That night at BHOPAL !

Imagine sleeping today and waking up vomiting, unable to breath with a burning eye sensation. Well, hold your hands and thank god that you were not at Bhopal, that night.

Industrial revolution has changed our world. People have started to be dependent on industries for various products that they weren’t before. Due to demands of various products, Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) was established at 1934. UCIL was owned by Union Carbide corporation (UCC) (50.9 %) and Indian investors (49.1 %) . The company manufactures various  batteries, carbon products, welding equipment, plastics, industrial chemicals, pesticides, and marine products.

UCIL established a pesticide plant at the heart of the country, Bhopal on 1969 to produce  Sevin (UCC’s brand name for carbaryl) using methyl isocyanate (MIC) as an intermediate. The chemical processes employed in Bhopal to form Carbaryl had   methylamine reacting with phosgene to form MIC  which was then reacted with 1-naphthol to form the final product. This process was different from processes which were MIC free (MIC is toxic) . Same raw materials were combined in a different manufacturing order (MIC free), with phosgene first reacting with naphthol to form a chloroformate ester, which was then reacted with methylamine.    In the early 1980s, the demand for pesticides had fallen, but production continued, leading to build-up of stores of unused MIC.

 Chronology of leak on 2nd DECEMBER 1984.

In late October 1984, MIC production was in progress and being used to fill tanks, E610, E611, and E619. Each tank was pressurized with inert nitrogen gas. This pressurization allowed liquid MIC to be pumped out of each tank as needed, and also kept impurities out of the tanks.Due to limited sources of resources and trained workers, various untrained workers were hired to work inside the plant in shifts. The gas mask provided by the company were also limited in numbers.

  • On 2nd December 1984, at around  10 PM, a worker was cleaning the storage tank E610 and accidentally poured  water into the 42% filled tank while unclogging it. The nitrogen gas pipes were out of service at that time.
  •  The pressure in tank E610 was  normal at 10:30 PM.
  • At 10:45PM, a shift change took place, after which the MIC storage area “would be completely deserted”
  • During this period, a “disgruntled operator entered the storage area and hooked up one of the readily available rubber water hoses to Tank E610, with the intention of contaminating and spoiling the tank’s contents” .Water began to flow, beginning the chemical reaction that caused the disaster.
  • Pressure was increased by a factor of 5 to 10 psi by 11 PM. Two different senior refinery employees assumed the reading was instrumentation malfunction.
  • By 11:30 PM., workers in the MIC area were feeling the effects of minor exposure to MIC gas, and began to look for a leak. One leak was found by 11:45 PM, and reported to the MIC supervisor on duty at the time.
  • The decision was made to address the problem after a 12:15 AM (3rd December 1984) tea break, and in the meantime, employees were instructed to continue looking for leaks.
  • In the five minutes after the tea break ended at 12:40 AM., the reaction in tank E610 quickly reached a critical state. Temperatures in the tank were indicated off its scale, maxed out beyond 25 °C (77 °F), and the pressure in the tank was indicated at 40 psi. One employee witnessed a concrete slab above tank E610 crack as the emergency relief valve burst open, and pressure in the tank continued to increase to 55 psi even after atmospheric venting of toxic MIC gas had begun.
  • About 30 metric tons of MIC escaped from the tank into the atmosphere in 45 to 60 minutes.This would increase to 40 metric tons within two hours time. The gases were blown in a southeasterly direction over Bhopal.
  • The city was alarmed instantly. Evacuations of the citizens began to be carried out at 3 AM.   THE WORST INDUSTRIAL DISASTER IN THE WORLD HAD TOOK PLACE.
  • After over 30 years, S.P. Choudhary, former MIC Production Manager, broke the silence and told the truth about the disaster that it was not an accident but the result of a sabotage that claimed thousands of lives, a former official of the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) told the district and sessions court.

HEALTH  EFFECTS

The initial effects of exposure were coughing, severe eye irritation and a feeling of suffocation, burning in the respiratory tract, blepharospasm, breathlessness, stomach pains and vomiting. People were unable to breath at night and a chaos begun in the city. The hospitals were flooding with patients of all age groups. Within a few days, trees in the vicinity became barren and bloated animal carcasses had to be disposed of. 170,000 people were treated at hospitals and temporary dispensaries; 2,000 buffalo, goats, and other animals were collected and buried. Supplies, including food, became scarce owing to suppliers’ safety fears. Fishing was prohibited causing further supply shortages.

  • Officials have confirmed a total of 3,787 deaths related to the gas release.Later, the affected area was expanded to include .700,000 citizen A government affidavit in 2006 stated the leak caused 558,125 injuries including 38,478 temporary partial injuries and approximately 3,900 severely and permanently disabling injuries

The plant is still uncleaned. The soil, water even air is toxic for every leaving species in and around the area. People of Bhopal had their  worst nightmare come true that day.

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