Gas Tragedy Could Have Been Avoided
Union Carbide documents obtained by "discovery" during a class
action suit brought by survivors against the company in New York, reveal
for the first time that the technology used at the fatal Bhopal factory
including the crucial units manufacturing carbon monoxide and
methyl isocyanate (MIC) was unproven, and that the company knew
it would pose unknown risks.
For 18 years since the disaster,
Carbide has consistently lied by claiming that the technology in its
fatal Bhopal factory was identical to that used in its plant at Institute,
West Virginia. The corporation's lawyers and PR gurus even referred
to Institute as Bhopal's "sister plant". But Bhopal was the
ugly sister, always underfunded, always second-best.
The corporation knew the
danger, but regarded it as an acceptable "business risk".
The proposal's 50 pages
demonstrate a blithe disregard for human safety. Nowhere is there any
mention of risks to surrounding communities the city's railway
station was less than a mile away and downwind of the plant. Instead
they reveal that the company was obsessed to keep control of its Indian
subsidiary at all costs an obsession which led directly to underfunding
of the MIC-Sevin unit, and which explodes another of Carbide's long-standing
lies: that it had no control over its Bhopal plant.
Speaking at a press conference
in Bhopal today, Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information
and Action, one of the plaintiffs in the New York case, observed that
"Union Carbide built the MIC unit in order to retain control, they
used untried technology to keep control, they under-funded it to keep
control. When it turned Bhopal into a gas chamber, they said they'd
had no control."
Pressure mounts for Anderson's
Carbide's ex-CEO Warren Anderson,
who for the past eleven years has been refusing to appear before a criminal
court in Bhopal, was one of the select Management Committee who approved
the Bhopal MIC project. Pressure for his extradition to India can now
be expected massively to intensify.
"We now know for sure
that senior Carbide officials, including Warren Anderson, not only knew
about design defects and potential safety issues with the Bhopal factory,
they actually authorised them," Sarangi said.
"This is the documentary
proof, the 'high standard of evidence' that the Indian Attorney General
Soli Sorabjee claimed he didn't have to be able to press for Warren
Anderson and Union Carbide's extradition. What we've found shows both
prior knowledge and intent on the part of the accused: it is so significant
that it demands the revision of the pending criminal charges in the
In this opening report, timed
to coincide with a press conference being held today in India by the
survivors' groups involved in the New York litigation, Bhopal.Net brings
you the original documents.
We will be following with
detailed analyses of the documents in the light of the mountain of evidence
that exists about the plant's defective siting, construction, production
processes, storage, waste disposal, maintenance, training and safety
For what sum did Carbide
find it worth risking the life of a whole city?
One old mystery can be cleared
up right away.
Union Carbide stored liquid
MIC in Bhopal in huge tanks, far in excess of what ever would have been
permitted in the US. MIC is a dangerously volatile chemical and these
tanks were supposed to be kept cooled to 0æC. It is known that
for some months prior to the huge and fatal gas leak of December 1984,
the refrigeration system had been switched off to save the cost of freon
For the last 18 years, survivors
have wondered just how much the company must have been saving, to make
it worth risking the lives of an entire Indian city.
Now we know. The figure was
$37.68 per day.
On 2 December 1973 three
documents were presented to the Management Committe of Union Carbide
Eastern Inc, a subsidiary of Union Carbide Corporation: a two-page internal
memorandum relating to the company's plan to begin manufacturing methyl-isocyanate
at its Bhopal factory; supported by a four-page capital budget plan
and a forty-four page project proposal.
Blueprints for disaster
There was a dark prophecy
hidden in the date of these documents.
Exactly eleven years later
on the night of December 2nd 1984 Carbide's unproven technology,
functioning badly in a by then run-down and loss-making factory
combined with non-existent staff training, a savage programme of cost-cutting
and almost total absence of maintenance released 27 tonnes of
deadly methyl-isocyanate into the night air of Bhopal.
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