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.