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Bhopal Gas Tragedy in India: Reasons for Happening and Results

On December 3, 1984, in Bhopal, India, there happened to be a gas leakage of methyl isocyanate (MIC) from a pesticide manufacturing plant located in the city. The tragedy resulted in the loss of lives and other adverse negative effects on the community in Bhopal. At least 3,800 people died, and another 11,000 victims were left disabled in many ways. The health effects were dire and are still felt to date, like many families that lived in the affected locality still suffer from illnesses caused by the leakage (Browning 1). This outrageous disaster was one of the worst industrial accidents in the world, which in turn has seen the implementation and enforcement of numerous policies to evade such accidents. Since the accident, preventive strategies, company disaster preparedness, and the international environmental safety standards and other guidelines have been set and are then used globally by industries. Despite all these government policies enacted on industrial behavior, a significant threat to the environment still remains due to the fast and under-regulated industrial growth where vast environmental degradation has significantly affected human health in the regions.

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The UCIL plant in Bhopal leaked about 28 tons of toxic gas that spread throughout the city, affecting many people living in and even out of the surrounding. The pesticide factory built by UCIL had three tanks that contained 60 tons of methyl isocyanate (Kok et al. 11). On the fateful evening of December 3, 1984, plant operators began their maintenance routine checks in a pesticide factory owned by Union Carbide Indian Limited (UCIL). Some of the activities included flushing out contaminants by washing the pipes with water to keep the filter system clean (Browning 3). Unfortunately, an overflow device from the filter system downstream was blocked. Water started flowing back via a leaking valve into the vent system. Later in the night, a fragile pipe permitted water in the prevalent tank.

A valve that remained to protect the tank, known as the nitrogen outflow, was later known to be leaking since the engineers were previously unable to pressurize it. The tank exploded off the walls emitting the hazardous chemicals inside (Diamond 2). Despite the security and safety systems set to curb and stop such leakages by UC, the toxic emission rapidly spread into the city, killing instantly and maiming others physically. In this case to cite, if safety procedures had been followed, a slip blind could have been installed to get a non-penetrable seal amid the pipes; hence water couldn’t have flown that far.

There came about several theories as to why the tragedy happened. One of them being the sabotage theory that implicated one ‘Mr. Verma is a disgruntled employee who caused the leakage after being transferred unlawfully from his former place of work by his boss (Diamond 3). The decision was actively challenged in India by UCC managers and workers from the factory, who claimed the theory to be null and blamed the failure of the factory’s design and management to be the cause of the disaster. There was no elaborate system that could inform the public living adjacent, no emergency plans, and totally no systems to disseminate information on emergencies to the people living around except a loud siren in the factory. Investigations done indicated that plant operators in the firm were not well trained. The Indian management at the plant had entirely employed locals as the only workforce in the plant. The analysis of the event further revealed that the Bhopal plant mass-produced more MIC than it could process immediately hence loads of storage in the tank.

The processing capacity of MIC in Bhopal was much lower; hence, enormous quantities were stored for months. This issue implied that UCC adopted inadequate safety measures in Bhopal. There were no emergency corrosive scrubbers to neutralize any gas leak, and there was reliance on manual observation since there wasn’t any digitized monitoring of processes and instruments. The MIC tanks had never been nitrogenized since their last production in October 1984 and the turning off of the refrigeration unit in June 1984 (Diamond 3). A survey conducted shows devastating indication that the UCC administration was well conscious of the safety issues before the tragedy but ignored all the warnings (Browning 2). It included deficiencies in instrument maintenance programs and the safety valves and high personnel turnover in operations. From Nichols’ (1981) perspective, these flaws reflect the Indian value system, which is characterized by strong in-group identity and loyalty.

In March 1983, the factory received a letter from a local attorney Shah Nawaz Khan threatening legal actions. Major violations included the storage of hazardous contents, contaminating water and soil with toxic waste, and posing risks to the health of the communities that lived adjacently (Diamond 2). The investigation established that the organization could have prevented this tragedy, ensuring maintenance programs regulate and actively gauge the replacement regularity for valves, instrumentation, and alarm systems. This precaution could have been taken by conducting a weekly review of safety valves and maintenance documented comprehensively. The high MIC production could have been in line with the processing capacity (Diamond 2). This measure could have reduced the period in which methyl isocyanate could have been stored in the tanks.

Furthermore, the MIC storage facilities should have been fortified with scrubbers that are well designed to operate in such hasty conditions to counteract any evading MIC. The field tanks for storage should have used cooling systems built on chloroform that is non-volatile with MIC than those based on brine which is very volatile. The factory could also ensure extensive worker training packages to best practices and effective strategies in emergency mitigation and management and provide their workforce with enough protective gear and equipment.

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In conclusion, UCC has consistently denied accountability for the leakage at Bhopal since UCIL played an overall administrative role in the factory’s management. The occurrence in India clearly shows that the rapid industrialization in third world countries without strict adherence to safety policies and environmental regulations will have dire consequences to the social, political, and more; global economic sectors as the industrial toxic and hazards contamination are tied to the worldwide market dynamics. Numerous human rights institutions have raised concerns to transnational companies that conduct businesses globally, ensuring that they oblige to work under the given frameworks internationally.

All transnational businesses and enterprises respect the right to a healthy and clean environment. Companies should be responsible and accountable for all environmental and health impacts of their activities. Transnational firms and enterprises shall and will always have to respect the precautionary and prevention principle. Upon exhaustion of use of their products, corporations must ensure efficient methods of assembling the remains effectively (Browning 2). Business enterprises are also supposed to take adequate measures to avoid damaging the environment and reduce the perils of accidents. The corporation can implement this proposition by enacting the most accurate management practices and equipment.

Works Cited

Browning, J. B. “Union Carbide: Disaster at Bhopal.” Union Carbide Corporation, 1993.” Web.

Diamond, Stuart. “The Bhopal Disaster: How It Happened.” New York Times, 1985. Web.

Kok, Tze Lin, et al. “Bhopal Gas Tragedy–The Scar of Process Safety.” Loss Prevention Bulletin, vol. 269, 2019, pp. 11-13. Web.

Nichols, Edwin J. “Philosophical aspects of cultural differences.” Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, 1981.

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