What was the Accusation?
On the morning of December 3, 1984, a pesticide plant run by subsidiary Union Carbide installation in Bhopal, India leaked about 40 tons of deadly methyl isocyanate gas into the air, quickly killing about 4,000 people. Lingering effects of the poison killed another 15,000 over the next few years, according to government estimates. In total, at least 500,000 people were affected by the disaster. According to an NBC News report more than 25 years later, activists say “thousands of children are born with brain damage, missing palates and twisted limbs because of their parents’ exposure to the gas or water contaminated by it.” Investigators of the incident claim that water entered one of the tanks and, combined with the highly reactive gas, caused the pressure in the tank to rise. Activists claimed in the aftermath that negligence on the part of employees at the plan–who were charged with their own safety oversight–was to blame for the disaster. Employees at the plant who survived the leak talked at length with investigators about the horrible working conditions that had existed for many years. The company had been hemorrhaging money in recent years, had lost many of its best workers, and morale was incredibly low. Union Carbide Corp. argued that the safety measures were maintained and that a disgruntled employee had sabotaged the tanks. The courts seemed to favor the argument that officials at the plant acted irresponsibly as seven senior members of the organization were convicted of the charge of “death by negligence.”
Key Apologia Strategies:
Mortification, Corrective Action, Shifting Blame
Union Carbide Spokesman Tomm Sprick:
“Overwhelming evidence has established that the Bhopal gas release was caused by an act of employee sabotage that could not have been foreseen or prevented by the plant’s management. The release had terrible consequences, but it makes no sense to continue to attempt to criminalize a tragedy that no one could have foreseen.”
“Despite the fact that it did not operate the plant, Union Carbide never attempted to escape responsibility for the disaster. Union Carbide immediately accepted moral responsibility for the tragedy and also provided substantial monetary and medical aid to the victims.”
Official Statement on Union Carbide’s Website:
In the early hours of December 3,1984, methylisocyanate (MIC) gas leaked from a plant owned, managed and operated by Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) in the central India city of Bhopal. According to government figures, approximately 5,200 people died and several thousand other individuals suffered permanent or partial disabilities.
The 1984 gas leak in Bhopal was a terrible tragedy that continues to evoke strong emotions even 32 years later. In the wake of the gas release, UCC and its then-chairman Warren Anderson worked diligently to provide aid to the victims and attempted to set up a process to resolve their claims. All claims arising out of the release were settled in 1989 at the explicit direction and with the approval of the Supreme Court of India by means of a settlement agreement between the Government of India (GOI) and UCC and UCIL. In 1991, and again in 2007, the Supreme Court upheld the fairness and adequacy of the settlement in response to court challenges from non-governmental organizations.
The Bhopal plant was owned and operated by UCIL, an Indian company in which UCC held just over half the stock. Other stockholders included Indian financial institutions and thousands of private investors in India. UCIL designed, built, managed and operated the plant using Indian consultants and workers. In 1994, UCC sold its entire stake in UCIL to Mcleod Russel India Limited of Calcutta, and UCIL was renamed Eveready Industries India Limited (EIIL). As a result of the sale of its shares in UCIL, UCC retained no interest in the Bhopal site. With the approval of the India Supreme Court, the proceeds of the UCIL sale were placed in a trust and exclusively used to fund a hospital in Bhopal, which now provides specialist care to victims of the tragedy.
Because the government closed off the site from any and all operations following the gas release, UCIL was only able to undertake clean-up work in the years just prior to the UCC’s sale of its stock in 1994, and spent some $2 million on that effort. The central and state government authorities approved, monitored and directed every step of the clean-up work. Following the sale, we understand that EIIL continued some clean-up work. In 1998, the Madhya Pradesh State Government (MPSG), which owned and had been leasing the property to EIIL — and still owns the property today — cancelled EIIL’s lease, took over the facility and assumed all accountability for the site, including the completion of any additional remediation. The media reported that a trial incineration of some waste from the Bhopal plant site was conducted in August 2015. For additional information, please see the page on this site entitled “Remediation (Clean Up) of the Bhopal Plant Site.” Specific questions regarding that work, or any other site remediation work, are best directed to Madhya Pradesh State Government and/or the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
Union Carbide Lists its Response Efforts on the Official Website:
In the wake of the release, Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) provided immediate aid to the victims and attempted to set up a process to resolve their claims. In the days and months after the disaster, UCC took the following actions:
Immediately provided approximately $2 million in aid to the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund;
Immediately and continuously provided medical equipment and supplies;
Sent an international team of medical experts to Bhopal to provide expertise and assistance;
Openly shared all its information on methylisocyanate (MIC) with the Government of India (GOI), including all published and unpublished toxicity studies available at the time;
Dispatched a team of technical MIC experts to Bhopal on the day after the tragedy, which carried MIC studies that were widely shared with medical and scientific personnel in Bhopal;
Funded the attendance by Indian medical experts at special meetings on research and treatment for victims;
Provided a $2.2 million grant to Arizona State University to establish a vocational-technical center in Bhopal, which was constructed and opened, but was later closed and leveled by the government;
Offered an initial $10 million to build a hospital in Bhopal; the offer was declined;
Provided an additional $5 million to the Indian Red Cross;
Established an independent charitable trust for a Bhopal hospital and provided initial funding of approximately $20 million, and
Upon the sale of its interest in Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL), and pursuant to a court order, provided approximately $90 million to the charitable trust for the hospital.