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37 Years of the Unforgettable Tragedy of Bhopal Gas Leak

The Bhopal gas incident occurred on the night of December 2-3, 1984, at the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide facility in Bhopal. Read all you need to know.

37 Years of the Unforgettable Tragedy of Bhopal Gas Leak

Sentinel Digital Desk

NEW DELHI: A chemical called methyl isocyanate (MIC) escaped from a pesticides plant operated by Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL) on the night of December 2, 1984, converting Bhopal into a gigantic gas enclosure.

It was the nation's first major industrial disaster. At least 30 tonnes of methyl isocyanate gas killed more than 15,000 people and injured 600,000 employees. The Bhopal gas accident is often considered to be the worst industrial disaster in history.

In 1969, the UCIL factory was required to use methyl isocyanate as an intermediate in the production of Sevin (a pesticide). In 1976, the Bhopal labour movement raised concerns about pollution inside the facility.

A few years later, an employee mistakenly consumed a large amount of toxic phosgene gas, resulting in his death few hours later. After seeing the events, a reporter began investigating the facility and published his findings in a local newspaper in Bhopal, declaring, "Wake up people of Bhopal, you are on the edge of a volcano."

Around 45 personnel who had been exposed to phosgene were admitted to the hospital two years before the Bhopal catastrophe. Between 1983 and 1984, there were phosgene, carbon tetrachloride, methyl isocyanate, and mono methylamine leaks.

Union Carbide India's Bhopal site has three 68,000-litre liquid MIC storage facilities: E610, E611, and E619. The MIC was being manufactured and the tanks were being filled shortly before the tragedy.

No tank could be filled more than half full, and the tank had to be pressurised with non-toxic nitrogen gas. Because of the pressurisation, the liquids MIC in each tank may be blown out. Unfortunately, one of the tanks (E610) lost its ability to sustain nitrogen pressure, making pumping liquid MIC out of it impossible. According to the rules, each container could not carry more than 30 tonnes of liquid MIC.

This tank, on the other hand, weighed 42 tonnes. UCIL had to halt manufacturing methyl isocyanate in Bhopal as a result of the problem, and the facility was partially shut down for maintenance.

On December 1, an effort was made to make the damaged tank functioning again, but it was unsuccessful. By that time, the majority of the plant's methyl isocyanate-related safety mechanisms had failed. Water had entered the defective tank by December 2 night, as per sources, causing a runaway chemical reaction. By night, the tank's pressure had climbed by five times.

Workers in the MIC region began to experience the symptoms of the MIC gas around midnight. A few moments later, the choice to fix the leakage was to have been taken. The chemical reaction in the tank, meanwhile, had reached a critical point by that time. Within about an hour, almost 30 tonnes of MIC had leaked from the tank into the atmosphere. Exposure to the gas itself alerted the majority of Bhopal inhabitants to the gas leak.

Doctors were unaware of the necessary treatment interventions in the aftermath of the occurrence. Over 15,000 individuals died as a result of the methyl isocyanate gas spill, which also impacted over 600,000 employees.

The incidence of stillbirth and newborn death increased by up to 300 percent and 200 percent, correspondingly. Trees and animals are also affected by the gas leak. Trees in the surrounding region were bare in a matter of days.

It was necessary to discard of bloated animal carcasses. People puked and died as they rushed through the neighborhoods. The city ran out of places to bury the dead.

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