Published on April 25, 2019
slide 1: The Bhopal Disaster and Its Aftermath: A Review By Shri V.Rajkumar Dr. G.C. Mohanta Abstract The holocaust of Bhopal disaster passed its 20 th anniversary on December 3 2004. After the leakage of Methyl Isocyanate MIC on 2-3 December 1984 from Union Carbide Factory decimating sixteen thousand and injuring half a million people Bhopal has become the symbol of Industrial disaster. The world has taken this incident with unparalleled seriousness including India and everyone had hoped that industrial world would take impeccable measures to ensure safety in industries. Since the disaster many positive steps worldwide have been taken in regards to improvement in process safety and protection of personnel within the chemical plants and the people in the surrounding areas. But the statistics on chemical accidents in India after Bhopal disaster shows a different picture. A closer look on the various accidents indicate that there is indeed a casual attitude by the industries in fulfilling the requirements of the Rule 13 and 14 of the Manufacture Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemicals MSIHC rules. The said rule suggests that there should be an On-site and Off-site emergency plans for the industries but the same has not been implemented. Though industrial safety is not at the level what is desired there has been a substantial improvement in industrial safety effort in India after Bhopal disaster. However little progress has been made till date in decommissioning and decontaminating the Bhopal plant. Many plant chemicals are still at the site in sub-standard storage conditions. Contamination of soil and ground water caused by the toxic waste left in Union Carbide’s abandoned Bhopal plant poses a new hazard for the people and survivors of the 1984 gas disaster. In this paper we like to take a look at the disaster and tries to identify what lessons can be learnt from the disaster. Key Words: Methyl Isocyanate Emergency preparedness Explanation causes Industrial safety Industrial accidents causes. 1. Introduction 1.1 The pesticide plant and the MIC release Much information about the original Bhopal accident is available through books journal reports Case histories documentaries proceedings from international conferences and the Internet. In essence about 41 metric tons of methyl isocyanate was released from the Union Carbide India Limited UCIL pesticide plant in Bhopal just after midnight on December 3 1984. This gas spread slowly southward from the plant site during the early morning hours with very stable weather conditions. Of the 900000 population within the city over 200000 people were exposed to MIC tainted air. Documented death counts are listed at 3787. The number of undocumented deaths will never be known but estimates are over 10000. Chaos surrounded the city afterwards. Thousands panicked. As the story of the disaster circled the globe international aid began to flow slide 2: into the city. Union Carbide USA was the majority owner of the plant 50.9 with Indian investors owning the rest 1. Fig. 1. Overview map of the Bhopal Vicinity. The UCIL plant manufactured Sevin® a Union Carbide trade name for a pesticide whose active ingredient is 1-napthyl-N-methylcarbamate or the generic name carbaryl. The reaction involved two reactants methyl isocyanate MIC and alpha naphthol. Methyl isocyanate is reactive toxic volatile and flammable. The maximum exposure TLV-TWA during an 8-hour period is 0.02 ppm 20 parts per billion. By comparison phosgene another extremely toxic gas has a TLV- TWA of 0.1 ppm 100 parts per billion. Individuals begin to experience severe irritation of the nose and throat at exposures to MIC above 21 ppm. The LC50 for rats exposed to MIC vapors in air for 4 hours is 5 ppm. In humans exposure to high concentrations can cause enough fluid accumulation in the lungs to cause drowning. At lower levels of exposure the gas affects the eyes and lungs. It acts as a corrosive agent eating away at moist vulnerable tissue such as mucous membranes and eye surfaces. Long-term effects also exist. MIC has a boiling point of 39.1oC and a vapor pressure of 348 mm Hg at 20oC. As such it is quite volatile and it will easily enter into the surroundings at very high concentrations. With a molecular weight of 57 about 2 times that of air MIC has a higher vapor density compared to air. 1.2 Explanation of the Possible Causes Several causes have been proposed two of which have been subjected extensive examination. Cause 1 captioned in Fig. 2 is the admission of water via a water cleaning process where an isolation valve existed but the line had not been blanked off. This isolation valve was located about 300 m from the storage tanks via a pipeline. Substantial water 500 kg plus line volume Table 1. Manufacturing process for MIC CO + Cl 2 → CO Cl 2 phosgene COCl2 + CH 3NH 2 → CH 3NHCOCl + HCl CH 3NHCOCl → HCl + CH 3NCOMethyl isocyanate Table 2 Methyl Isocyanate Exposure Conditions Exposure Extent Quantity released 27 tons Area affected 40 km 2 Estimated mean concentration18 27 ppm Estimated median concentration19 1.8 ppm Range of concentration 0.12–85.6 ppm OSHA standard 0.02 ppm Note: OSHA Occupational Safety and Health Administration. slide 3: with some head was required along with one other key valve leaking. Cause 2 was sabotage deliberately connecting a water hose to piping that directly entered into the storage tank and deliberately admitted water. Cause 2 would have required intimate knowledge of piping around the tank where to physically make the correct connection and the removal of a pressure indicator and then the re-attachment of piping fittings. Fig 2 Over View of the piping System However neither is a root cause. The root causes were management decisions: a decision to neglect a flare system in need of repair Decision to place a scrubber system on stand-by to save on operating expenses Decision to remove coolant from the refrigeration system used to cool the MIC storage tank. And there are additional root causes which made the incident more severe: Inadequate emergency planning and community awareness Lack of awareness of the potential impact of MIC on the community by the people operating the plant lack of communication with community officials before and during the incident Inadequate community planning allowing a large population to live near a hazardous manufacturing plant. This situation was not unusual in the chemical industry in the early 1980s and one major impact of Bhopal was to warn all chemical plants about the importance of these considerations in the siting and operation of facilities. 2. Overview of industrial safety in India 2.1 Since 1984 Cause 2: Water deliberately added here Cause 1: water was added here. Leak through relief system back to storage tank slide 4: Following the events of December 3 1984 environmental awareness and activism in India increased significantly. The Environment Protection Act was passed in 1986 creating the Ministry of Environment and Forests MoEF and strengthening Indias commitment to the environment. Under the new act the MoEF was given overall responsibility for administering and enforcing environmental laws and policies. After the Shriram oleum gas leak case 1986 which happened after the Bhopal tragedy a whole new chapter chapter IVA was added to the statute related to the running of industries. It deals with hazardous processes. There are provisions for Site Appraisal Committee to certify where a factory may be located there are provisions for compulsory disclosure of information about the dangers including health hazard that could give rise exposure from the materials in the factory or in handling the material during manufacture transportation storage or other processes. MOEF has come out recently with a comprehensive list of chemical accidents that have occurred in India after Bhopal. According to the report there have been as many as 119 industrial accidents between 1984 to 1995 involving hazardous chemicals Table 3. Type of material Number of accidents Number Dead Injured Fire 40 237 217 Toxic release 1 37 24 810 Others 2 18 455 1097 Explosion 9 235 311 Chlorine 6 2 1574 Sulphuric acid 3 74 1133 Ammomia 3 10 630 Flammable release 3 0 66 Table 3. Some common causes of industrial accidents between 1984-95 in India. 1. Toxic substances cover a wide range from toxins of natural origin botulism toxin snake venom fish toxin pyrollizidine alkaloids dioxins phosgene mustard gas oleum etc. 2. Others include liquid petroleum gas acetone gasoline oleum methyl acrylate sulphur dioxide hydrochloric acid etc A closer look further substantiates that there indeed is a casual attitude by the industries on safety issue. Rule 13 and 14 of the Manufacture Storage and Import of Hazardous Chemicals MSIHC Rules provide for the constitution of an on-site within the factory premises and off-site outside the factory premises within the district emergency plans for the industries. As on date 6 there is 1464 Major Accident Hazard Units MAH in 19 States of the country. As per the latest reports 1395 on-site Plans and 118 Off-site plans have been prepared. All the states except Bihar and Jammu Kashmir have constituted State Level Crisis Groups. Out of 180 Hazard prone industrial pockets Hazard Analysis studies have been initiated only for 75 pockets. Based on the recommendations of the study reports off-site plans are prepared. slide 5: S.No . STATES MSIHC RULES 1989 amended in October 1994 January 2000 No. MAH Units Distt With MAH Units No. on-Site Plans prepared No of Off-site Prepared 1. A.P 120 20 120 8 2. Assam 13 9 9 13 3. Chhatisgarh 21 4 18 5 4. Delhi 16 7 16 1 5. Goa 12 2 12 2 6. Gujarat 431 20 431 20 7. Haryana 22 9 22 Not provided 8. Karnataka 70 16 70 14 9. Kerala 38 9 38 9 10. M. P 63 20 63 20 11. Maharastra 342 11 326 11 12. Orissa 40 14 40 3 13. Pondicherry 4 2 4 No 14. Punjab 54 10 47 10 15. Rajasthan 112 18 109 11 16. Tamil Nadu 115 22 86 7 17. Tripura 2 1 2 1 18. Uttar Pradesh 92 35 92 1 19. Uttaranchal 13 5 13 Not provided Total 1580 234 1521 136 Table 4 Status of implementation of MSIHC rules 2003-04 1. Andaman Nicobar Islands Bihar Chandigarh Daman Diu Dadra Nagar Haveli. Himachal Pradesh Jammu Kashmir Jharkhand Manipur Meghalaya West Bengal - Information not received 2. Arunachal Pradesh Lakshadweep Mizoram Nagaland Sikkim - Non-industrial Area Risks due to hazardous chemicals can never be eliminated because the risks are inherent with hazardous chemicals. It can only be minimised by taking suitable risk control measures. But the fact of the matter is whatever be the position - beyond debates and arguments - the rate and the magnitude with which accidents are affecting human lives it looks inevitable that people of India may have a lot more to pay to galloping industrialisation/liberalisation. Little wonder states find it so difficult to handle an accident much less prevent it. Industries also violate rule 10 of MSIHC slide 6: which stipulates that mock drills should be carried out. Mock drills are required to bring coordination and promptness in the damage control and mitigation activities. 2.2 The Site 20 years later The impact of the plant on human rights is not confined to the gas leak. Since the plant opened in 1970 it has been a source of environmental pollution. Even today the contaminated site continues to pollute the groundwater the sole source of water for those around the plant with toxins 5. Contamination of soil and groundwater caused by the toxic waste left in Union Carbides abandoned Bhopal plant poses a new health hazard. As one approaches it looks like a jungle. Plants and trees have taken over. Tank 610 the tank that over pressured and released the MIC was removed from its underground vault and is now above ground and totally surrounded by bush and overgrowth Fig 3. US National Toxics Campaign NTC released an analysis of soil and water samples taken from in and around the factory premises. This revealed the presence of numerous toxins including dichlorobenzene and polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons many of which are known carcinogens. Fig 4 shows a solar evaporation pond with a vulnerable polythene sheet covering the toxic dump. All waste water streams from the pesticide unit used to discharge into the three ponds at the factory site. The lining of the ponds might have developed leaks resulting in permeation of the effluent into the soil. On November 15 In 1996 the Chief Chemist of the State Research Laboratory in Madhya Pradesh found toxic pollutants in 10 samples from communities near the factory. It concluded that this pollution is due to chemicals used in the UCC factory that have proven to be extremely harmful for health. In1999 Green peace published a report entitled "The Bhopal Legacy" after testing soil and groundwater samples from the vicinity of the plant at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. The test results demonstrated extensive and in some locations severe chemical contamination of the environment surrounding the plant. Fig 5 shows Piles of hazardous waste exposed to rainwater. A study has shown a high concentration of mercury in the groundwater near the factory. In 1997 250 hand-pumps around the plant were painted with new red signs declaring that the water they provided was unfit for drinking. In the absence of any other convenient source most people in the surrounding communities continue to drink the water from the pumps. Two boys collect water from a contaminated well at Sunder Nagar a colony in Bhopal 2004. Pumps at contaminated wells are painted red by the government Fig 7. slide 7: Fig 3 The Methyl Isocyanate tank which Fig 4 A solar evaporation pond with a Leaked in December 1984 polythene sheet covering the toxic dump Fig 5 Piles of hazardous waste exposed. Fig 6 Mercury on the ground near a to rainwater structure Fig 7 Two boys collect water from a Fig 8 Children digging for scrap Contaminated well at a colony in Bhopal 2004. at Factory site slide 8: Conclusion The Bhopal disaster began long before the actual event and its effects continue today twenty-one years later. If even one of the basic protections i.e. the refrigeration system the scrubber the flare the pressure gauge the water curtain and community emergency procedures had been in place and functioning properly many many lives could have been saved. The tragedy of Bhopal continues to be a warning sign at once ignored and heeded. Bhopal and its aftermath were a warning that the path to industrialization for developing countries in general and India in particular is fraught with human environmental and economic perils. Some moves by the Indian government including the formation of the MoEF have served to offer some protection of the publics health from the harmful practices of local and multinational heavy industry and grassroots organizations that have also played a part in opposing rampant development. The Indian economy is growing at a tremendous rate but should not be at significant cost in environmental health and public safety. Far more remains to be done for public health in the context of industrialization to show that the lessons of the countless thousands dead in Bhopal have truly been heeded. References 1. The Accident in Bhopal: Observations 20 Years Later AIChE 2006. 2. The Union Carbide Disaster in Bhopal: A Review of Health Effects September 2002 Vol. 57 No. 5 Archives of Environmental Health. 3. CSE Draft Dossier: Health and Environment. 6. Industrial Disasters. 4. Clouds of injustice Bhopal disaster 20 yeas on. www.amnesty.org 5. ON going Disaster - Front line Volume 21 - Issue 15 Jul. 17 - 30 2004. 6. http://envfor.nic.in Shri V.Rajkumar ScientistFormer Safety Officer Directorate of Safety and Environmental Engineering Defence RD Laboratory Hyderabd – 500058. Dr. G.C. Mohanta Scientist “G” Retd.. Former Director Directorate of Safety and Environmental Engineering Defence RD Laboratory Hyderabd – 500058.