court Judge. Following an appeal of this decision, the US Court of Appeals affirmed the transfer, judging, in January 1987, that UCIL was a “separate entity, owned, managed and operated exclusively by Indian citizens in India”.[3] The judge in the US, Judge Keenan, granted Carbide’s forum request, thus moving the case to India. This meant that, under US federal law, the company had to submit to Indian jurisdiction.

Litigation continued in India during 1988. The Indian Supreme Court told both sides to come to an agreement and “start with a clean slate” in November 1988.[3] Eventually, in an out-of-court settlement reached in 1989 , Union Carbide agreed to pay US$470 million for damages caused in the Bhopal disaster, 15% of the original $3 billion claimed in the lawsuit.[2] By the end of October 2003, according to the Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation Department, compensation had been awarded to 554,895 people for injuries received and 15,310 survivors of those killed. The average amount to families of the dead was $2,200.[18]

Throughout 1990, the Indian Supreme Court heard appeals against the settlement from “activist petitions”. Nonetheless, in October 1991, the Supreme Court upheld the original $470 million, dismissing any other outstanding petitions that challenged the original decision. The decision set aside a “portion of settlement that quashed criminal prosecutions that were pending at the time of settlement”. The Court ordered the Indian government “to purchase, out of settlement fund, a group medical insurance policy to cover 100,000 persons who may later develop symptoms” and cover any shortfall in the settlement fund. It also “requests” that Carbide and its subsidiary “voluntarily” fund a hospital in Bhopal, at an estimate $17 million, to specifically treat victims of the Bhopal disaster. The company agreed to this.[3] However, the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal notes that the Court also reinstated criminal charges.

Charges against Warren Anderson and others

The Chairman and CEO of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson, had been arrested and released on bail by the Madhya Pradesh Police in Bhopal on December 7, 1984. This caused controversy as his trip to Bhopal was conditional on an initial promise by Indian authorities not to arrest him. Anderson has since refused to return to India.

Beginning in 1991, the local authorities from Bhopal charged Warren Anderson, who had retired in 1986, with manslaughter, a crime that carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison. Anderson has so far avoided an international arrest warrant and a US court summons. He was declared a fugitive from justice by the Chief Judicial Magistrate of Bhopal on February 1, 1992 for failing to appear at the court hearings in a culpable homicide case in which he was named the chief defendant. Orders were passed to the Government of India to press for an extradition from the United States, with whom India had an extradition treaty in place. He went missing for several years, until he was discovered by Greenpeace “living a life of luxury in the Hamptons”.Template:Fix/category[citation needed] The Bhopal Medical Appeal believe that “neither the American nor the Indian government seem interested in disturbing him with an extradition”. Some allege that the Indian government has hesitated to put forth a strong case of extradition to the United States, fearing backlash from foreign investors who have become more important players in the Indian economy following liberalization.Template:Fix/category[citation needed] A seemingly apathetic attitude from the US government, which has failed to pursue the case, has also led to strong protests in the past, most notably by Greenpeace. A plea by India's Central Bureau of Investigation to dilute the charges from culpable homicide to criminal negligence has since been dismissed by the Indian courts.

The US Supreme Court refused to hear appeal of the decision of the lower federal courts in October 1993, meaning that victims of the Bhopal disaster could not seek damages in a US court.[3]

Meanwhile, very little of the money from the settlement reached with Union Carbide went to the survivors, and people in the area feel betrayed not only by Union Carbide (and chairman Warren Anderson), but also by their own politicians.Template:Fix/category[citation needed] On the anniversary of the tragedy, effigies of Anderson and politicians are burnt.

In July 2004, the Indian Supreme Court ordered the Indian government to release any remaining settlement funds to victims. The deadline for this release was extended by the Indian Supreme Court In April 2005, giving the Indian government until 30th April 2006 after a request from the Welfare Commission for Bhopal Gas Victims. The fund is believed to amount to $500 million after earning interest “from money remaining after all claims had been paid”.[3]

August 2006 saw the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York uphold the dismissal of remaining claims in the case of Bano vs. Union Carbide Corporation. This move blocked plaintiffs’ motions for class certification and claims for property damages and remediation. In the view of Carbide, “the ruling reaffirms UCC’s long-held positions and finally puts to rest — both procedurally and substantively – the issues raised in the class action complaint first filed against Union Carbide in 1999 by Haseena Bi and several organizations representing the residents of Bhopal”. In September 2006, the Welfare Commission for Bhopal Gas Victims announced that all original compensation claims and revised petitions had been “cleared".[3]

Criminal charges are proceeding against former Union Carbide India Limited employees including: Former UCIL Chairman Shri Keshub Mahindra; presently Chairman-cum managing Director Shri Vijay Gokhale; former Vice-President Functioning In charge, Shri Kishor Kamdar; former works manager Shri J. Mukund; and former Production manager A.P. Division, Shri S.P. Choudhury.

Changes in corporate identity

Sale of Union Carbide India Limited

Union Carbide sold its Indian subsidiary, which had operated the Bhopal plant, to Eveready Industries India Limited, in 1994.

Merger of Union Carbide and Dow Chemical Company

The Dow Chemical Company purchased Union Carbide in 2001 for $10.3 billion in stock and debt. Dow has publicly stated several times that the Union Carbide settlement payments have already fulfilled Dow's financial responsibility for the disaster.

Some Dow stockholders filed suits to stop the merger, noting the outstanding liabilities for the Bhopal disaster.[19] The merger has gained criticism from the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, as it is apparently “contrary to established merger law” in that “Dow denies any responsibility for Carbide’s Bhopal liabilities”. According to the Bhopal Medical Appeal, Carbide “remains liable for the environmental devastation” as environmental damage was not included in the 1989 settlement, despite ongoing contamination issues.[19]

Ongoing contamination

Lack of political willpower has led to a stalemate on the issue of cleaning up the plant and its environs of hundreds of tonnes of toxic waste, which has been left untouched. Environmentalists have warned that the waste is a potential minefield in the heart of the city, and the resulting contamination may lead to decades of slow poisoning, and diseases affecting the nervous system, liver and kidneys in humans. Studies have shown that the rates of cancer and other ailments are higher in the region since the event.Template:Fix/category[citation needed] Activists have demanded that Dow clean up this toxic waste, and have pressed the government of India to demand more money from Dow.

In 2002, an inquiry found a number of toxins, including mercury, lead, 1,3,5 trichlorobenzene, dichloromethane and chloroform, in nursing women’s breast milk. Well water and groundwater tests conducted in the surrounding areas in 1999 showed mercury levels to be at “20,000 and 6 million times” higher than expected levels; heavy metals and organochlorines were present in the soil. Chemicals that have been linked to various forms of cancer were also discovered, as well as trichloroethene, known to impair fetal development, at 50 times above safety limits specified by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).[19]

In an investigation broadcast on BBC Radio 5 on November 14, 2004 [20], it was reported that the site is still contaminated with 'thousands' of metric tons of toxic chemicals, including benzene hexachloride and mercury, held in open containers or loose on the ground. Some areas are reportedly so polluted that anyone entering the area for more than ten minutes is likely to lose consciousness. Rainfall causes run-off, polluting local wells and boreholes, and the results of tests undertaken on behalf of the BBC by accredited water analysis laboratories in the United Kingdom reveal pollution levels in borehole water 500 times the legal maximum in that country. Statistical surveys of local residents, with a control population in a similarly poor area away from the plant, are reported to reveal higher levels of various diseases around the plant.

Criticisms of Clean-up Operations

Carbide states that “after the incident, UCIL began clean-up work at the site under the direction of Indian central and state government authorities”, which was continued after 1994 by the successor to UCIL, Eveready Industries, until 1998, when it was placed under the authority of the Madhya Pradesh Government.[3] Critics of the clean-up undertaken by Carbide, such as the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, claim that “several internal studies” by the corporation, which evidenced “severe contamination”, were not made public; the Indian authorities were also refused access. They believe that Union Carbide “continued directing operations” in Bhopal until “at least 1995” through Hayaran, the US trained site manager, even after the sale of its UCIL stock. The successor, Eveready Industries, abruptly relinquished the site lease to one department of the State Government while being supervised by another department on an extensive clean up programme. Environmental problems resulting from lack of a proper clean-up persist today[2]. The Madhya Pradesh authorities have announced that they will “pursue both Dow and Eveready” to conduct the clean-up as joint tortfeasors.Template:Fix/category[citation needed]

The International Campaign view Carbide’s sale of UCIL in 1994 as a strategy “to escape the Indian courts, who threatened Carbide’s assets due to their non-appearance in the criminal case”. The successor, Eveready Industries India, Limited (EIIL), ended its 99 year lease in 1998 and turned over control of the site to the state government of the Madhya Pradesh.[16] Currently, the Madhya Pradesh Government is trying to legally force Dow and EIIL to finance clean-up operations.

Additional Settlement Funds Hoax

File:Dow apologizes.jpg
Bichlbaum as Finisterra on BBC News

On December 3, 2004, the twentieth anniversary of the disaster, a man claiming to be a Dow representative named Jude Finisterra was interviewed on the BBC. He claimed that the company had agreed to clean up the site and compensate those harmed in the incident. (video) Immediately afterward, Dow's share price fell 4.2% in 23 minutes, for a loss of $2 billion in market value [3]. Dow quickly issued a statement saying that they had no employee by that name — that he was an impostor, not affiliated with Dow, and that his claims were a hoax. BBC broadcast a correction and an apology. The statement was widely carried [4].

"Jude Finisterra" was actually Andy Bichlbaum, a member of the activist prankster group The Yes Men. In 2002, The Yes Men issued a phony press release explaining why Dow refused to take responsibility for the disaster and started up a website,, designed to look like the Dow website but give what they felt was a more accurate cast on the events. In 2004, a producer for BBC News emailed them through the website requesting an interview, which they gladly obliged [5].

Taking credit for the prank in an interview on Democracy Now!, Bichlbaum explains how his fake name was derived: "Jude is the patron saint of impossible causes and Finisterra means the end of the Earth". He explained that he settled on this approach (taking responsibility) because it would show people precisely how Dow could help the situation as well as likely garnering major media attention in the US, which had largely ignored the disaster's anniversaries, when Dow attempted to correct the statement [6].

After the original interview was revealed as a hoax, Bichlbaum appeared in a follow-up interview on the United Kingdom's Channel 4 news (video). During the interview he was repeatedly asked if he had considered the emotions and reaction of the people of Bhopal when producing the hoax. According to the interviewer, "there were many people in tears" upon having learned of the hoax. Each time, Bichlbaum said that, in comparison, what distress he had caused the people was minimal to that for which Dow was responsible.

See also

Further reading


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 "Eckerman, Ingrid. Chemical Industry and Public Health - Bhopal as an example" (PDF). 2001. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 2.7 Eckerman, Ingrid (2004). The Bhopal Saga - Causes and Consequences of the World's Largest Industrial Disaster. India: Universities Press. ISBN 81-7371-515-7. [1]
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 "Chronology". Bhopal Information Center. November 2006. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 "Incident Response and Settlement". Bhopal Information Center. 
  5. "Bhopal - The world's best industrial wonder". Greenpeace. 
  6. Simi Chakrabarti. "20th anniversary of world's worst industrial disaster". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 
  7. "Bhopal - the Inside Story" Chouhan and others, T.R. (2004). Bhopal - the Inside Story. USA: The Apex Press. ISBN 1-891843-30-3. India: Other India Press ISBN 81-85569-65-7
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 8.7 8.8 Kovel, J., The Enemy of Nature: The End of Capitalism or the End of the World?, London: Zed Books, 2002.
  9. "Eckerman, Ingrid. The Bhopal Disaster 1984 - working conditions and the role of the trade unions." (PDF). 2006. 
  10. Cassels, J. (1993). The Uncertain Promise Of Law: Lessons From Bhopal. University Of Toronto Press. 
  11. 11.0 11.1
  12. "Trade Environmental Database (TED) Case Studies: Bhopal Disaster". American University. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 13.3 13.4 13.5 13.6 13.7 13.8 Lepowski, W. (19 December, 1994). "Ten Years Later: Bhopal". Chemical and Engineering News.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  14. Weir, D., The Bhopal Syndrome: Pesticides, Environment, And Health, San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1987.
  15. The Bhopal Medical Appeal & Sambhavna Clinic
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 "Statement of Union Carbide Corporation Regarding the Bhopal Tragedy". Bhopal Information Center. 
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 17.4 "Frequently Asked Questions". Bhopal Information Center. 
  18. E. Broughton (2005). "The Bhopal disaster and its aftermath: a review". Environmental Health: A Global Access Science Source (Open access). 4 (1): 6. PMID 15882472. doi:10.1186/1476-069X-4-6. 
  19. 19.0 19.1 19.2 "What Happened in Bhopal?". The Bhopal Medical Appeal. 
  20. "Bhopal faces risk of 'poisoning'". BBC Radio 5. November 14 2004.  Check date values in: |date= (help)

External links

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