1. A Business Decision to Skimp on Safety to Cut Costs Exposed 600,000 People to Poison Gas
The predictable catastrophe at Union Carbide’s Bhopal plant began at around 11 PM on December 2nd, 1984. Employees noticed that pressure inside one of the MIC tanks had increased from the normal 2 psi to 10 psi. Half an hour later, the effects of gas leakage were detected. At 11:45, a leaking pipe was spotted. In the meantime, the pressure in the MIC tank continued to rise. By 12:40 AM, it had reached 55 psi and began to vent toxic gas into the atmosphere. Within two hours, over 40 tons of MIC had been released and were blown into Bhopal.
The methyl isocyanate stayed low to the ground, burned the eyes of victims, made them nauseous, and killed many. Corporate callousness and the business decision to skimp on safety resulted in about 600,000 people harmed by MIC. 8000 perished within two weeks, and another 8000 died later. About 40,000 suffered serious injuries, and 4000 were permanently disabled. In 1989, Union Carbide paid the equivalent of U$ 875 million in 2021 dollars to settle litigation. It was less than U$ 1500 per victim, or less than $15,000 for each of those seriously injured, permanently disabled, or killed.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading