Guest post by SAGAR DHARA
On 2 Dec 1984, Bhopal’s unsuspecting population was hit in the stealth of the night by methyl isocyanate (MIC), a killer gas that leaked from the Union Carbide plant located on the northern edge of the city. The official immediate death toll was 2,259, though journalists estimated it to be thrice that number. Government of India now admits that the cumulative number of deaths is more than 20,000.
At first glance, the event looks like an engineering accident. Wash water seeped through a closed valve, got into MIC Tank 610 and triggered a runaway reaction that ruptured it and spilt 42 tonnes of MIC. Low wind speeds made the heavier-than-air gas cloud hug the ground at high concentrations as it drifted towards nearby slums. The highly corrosive gas caused massive edema in the lungs.
Economics is root cause for accident
The cause for the accident can be traced to low product sales that made the company disinvest in safety and environmental systems. Prior to 1980, Carbide formulated Sevin, a carbamate group pesticide, with imported chemicals at their Mumbai plant. Because of Sevin’s popularity, Carbide built a new plant in Bhopal to manufacture it. By then synthetic pyrethroids, the next generation pesticide, started pushing carbamates out of the Indian market. Consequently, the Bhopal plant never produced more than 50% of its installed capacity and its financial returns were unhappy. Continue reading Bhopal Victims Neglect a Consequence of Disinvestment and Low Value of Life: Sagar Dhara