Bhopal Disaster Case StudyIntroductionThe Bhopal gas tragedy in India ranks among the worst of the industrial accidents that have occurred in the world. Bhopal is a populous city, with its population in 1984 approximately 900.000. During the late night of December 2 and early morning of December 3, 1984 many of the sleeping population of Bhopal city were enveloped by a cloud of deadly gas that had leaked out from the American-owned Union Carbide pesticide, located nearly three miles outside the city of Bhopal. According to Union Carbide later, this toxic gas was methyl isocyanate gas.
The consequence was a disaster in terms of human and animal casualties. It is estimated that nearly 3,000 people died from the effects of the toxic gas within a few days. More than fifty thousand required medical attention due to toxic effects of the gas. Later estimates have suggested that in the many years since the gas tragedy, the toxic gas has continued to take it toll, with nearly 20,000 people having died of the delayed effects of the toxic gas. Though the Union Carbide pesticide factory was closed subsequent to the gas leak, the Bhopal gas tragedy and its consequences continue to reverberate around the world (BBC, 2008).
Background to the Bhopal DisasterThe pesticide factory at Bhopal was the result of Indian objective of increasing the productivity of its farming efforts and becoming self-sufficient in agricultural products, in what can be termed as the Green Revolution the late 1960s and 1970s. This boosted efforts in the agricultural sector meant increased need for pesticides and the Government of India gave sanction to the American based Union Carbide to set up a small plant to formulate pesticides in the state of Madhya Pradesh in 1969.
Union Carbide decided to set up this plant to manufacture pesticides at Bhopal, which was the capital of the state of Madhya Pradesh as an Indian subsidiary unit under the name of Union Carbide India Ltd (TED Case Studies). Union Carbide plant was located at hardly any distance from Bhopal city and its railway station. The choice of this site by the management was due to the various factors amenable to its location there, in the form of the nearby railway system for transportation needs, a nearby large lake that could easily meet the water requirements of the plant, adequate electric power supply and the presence of a large labour force to meet their worker requirements.
The management however overlooked the pertinent issue of locating a manufacturing facility that employs a very toxic gas in its manufacturing processes in close proximity to a populous city and the slums of the city that were adjacent to the plant. For almost a decade the toxic methyl isocyanate required in the manufacturing processes was imported by Union Carbide India Ltd. , and stored.
To increase the bottom line of the company, the management in 1979 took the decision to manufacture methyl isocyanate at its Bhopal instead of importing it, compounding safety issues, as the more stringent safety measures had to be put in place as methyl isocyanate would be manufactured instead of stored (TED Case Studies).