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30 Terrible Bhopal Gas Tragedy Facts

This post will be moved to a India-specific website by 15th October, 2019.

One of the worst industrial leaks in the history of mankind was experienced by Bhopal. This dreadful leak of a poisonous gas did not only kill thousands within days but also left a trailing effect that would continue to last even today!

Known to the world as the Bhopal Gas Tragedy, it is saga of those thousands who lost their lives back in 1984 and millions of those Bhopalites who continue to live today with the memories of the nightmare.

Let us today learn 30 terrible Bhopal Gas Tragedy facts and uncover the events that led to the dreadful leak.

Terrible Bhopal Gas Tragedy Facts: 1-10

1. Union Carbide Corporation (which has now become a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical Company since 2001) had set up a subsidiary pesticide factory in India by the name Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) in 1969 and 10 years later in 1979, a production plant was set up in Bhopal, India.

2. The plant used to produce a pesticide known as Sevin. Sevin was actually the brand name used by Union Carbide Corporation for the chemical named carbaryl.

3. Unlike other manufacturers like Bayer, UCIL manufactured carbaryl by using an intermediate known as methyl isocyanate (MIC), which was a poisonous gas. Using MIC significantly reduced the production cost of carbaryl as compared to methods that did not use MIC.

4. The production route deployed by UCIL was:

  • Methylamine + Phosgene = MIC.
  • MIC + 1-naphthol = Carbaryl.

5. Prior to the actual tragedy in question, UCIL was involved in other scandalous events. In 1981, phosgene gas splashed on a worker who removed his safety mask out of pure panic and as a result, inhaled a large amount of the gas. 72 hours later, the worker died because of phosgene poisoning.

6. In January 1982 another phosgene gas leak exposed 24 workers and they had to be admitted to hospital. Those workers were not ordered to wear safety masks.

7. In February 1982 there was yet another leak but this time, it was MIC. A total of 18 workers were exposed. The actual fate of those workers is not known.

8. In August 1982, a chemical engineer contracted 30% body burn after coming in contact with liquid MIC. Later in October same year, there was another round of MIC leak. In an attempt to stop the leakage, the person responsible for MIC supervision contracted severe chemical burns and two other workers were also exposed.

9. Following two years in 1983 and 1984 there were multiple leaks of phosgene, chlorine, monomethylamine, carbon tetrachloride and MIC and even worse, those gases sometimes leaked in combination.

10. The reason for these multiple leaks was that the safety systems had become faulty with several lines and valves left in poor condition. The lack of maintenance was attributed to the fall in pesticide demand in early 1980s, resulting in poor maintenance but UCIL continued production and kept piling up unused MIC.

Terrible Bhopal Gas Tragedy Facts: 11-20

11. Journalist Rajkumar Keswani published a series of 4 articles between 1982 and 1984 with each article attempting to warn people about the threats of the UCIL plant. The titles of the four articles he wrote in order are:

  • Please Save This City.
  • Bhopal Sitting On Top Of A Volcano.
  • If You Don’t Understand This, You Will Be Wiped Out.
  • Bhopal On Brink Of Disaster.

12. By November 1984, the plant was in an extremely poor condition. On top of that, a specific tank named E610 held 42 tons of MIC, which was way beyond the safety standards.

13. On the night of 2-3 December, 1984, water managed to gush in through a side pipe whose slip-blind plate was missing. The water headed straight into E610, triggering a runaway reaction. The reaction started growing out of control because of the presence of contaminants, high temperature and other factors.

14. Worsening the situation was the iron of the non-stainless steel corroding pipelines. The iron was responsible for speeding up the reaction. The exothermic reaction raised the temperature inside E610 to 200°C and above, which in turn increased the pressure inside E610.

15. As a result, the MIC holding tank went into emergency pressure venting, releasing 40 metric tons of methyl isocyanate gas into the atmosphere within a time span of 45-60 minutes.

16. The gas cloud that possibly consisted of oxides of nitrogen, carbon dioxide, monomethylamine, hydrogen chloride, carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide and phosgene apart from MIC traveled southeast over Bhopal.

17. After being exposed to the gas people suffered from severe eye irritation, feeling of suffocation, coughing, breathlessness, burning in respiratory tract, vomiting, stomach pain and blepharospasm (abnormal spasm of eyelids).

18. People with short height and children were more affected compared to those who were taller. Those who ran gasped and inhaled more of the toxic gas and were more affected compared to those who took a vehicle ride to escape.

19. By next morning, thousands were dead with primary reason for death being pulmonary edema, reflexogenic circulatory collapse and choking. Autopsies revealed other causes of death as well which included tubular necrosis of kidneys, cerebral edema, necrotising enteritis (inflammation of small intestine) and fatty degeneration of liver.

20. Later, neonatal mortality rate increased by 200% and stillbirth rate increased by 300%. In an immediate aftermath, the healthcare system in Bhopal and the affected areas went haywire. 70% of the doctors attending the victims were underqualified and the hospitals were not equipped with proper knowledge and medicines for treatment of MIC poisoning.

Terrible Bhopal Gas Tragedy Facts: 21-30

21. Mass cremations and funerals started. Within a matter of few days 2,000 animal carcasses had to be disposed off. Trees in the nearby areas became barren. Hospitals and temporary dispensaries were treating over 17,000 people.

22. The immediate death toll as per government records was 2,259. 3,787 deaths related to gas release was confirmed by the Government of Madhya Pradesh.

23. In 2006, an affidavit was released by the government stating that a total of 558,125 injuries were caused by the gas leak and included 38, 478 temporary partial injuries and 3,900 cases of severe and permanent disability. However, activists claim that nearly 25,000 people died that included immediate and long term casualties.

24. The next generation of children in Bhopal were born with serious conditions like musculoskeletal disorders, twisted limbs and brain damage.

25. In 1999 a report was released where it was found that mercury levels during gas leak increased by 20,000 to 6 million times more than expect levels.

26. Madhya Pradesh police arrested the primary accused Warren Anderson but he was released on a bail of $2100.

27. Narain’s Organization released a report in 2009 where it was stated that the samples collected from the areas surrounding the leakage site contained 561 times more organochlorine pesticides and chlorinated benzene compounds.

28. The site was left uncleaned till 1998 and a report was generated by activists proving that the underground water was polluted by toxic chemical waste and more that 20,000 people in the area were affected.

29. Eveready Industries India Limited purchased the UCC’s stake in UCIL in 1994 and ended up cleaning the site in 1998.

30. In 1989, the Union Carbide Corporation paid a total compensation of $470 million in an out-of-court settlement but the actual settlement amount claimed by Government of India was $3.3 billion.

Source: 1, 2, 3