The Bhopal Disaster of 1984

The Worst Industrial Disaster of All Time

By Ryan Whitley
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This gruesome picture depicts a young child who died in the gas leak as she is buried by her father.

What Happened and How Did it Happen?

Late in the night of December 2, 1984, water began leaking into Tank 610 at the Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal, India. At the time, Tank 610 was storing 42 tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC), a chemical used in the making of pesticides that is highly reactive with water. As the reaction occurred, the pressure inside the tank grew until it couldn't be contained. At around 10:30, around 27 tons of poisonous methyl isocyanate gas was released from Tank 610 into the Bhopal night.

Did you know?

In 1981, at the same plant, a worker by the name of Ranjit Singh was killed due to exposure to methyl isocyanate (MIC).

What Was (Or Wasn't) Done That Allowed This To Happen?

There were a plethora of safety violations that allowed for this horrible event to happen. Members of the staff were aware of the safety shortcomings and some brought it to attention, but those who did were punished and sometimes fired. Also, staffing and staff training had been cut in order to save money. At the time, there was no plan for handling a disaster of this magnitude. Alarms in the tanks that would have notified staff of the leak hadn't worked in at least four years. Other backup systems either didn't work or didn't even exist. At the time of the leak, Tank 610 was holding well above its recommended maximum of the volatile gas. Sprinklers meant to dilute escaping gas were poorly installed and didn't do their job. A 30 ton refrigeration unit normally used to cool the MIC tank had been drained of its coolant for use in a different part of the plant. Also, the MIC was being stored at well above the 0°C-30°C safety protocol. To top it all off, safety problems known to the company, such as to piping and valves, were simply ignored because they were deemed "too expensive" to repair.

What Happened to Those Who Were Affected?

As the gas was released, thousands awoke to pain in their lungs and screams of pain of others. Upwards of 3,000 were killed immediately as the gas swept through the city of Bhopal. In the mad rush to escape the poisonous gas, hundreds more were killed in stampedes of humans, trampled by cows, or run over by trucks. In the next few years, lingering affects raised the death toll to a government estimate of 15,000. Many more have died since and an estimated 50,000 others are still dealing with the affects of the gas. Many people who were affected as children have had children who were born with birth defects. Also, the water supply was contaminated and remains that way today. Also, there was a steep increase in the number of people with cancer, especially of the lungs and bladders. Also, there were many more eye disorders, such as early-onset cataracts and blurred vision.

Did you know?

Two weeks after the initial disaster, tanks 611 and 619 were emptied of their MIC, leading to a second mass evacuation.
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People who were affected by the gas leak waiting to see a doctor in Bhopal

Bibliography/ Works Cited

"air pollution." Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online School Edition.
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2013. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.

"Dec. 3, 1984: Bhopal, 'Worst Industrial Disaster in History' By Tony Long Dec. 3, 2008

The Bhopal Disaster and its Aftermath : a review -By Edward Broughton May 10, 2005

25th Anniversary of the Bhopal Disaster Nov. 30, 2009