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Bhopal Gas Tragedy

A Saga of the
divided world
Bhopal Gas Tragedy $25,634,942
Amongst the worst Industrial Disasters
(18%)of its time
State Appropriated
Occurrence: 3rd December 1984.
Place of occurrence: Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India.
Company: Union Carbide Corporation.
Chemical: Methyl Isocyanate (27 tons)

Union Carbide Corporation

Started in 1969 in bhopal
Phosgene, Monomethlyamine, Methyl Isocyanate (MIC) and
the pesticide Carbaryl, also known as Sevin.
Taken over by DOW Chemicals in 2001.
DOW refused Union Carbides Liabilities in Bhopal, India.
Plant View
Union Carbide Corporation
Picture illustrates proximity of plant to residential
urban neighbourhood.

Accident Description

Pipe Cleaning Procedure

As part of routine procedures, the pipes leading from the MIC distillation
column to the storage tanks were regularly flushed with pressurized water.
MIC and any associated products can be quite corrosive and could form
corrosion deposits in the pipe. These deposits would contaminate the MIC in the
tanks and could initiate unwanted reactions.
During cleaning, valves in the product lines were to be closed and a blank or
slipblind placed in the product line leading to the storage tank to prevent
However the valves, although closed, were not sealing properly because of
corrosion and the maintenance crew forgot about the blank. It appears that about
1000 kg of water plus metal debris entered tank 610.
Assuming all the previously described safety features were operative, this
should not have been a catastrophic occurrence.
Schematic view of pipe washing procedure indicating
location of the relevant valves and pipe (18%)
State Appropriated
Tank Reaction that led to the tragedy

Tank 610 contained 42 tonnes of MIC. Exothermic chemical reactions between the
water and MIC began in the tank. Gases including Methyl Amine, Carbon Dioxide,
Phosgene and others were amongst the products of these reactions and they
pressurized the vessel. Corrosion of the tank walls would also have been
exacerbated and the released iron may have catalysed further runaway reactions.
The pressure rose from the normal storage pressure of 0.14 bar g, up to 2 bar g
and then onto 3.5 bar g and beyond. The temperature rose from ambient (20 C) up
to 60 C and beyond. The MIC liquid in the tank began to boil vigorously and MIC
vapour, under pressure traveled up the pipes leading from the tank. A small leak of
MIC developed at a valve in one of the lines. The tank began to rumble and creak in
its concrete casing.
The main safety valve blew at a pressure in excess of 3.5 bar g and a jet of MIC
traveled up the scrubbing tower and escaped out the top. The tank itself expanded
with the heat, burst the concrete casing and was ejected upwards to topple over. A
second pipe then ruptured releasing a second geyser of MIC.
From a mechanical point of view it is worth noting that the tank itself did not
The Power Net
Gas Vent Scrubber Gas Vent Scrubber Stack
Reasons for Disaster

1.Union Carbide Inc. Did not transfer all the safety mechanisms
planned for their US plant to the Bhopal plant
2. Govt of India wanted the plant to be operated by Indians only. This
led to crash-training course for the operators of US plant
3.Management did not enforce the wearing of masks and gloves even
after cases of vomitting
4. The people residing in the slums around the factory were not
advised by the management about the potential hazards of the
5. The final inspection team sent by them to visit Bhopal plant in that
year warned of the hazards which were not taken seriously
Reasons for Disaster (cntd..)

6.The safety standards has specified the tank to be filled up to

only60% of its capacity while it is being filled to 75% capacity.
7.The refrigeration unit which was supposed to prevent excess heat
generation in the tank was not functioning for the past 5
months, but was not repaired
8. The gas scrubber designed to neutralize the gas was the
shutdown to save energy as it was assumed to be needed only
when the plant was running.
9.The flare tower to burn off the escaping gases (missed by the
scrubber) was under repair.
10.A relatively new worker was assigned to the job of cleaning the
pipes and tanks without supervision.
on Human Health
Respiratory Disorders Irritation to the lungs, causing coughing
and/or shortness of breathing. Higher exposure caused build up of
fluids (pulmonary edema). It caused Asthma.
Cancer Hazards Caused mutation (genetic changes). It caused
Reproductive Hazards Association between exposure to Methyl
Isocyanate and miscarriages. It may damage the growing foetus. May
also affect fertility in men and women.
Traces of many toxins were found in the Brest Milk of mothers and
were in turn transmitted to the recipient babies.
Animal Slaughter
Dependence Mitigation
Lessons Learnt
Local governments clearly cannot allow industrial facilities to be
situated within urban areas, regardless of the evolution of land use
over time.
Existing public health infrastructure needs to be taken into account
when hazardous industries choose sites for manufacturing plants.
Industry and government need to bring proper financial support to
local communities so they can provide medical and other necessary
services to reduce morbidity, mortality and material loss in the case
of industrial accidents.