Bhopal Gas Tragedy
Bhopal Gas Tragedy
Bhopal Gas Tragedy is known to be a cataclysmic in the industrial world, an incident occurring at the Union Carbide plant located in Bhopal, India (Bhargava 1). The complex reverberations of such a prevalent disaster continued to send quivers through a company, an industry, political and bureaucratic leadership of a nation, and the lawful and policy instruments by which two countries India and the United States had previously sought to reimburse the victims of the tragedy (Jasanoff 1). This disaster had collosal consequences for India’s populace and has come to be known as the Hiroshima of the Chemical Industry.
This paper presents detail incident of Bhopal gas tragedy, intense impact on victims suffered from a dreaded industrial disaster and analysis of major issues involved in tragedy. Bhopal gas tragedy is a disaster of its own kind.. On Sunday, December 3, 1984,. the storage tank 610 located at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal started leaking gas from methyl isocyanate in huge amounts. According to the reliable sources, unskilled workers cleaned the outside of one of the storage tanks holding the lethal chemical before the occurrence of accident (Bhargava 2).
Gas leakage spread speedily and killed thousands of people which were bounded by fatal poison vapors when they were sleeping. More than 8,000 people were killed in its immediate wake. Statistical data shows that the total number of causalities today is in excess of 20,000 and the death toll is still rising, with over 30 survivors losing their life every month (Sarang, pg: 47). Many experts have worked on exploring and understand the root causes and identifies that the scientific cause behind this accident at Bhopal is that water went into the tank where about 40 cubic meters of MIC was accumulated.
A lot of heat was generated due to an exothermic chemical reaction after mixing water and MIC. It resulted in burst of the safety valve of the tank due to the increase in pressure. This burst was so powerful that it broke the coating of concrete around the tank. On that critical day, the condition was typical for a clear night in the region, with a feeble wind which regularly changed direction and the gas covered more area in a shorter period of time. The gas was not diluting at fast rate due to the weak wind and the weak vertical turmoil and this was the main reason for spreading the poisonous gas over sizeable distances.
(Ungarala Pratima, 1998). According to Bogard, this incidence is termed as a tragedy because intention and agency were concerned in how the event outspread and someone or some group are ultimately responsible for the incident to happen. When the gas disaster actually took place, multinational corporations were charged as reckless and co-conspirators with postcolonial governments (Basu 3). According to one approximation, over 300,000 people affected from gas disaster still suffering from breathlessness, impaired vision, fatigue, body aches, loss of appetite, depression, and anxiety (The Bhopal Disaster).
The government was not very active and interim relief was at sluggish rate. Government officials have not planned to provide enough employment for the sufferer of the catastrophe. At the time of disaster when people were sent to the hospitals in Bhopal showing signs of various ailments, the hospital staff were unable to diagnose and offer care quickly and efficiently because of their lack of knowledge of the disaster, training and resources. No information had been passed on to the city health officials of the toxicity of the chemicals used at the Union Carbide factory (The Bhopal Disaster).
In the aftermath, people still suffer from the tragedy in Bhopal. The only difference is that the people at the time of incident died in bulk and are now losing their lives slowly. Because of the ailing effects of the poisonous gases, 15,000 causalities occurred. The physical conditions of victims are deteriorating day by day. Today the victims are exhibiting serious symptoms that include poor eye-sight, burning sensation in the stomach, indigestion, disorders in the nervous system, headaches, sharp pain in bones, loss of consciousness for days together, headaches, chest pains and sleeping difficulties (Zee news, February 25, 2007).
More than 120 children of gas-affected parents, below the age of 12 years, were recognized to be born with defects by the Chingari Trust, an organisation working for gas victims(Zee news, February 25, 2007 (source). The activists of Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila stationary Karamchari Sangh, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha, Bhopal Group for Information and Action and Bhopal Ki Awaaz, asserted that this statistics can increase if thorough survey is conducted (Zee news, February 25, 2007).
Many survivors and their children have been diagnosed with cancer, tuberculosis, birth defects and chronic fever (Narad, 2004). Since medical staff were not aware of exact method of medical treatment and there was very little or no analysis of the poisonous gases that were released, they set doses as per their knowledge and administered various drugs, sometimes even overdoses, assessing the physical symptoms of the patient. The problems of sufferers of gas disaster did not end.
They met with another fall out of the tragedy that is the people have lost all their earnings in treatment and managing primary resources because the gas relief hospitals do not provide good medicines and other facilities. This became another major cause of their underprivileged condition. Victims were not compensated for their medical bills plunging them into debt and financial crisis. The Union carbide did not take initiative but, after a long-drawn-out legal battle, they were forced to pay 470 million dollars to the Indian government in a resolution reached in 1989.
After that, legal negotiations between the Union Carbide Corporation and the Indian government remain strong and continue to thrive. The survivors were continuously being victimized. In 1990, many were expelled from their homes to the outer edge of the city, where employment, food, and medical facilities are insufficient (Jasanoff 1). From studies it was found that nickel, mercury and other toxins are still present in the local groundwater and dangerous levels of toxins including lead in the breast milk of women who live near the factory zone.
The Bhopal Gas tragedy, considered to be the world’s nastiest industrial scandal evidently reveals the disparity between human rights and protection in developed and underdeveloped countries. Union Carbide was bombarded from all sides as the media uncovered the story of the massacre and the gas leakage, the reputation of Union Carbide was destroyed (Benoit 71). The incident was so powerful that it had an effect on huge number of people and institutions both within and outside India. . It also raised several issues of many business, technical, legal, and legislative areas.
The most affected institutions were “Union Carbide Corporation, U. S. A. Union Carbide India, Ltd. , and their workers and shareholders in both countries; the number of causalities and wounded people; the Indian government, the Madhya Pradesh state government, and the United States government; American and Indian lawyers who have joined the dispute on behalf of the various parties; and directly or indirectly all multinational corporations” (Bhargava 2). The major concern which aggravated the people destroying Union Carbide’s reputation was that the Gas leakage could have been avoided.
It was a problem which continued over a long period of time culminating in the massacred of thousands. People residing near factory noticed several times dead cows near pools of water around the plant after it opened. The pesticide plant created the issue of the danger to Bhopal which was raised in the M. P. Assembly in December 1982. J. Mukund, manager of Carbide, with assurance affirmed that the plant was not defective and gas could not be leaked from the plant. The plant was closed up when it was confirmed that Union Carbide Corporation plant was to blame for the gas leakage.
The chief medical officer refused that MIC was deadly. He continued to provide excuses attempting to protect Union Carbide. However, as the death toll was rising, there was significant pressure to investigat the tragedy. Union Carbide was proven guilty by means of eye witness accounts and the experts that investigated.. Eyewitnesses narrated that they were shocked to see the fearful scene of roads which were filled with dead bodies. Union Carbide never directly asked for forgiveness of the Indian government and the people of Bhopal. It never voluntarily compensated the victims.
For an unexpected incident and tragedy, the Indian Government filed a compensation court case against the UCC for an estimated $3 billion (Eubank, Annette and Peter Montague , 1986). The company is blaming the Indian government for failing to ensure the safety of its citizens by not taking the necessary measures to prevent the leak of poisonous gases, even though, the government were fully aware of the toxicity of methyl isocyanate. When the Gas tragedy took place, Jackson B. Browning was the Vice President and he was responsible for the Health, Safety, and Environmental Programs in the corporation.
It was articulated by the parent company that the cause for the accident was a vengeful employee. “Although it was not known at the time, the gas was formed when a disgruntled plant employee, apparently bent on spoiling a batch of methyl isocyanate, added water to a storage tank”(Browning 1998). UCC defended by this argument and they still uphold it to this day. Dr. Paul Shrivastava, an Associate Professor of Business in NewYork University and Executive Director Industrial Crisis Institute Inc. , NY exposed that Bhopal Gas tragedy as one in a series of accidents in the corporation.
Many similar accidents of this nature were reported earlier also in American plants of UCC. From his studies it was clearly stated that UCC was not interested in paying the huge amount that the Indian government had claimed for damages incurred. It is a surprise that UCC did not provide any evidence in their support and has never disclosed the name of the allegedly blameworthy employee (Abuja). Union Carbide adopted strategies to build its reputation after the gas leak incident occurred in Bhopal. One of the strategies engaged was that of remedial action.
Bhopal was an accident and should not be held against the corporation since “No analysis of Union Carbide’s reaction to the Bhopal tragedy is possible without recognizing the considerable emphasis the company and its affiliates had placed on safe operations” (Browning 1998). Dr. Richard Robinson, a professor in Massachusetts Institute of Technology, articulated that Union Carbide was highly dedicated for the safety facet of their plants and a reputable corporation among multinational corporations. It was hard unfortunate that such a renowned company is defamed for industrial disaster.
It was obvious that Union Carbide had no intentions of resolving the issues and paying for the damages incurred in its Indian subsidiary. Instead it embarked on a costly public relations campaign to salvage what remained of its reputation. Many experts in industrial safety argue that the tragedy could have been avoided. They squabbled that it was the carelessness and negligence on the part of Union Carbide Corporation and its corporate subsidiary Union Carbide of India Ltd, which held full responsibility for taking care of the day-to-day operations of the facility (Bogard, 1989).
Union Carbide is wholly responsible to clean up the poisoned ground water and contaminated areas at the site. The government claims to have done a lot to rehabilitate the victims. Due to mass destruction from gas leakage disaster and the many lives destroyed, many work centers were established in Bhopal to provide training and work for women. Activists and social reformers are continuously protesting for the rights of the victims of the Gas disaster.
According to one News correspondent from The Hindu, on March 06, 2007, “Six persons representing the survivors of the Union Carbide gas disaster of 1984 began an indefinite fast here on Monday demanding proper medical care, economic and social rehabilitation and protection from Union Carbide’s poisons that continue to kill and maim people even after 22 years” (The Hindu, Mar 06, 2007). Four organizations – Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha, Bhopal Ki Aawaaz, and Bhopal Group for Information and Action led the campaign for Right to Live.
They were working amongst the survivors of the disaster and those affected by ground water contamination caused due to the carelessness of Union Carbide’s current owner, Dow Chemical Company (The Hindu, Mar 06, 2007). It was pointed out that to neutralize the gas; a caustic soda scrub can be used. These scrubbers were not planned for the discharge of such a large amount of gas. It can be further interpreted that lack of preparation and ignorance was the major cause for the proliferation and prolonging of the effects of the Gas leakage.
Local medical staff and the chemists were not aware of harmful effects of Methyl Isocynate on humans and they were not trained to handle patients exposed to the kind of poisonous gas. In reference to Bhopal Gas Disaster, Perrow observed that, “even in the technically sophisticated petrochemical industry, such engineering defects as leaky valves might react synergistically with such human elements as poorly trained operators, faulty communication, inadequate expert support, and inefficient evacuation plans to produce runaway accidents.
”Organizational barricades are also a problem in communicating knowledge, to people who are competent to take preventive action. (Jasanoff 3-6). The misfortune in Bhopal exposed a set of multifaceted interdependencies between technology and society, from the disaster’s epicenter at the Union Carbide pesticide plant and the surrounding the political economy of the international chemical industry. Assessing failures that created the fatal mishap and prolonged negative effects having disastrous consequences, the tragedy was the direct cause of irresponsibility, ignorance and a lack of resources to deal with the aftermath.
The engineering network played a vital role to precipitate the events, the plant had some faulty components such as the leaking valve, the broken refrigeration system, the malfunctioning warning signal, and the inadequate storage tank, all were the indications that led to a huge disaster and gave rise to many socio-economic problems that plague Bhopal today. Engineers and experts were lacking in thorough medical and scientific knowledge about an exceedingly perilous technology. They also had poor messaging system to transfer information across regional/national and muncipal boundaries.
There remains a lack of regulatory resources in a still developing country. Initially they did not plan for efficient relief and rehabilitation if any incident occurs. These deficits came to the forefront in the aftermath of the Bhopal gas tragedy. Institutions in India and abroad attempted to put up a program of compensation for the victims and a framework of law and public policy to make certain that all steps are taken and awareness is generated among people to avoid any disaster of this extent in future (Jasanoff 2).
However, India has still not taken active intitative in clearing Bhopal of the poisonous elements that remain to affect people today. This issue must be dealt with soon, or India will lose many more lives over the coming centuries. India is a clear example of the absolute disregard for human life by corporations and corrupt governments alike. REFERENCES: 1) Bhargava Ashok. 1986. The Bhopal Incident and Union Carbide: Ramifications of an Industrial Accident.. Journal Title: Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars. Volume: 18. Issue: 4.. Page Number: 2. 2) Basu Amrita. 1994. Bhopal Revisited: the View from Below.
Journal Title: Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars. Volume: 26. Issue: 1-2. Page Number: 3. 3) Jasanoff Sheila. 1994. Learning from Disaster: Risk Management after Bhopal. C. Publisher: University of Pennsylvania Press. Place of Publication: Philadelphia.. Page Number: 1-2. 4) Satinath Sarangi. 2002. Crimes of Bhopal and the Global Campaign for Justice. Journal Title: Social Justice. Volume: 29. Issue: 3. Page Number: 47. 5) Benoit, William L. 1995. Accounts, Excuses and Apologies: A Theory of Image Restoration Strategies New York : State Univ. of New York Press.
6) Abuja, Chetan “Bhopal Tragedy and the New York Times” URL : http://slater. cem. msu. edu/~ahuja/bhopal. html 7) Bogard, William. 1989. The Bhopal Tragedy: Language, Logic and Politics in the Production of a Hazard SanFransico: Westview Press, Inc. 8) Browning, Jackson B. 1998. “Union Carbide: Disaster at Bhopal” Bhopal WWW URL: http://www. bhopal. com/ (May 15). 9) EarthBase “The Bhopal Disaster” WWW URL: http://www. earthbase. org/home/timeline/1984/bhopal/ (May 15, 1998). 10) Narad. 2004. Bhopal Gas Tragedy – the pain lingers on. Friday, 03 December. 11) Eubank, Annette and Peter Montague, 1986. “Union Carbide Says Indian Failed to Regulate Union Carbide, Thus Bears Responsibility for Bhopal. ” Th