Bhopal Information Center Union Carbide

 

Frequently Asked Questions

Updated November 2009

1. What caused the gas leak?


2. Who could have sabotaged plant operations and caused the gas leak?


3. If sabotage is the suspected cause, why was this person not brought to justice?


4. Why has Carbide never disclosed the name of the employee that sabotaged the plant?


5. Were the valves on the MIC tanks at the plant "faulty"?


6. Were there safety concerns at the plant before the tragedy?


7. Why didn’t the plant’s safety systems contain the leak?


8. How do you respond to concerns expressed about the technologies used at the plant prior to the incident?


9. Who owned the Bhopal plant at the time of the incident and who owns it now?


10. Did Union Carbide India Limited abandon the Bhopal plant after the gas leak?


11. What did Union Carbide do to assist Bhopal victims after the gas leak?


12. How do you respond to assertions that Union Carbide would not share all its toxicological information on methylisocyanate (MIC) after the tragedy due to propriety concerns?


13. Were the environmental standards at the Bhopal plant inferior to those at Union Carbide's U.S. operations?


14. Did the gas leak contaminate the groundwater and soil outside the plant?


15. Did the day-to-day operations of the plant contaminate the groundwater or soil outside the plant?


16. What remediation work has been performed at the site?


17. Why shouldn’t Union Carbide be responsible for the Bhopal site clean up under the “polluter pays” principle?


18. What about claims of contaminated groundwater outside the plant contaminating the adjoining region?


19. What is the status of litigation against Union Carbide regarding remediation of the site and/or paying additional restitution to victims?


20. Has the Government of India paid out the settlement money to the victims?


21. Media reports indicate that the victims are still suffering. What are you doing about this?


22. Where does responsibility lie for the clean up of the factory site in Bhopal and to address any on-going needs of the victims and their families?


23. Why haven’t Union Carbide and retired Chairman Warren Anderson appeared in the criminal proceedings in India?


24. Since Union Carbide is a subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company, why didn’t Dow acquire liabilities for the Bhopal tragedy?


25. What processes have been put in place industry-wide to prevent a tragedy like this from occurring again?



1. What caused the gas leak?

Shortly after the gas release, Union Carbide launched an aggressive effort to identify the cause. An initial investigation by Union Carbide experts showed that a large volume of water had apparently been introduced into the methylisocyanate (MIC) tank. This caused a chemical reaction that forced the pressure release valve to open and allowed the gas to leak. A committee of experts working on behalf of the Indian government conducted its own investigation and reached the same conclusion. An independent investigation by engineering consulting firm Arthur D. Little determined that the water could only have been introduced into the tank deliberately, since process safety systems  -- in place and operational  -- would have prevented water from entering the tank by accident.

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2. Who could have sabotaged plant operations and caused the gas leak?

Investigations suggest that only an employee with the appropriate skills and knowledge of the site could have tampered with the tank. An independent investigation by the engineering consulting firm Arthur D. Little determined that the water could only have been introduced into the tank deliberately, since process safety systems -- in place and operational -- would have prevented water from entering the tank by accident.

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3. If sabotage is the suspected cause, why was this person not brought to justice?

The Indian authorities are well aware of the identity of the employee and the nature of the evidence against him. Indian authorities refused to pursue this individual because they, as litigants, were not interested in proving that anyone other than Union Carbide was to blame for the tragedy.

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4. Why has Carbide never disclosed the name of the employee that sabotaged the plant?

 Union Carbide never publicly disclosed the name of the employee because it would serve no useful purpose; UC is not a governmental body and has no authority to “arrest” or “charge” anyone. However, the Indian Government, through its Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), had access to the same information as did Union Carbide. The CBI was well aware of the identity of the employee and the nature of the evidence against him. Indian authorities refused to pursue this individual because they, as litigants, were not interested in proving that anyone other than Union Carbide was to blame for the tragedy. The fact that employee sabotage caused the disaster under existing law would have exculpated Union Carbide. You may be interested to note that the CBI subjected the UCIL employee who found the local pressure indicator was missing on the morning after the incident (a key factor in UC's sabotage theory) to six days of interrogation to get him to change his story. That effort was unsuccessful.  

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5. Were the valves on the MIC tanks at the plant "faulty"?

No. In fact, documented evidence gathered after the incident showed that the valve close to the plant's water-washing operation was closed and leak-tight. Furthermore, process safety systems -- in place and operational -- would have prevented water from entering the tank by accident.

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6. Were there safety concerns at the plant before the tragedy?

 No. In 1982, a technical team from Union Carbide visited the Bhopal plant to conduct a routine process safety review, and identified some safety issues to be addressed by the plant. The plant addressed all of those issues well before the December 1984 gas leak.  None of them had anything to do with the incident.

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7. Why didn’t the plant’s safety systems contain the leak?

 Based on several investigations, the safety systems in place could not have prevented a chemical reaction of this magnitude from causing a leak. In designing the plant's safety systems, a chemical reaction of this magnitude was not factored in for two reasons:

1. The  tank's gas storage system was designed to automatically prevent such a large amount of water from being inadvertently introduced into the system;  and

2. Process safety systems -- in place and operational -- would have prevented water from entering the tank by accident. The system design did not, however, account for the deliberate introduction of a large volume of water by an employee.

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8. How do you respond to concerns expressed about the technologies used at the plant prior to the incident?

Most of the attacks on the Bhopal plant's operation were made before the investigations were complete and often by people searching for a quick explanation for a terrible disaster.  Critics' suggestions that three certain technologies may have been in use are incorrect. Two of the technologies (a carbon monoxide process and a MIC-to-Sevin process) were never used at the plant. A naphthol process developed by Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) was shut down permanently in 1982, two years before the incident.  None of them had anything to do with the incident.  Employee sabotage – not faulty design or operation – was the cause of the tragedy.

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9. Who owned the Bhopal plant at the time of the incident and who owns it now?

 The Bhopal plant was owned and operated by Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL), an Indian company in which Union Carbide Corporation held just over half of the stock. Indian financial institutions and thousands of private investors in India held the rest of the stock. In 1994, Union Carbide sold its entire interest in UCIL to MacLeod Russell (India) Limited, which renamed the company Eveready Industries India, Limited (Eveready Industries). In 1998, the Madhya Pradesh State Government, which owns and had been leasing the property to UCIL, took over the facility and assumed all accountability for the site, including the completion of any additional remediation.

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10. Did Union Carbide India Limited abandon the Bhopal plant after the gas leak?

No. UCIL, an Indian company, managed and operated the Bhopal plant on a day-to-day basis at the time of the gas leak. After the incident, UCIL completed one of the most single important remediation activities - the transformation and removal of tens of thousands of pounds of MIC from the plant.  In the years following the tragedy, the Indian government severely restricted access to the site. UCIL was only able to undertake additional clean-up work  in the years just prior to the sale, and spent  some $2 million on that effort.  The central and state government authorities in India approved, monitored and directed every step of the clean-up work.

We understand that, after the sale of UCIL stock in 1994, Eveready Industries continued the clean-up work at the site until 1998. That year, the Madhya Pradesh State Government, which owns and had been leasing the property to UCIL, took over the facility and assumed all accountability for the site, including the completion of any additional remediation. In 2004, a Public Interest Litigation was filed and is currently before the State of Madhya Pradesh High Court in Jabalpur.  One of the claims made in the litigation -- against the Union of India, the State of Madhya Pradesh and private companies allegedly responsible --  seeks remediation of the plant site.  However, according to media reports, court-ordered remediation efforts directed at the government entities have proceeded slowly.  For example, the media reported in 2007 that the Supreme Court of India had directed the central and state governments to pay for collection of waste on the site and to have it landfilled or incinerated, as appropriate. While some of the waste has been landfilled, public interest groups and the State of Gujarat, where the waste incineration facility is located, have challenged the incineration.  Proposals made by private companies have similarly been questioned or rejected.

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11. What did Union Carbide do to assist Bhopal victims after the gas leak?

Immediately following the gas release, Union Carbide Corporation began providing aid to the victims and established a process to resolve their claims. Among the many efforts Union Carbide took to address the situation were:

  • Organizing a team of top medical experts to help identify the best treatment options and work with the local medical community;
  • Providing substantial amounts of medical equipment, supplies and expertise to the victims;
  • Openly sharing all its information on methylisocyanate (MIC) with the Government of India, including all published and unpublished toxicity studies available at the time;
  • Dispatching 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;
  • Establishing a $100 million charitable trust fund to build a hospital for victims, and
  • Offering a $2.2 million grant to establish a vocational-technical center in Bhopal to provide local jobs.

In 1989, Union Carbide and UCIL entered into a $470 million legal settlement with the Indian Government that settled all claims arising from the incident. The Indian Supreme Court affirmed the settlement and described it as "just, equitable and reasonable." Union Carbide and UCIL promptly paid the money to the Government of India. (Please see "The Incident, Response and Settlement" section of this website for additional information on UCC's efforts and contributions.)

An India media report in September 2006 stated that the "registrar in the office of Welfare Commissioner... said all cases of initial compensation claims by victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy have been cleared… With the clearance of initial compensation claims and revision petitions, no case is pending…"

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12. How do you respond to assertions that Union Carbide would not share all its toxicological information on methylisocyanate (MIC) after the tragedy due to propriety concerns?

 This is a widespread misconception and is  just not true. Union Carbide immediately accepted moral responsibility for the tragedy and gave all toxicity information on the chemicals involved in the manufacture of MIC to the Government of India immediately following the incident. Additionally, the government seized plant records after the tragedy and these also would have included all such information on MIC. On the day of the tragedy, Union Carbide dispatched a team of technical MIC experts, who carried MIC studies that were shared with medical and scientific personnel in Bhopal. UC experts provided all published and unpublished studies available at that time on MIC toxicity.

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13. Were the environmental standards at the Bhopal plant inferior to those at Union Carbide's U.S. operations?

No. To the contrary, the Bhopal plant design had the benefit of knowledge acquired from the operation of older chemical facilities. For example, as compared to other similar plants, Environmental Impact Assessment ratings for the Bhopal plant show favorable ratings in wastewater disposal and carbon monoxide emissions and, essentially, the same ratings as other similar plants for potential effects on human health.

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14. Did the gas leak contaminate the groundwater and soil outside the plant?

No. Indian government authorities have publicly and repeatedly confirmed that no contamination of soil or groundwater outside the plant walls resulted from the gas leak.

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15. Did the day-to-day operations of the plant contaminate the groundwater or soil outside the plant?

No. A report issued by the India's National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) in 1997 found soil contamination within the factory premises at three major areas that had been used as chemical disposal and treatment areas. However, the study found no evidence of groundwater contamination outside the plant and concluded that local water-wells were not affected by plant disposal activities.

A 1998 study of drinking-water sources near the plant site by the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board did find some contamination, but it was unrelated to the plant. The Control Board did not find any traces of chemicals linked to chemicals formerly used at the UCIL plant. Rather, the Control Board found that the contamination likely was caused by improper drainage of water and other sources of environmental pollution.

While we are aware of conflicting claims being made by various groups and reported in the media, we have no first-hand knowledge of what chemicals, if any, may remain at the site and what impact, if any, they may be having on area groundwater. The Hindustan Times reported on April 29, 2006, that “A study by the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad, has virtually debunked voluntary organisations' fear about contamination of water in and around Union Carbide plant….”

“...the report says that serum levels of pesticide residue (DDT & HCH) and mercury in the blood of people living adjacent to the plant are comparable with the level of these compounds reported from other parts of the country. It further said that the results of study showed that contents of VOCs [volatile organic compounds] i.e., benzene, toluene, xylene and cholorobenzene, in water samples were not detected and were found below the detection limit of the instrument, i.e., 2 ppm [parts per million]….”

“…MP [Madhya Pradesh] High Court is also seized of a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on the issue and has been monitoring progress of Union Carbide plant's cleaning up operation undertaken by the MP Pollution Control Board at its behest. Now, the State Government has filed the NIOH report in the High Court in support of its contention that hazardous wastes lying in the Union Carbide were not contaminating water….”

“…The NIOH team, in its report, has concluded that serum levels of DDT and HCH and mercury level in blood of people affected by contamination was comparable with the levels of these compounds from any other part of the country. ...Similarly, the levels of mercury in water and soil sample outside the UCIL compound and other locations were also comparable with the levels of mercury reported from other parts of the country....”

For additional information, contact the Madhya Pradesh State Government.

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16. What remediation work has been performed at the site?

UCIL was only able to undertake additional clean-up work in the years just prior to the sale (1994), and spent some $2 million on that effort.  The central and state government authorities in India approved, monitored and directed every step of the clean-up work.  We understand that, after UCC sold its stock in UCIL  in 1994, the renamed company -- Eveready Industries -- continued the clean-up work at the site until 1998. That year, the Madhya Pradesh State Government, which owns and had been leasing the property to UCIL, took over the facility and assumed all accountability for the site, including the completion of any additional remediation.

In 2004, a Public Interest Litigation was filed and is currently before the State of Madhya Pradesh High Court in Jabalpur. One of the claims made in the litigation -- against the Union of India, the State of Madhya Pradesh and private companies allegedly responsible -- seeks remediation of the plant site. However, according to media reports, court-ordered remediation efforts directed at the government entities have proceeded slowly. For example, the media reported in 2007 that the Supreme Court of India had directed the central and state governments to pay for collection of waste on the site and to have it landfilled or incinerated, as appropriate. While some of the waste has been landfilled, public interest groups and the State of Gujarat, where the waste incineration facility is located, have challenged the incineration.

Proposals made by private companies have similarly been questioned or rejected.  For example, activist groups and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have protested against and repeatedly blocked remediation attempts by those who offered to help raise funds for clean up or to conduct pro-bono remediation.  It's surprising that the very people who claim to have dedicated their lives to helping the people of Bhopal continue to block efforts to clean up the site.

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17. Why shouldn’t Union Carbide be responsible for the Bhopal site clean up under the “polluter pays” principle?

 Union Carbide Corporation did not own or operate the site.  If the court responsible for directing clean-up efforts ultimately applies the "polluter pays" principle, it would seem that legal responsibility would fall to Union Carbide India Limited, which leased the land, operated the site and was a separate, publicly traded Indian company when the Bhopal tragedy occurred.  In 1994, Union Carbide sold its interest in Union Carbide India Limited with the approval of the Indian Supreme Court. The company was renamed Eveready Industries India Limited and remains a viable company today.

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18. What about claims of contaminated groundwater outside the plant contaminating the adjoining region?

While we are aware of conflicting claims being made by various groups and reported in the media, we have no first-hand knowledge of what chemicals, if any, may remain at the site and what impact, if any they may be having on area groundwater.

It is important to note, however, that a 1998 study of drinking-water sources near the plant site by the Madhya Pradesh Pollution Control Board did find some contamination that likely was caused by improper drainage of water and other sources of environmental pollution. The Control Board did not find any traces of chemicals linked to chemicals formerly used at the UCIL plant. And, the Hindustan Times reported on April 29, 2006, that "A study by the National Institute of Occupational Health (NIOH), Ahmedabad, has virtually debunked voluntary organisations' fear about contamination of water in and around Union Carbide plant…."  (See Question 13 for more details.) We believe it is important for the Madhya Pradesh State Government to complete the remediation of the plant site. The State is in the best position to evaluate all scientific information that is available and make the right decision for Bhopal. For specific details, please contact the Madhya Pradesh State Government.

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19. What is the status of litigation against Union Carbide regarding remediation of the site and/or paying additional restitution to victims?

 In 1989, Union Carbide and UCIL entered into a $470 million legal settlement with the Indian Government, settling all claims arising from the incident. The Indian Supreme Court affirmed the settlement and  described it as "just, equitable and reasonable." Union Carbide and UCIL promptly paid the money to the Government of India. A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in 1999 asserting claims for personal injuries and property damage arising out the Bhopal gas disaster was dismissed, and all subsequent appeals in the case have upheld the dismissal. A few other cases, filed in New York Federal court in November 2004, and thereafter, have focused on site remediation and compensation for residents.  These cases have largely been dismissed by the courts, although recently one such case was sent back to the District Court for limited further activity based strictly on procedural grounds.  A recent case, filed in March 2007, and making similar claims, has been stayed pending the resolution of the above-mentioned lawsuit.

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20. Has the Government of India paid out the settlement money to the victims?

The Government of India (GOI) enacted the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster Act in 1985, enabling the GOI to act as the sole legal representative of the victims in claims arising from or related to the Bhopal disaster.  Pursuant to the settlement, therefore, the GOI assumed responsibility for disbursing funds from the $470-million settlement and providing medical coverage to citizens of Bhopal in the event of future illnesses.

In July 2004, fifteen years after reaching settlement, the Supreme Court of India ordered the Government of India to release all remaining  settlement funds to the victims. Unfortunately, in April 2005, the Supreme Court of India granted a request from the Welfare Commission for Bhopal Gas Victims and extended to April 30, 2006, the distribution of the rest of the funds by the Welfare Commission. News reports indicated that approximately $390 million remained in the fund at that time as a result of earned interest.

In September 2006, India media reported the registrar in the office of Welfare Commission said that "all cases of initial compensation claims by victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy…and revision petitions had been cleared; no case was pending…."  If the media report was accurate, this could mean that all the settlement money has finally been distributed.

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21. Media reports indicate that the victims are still suffering. What are you doing about this?

UCC has contributed significantly in providing aid to the victims and has fulfilled every responsibility and obligation it had in Bhopal. For example, UCC paid the full settlement of $470 million to the Government of India in 1989, and also provided substantial monetary and medical aid to the victims, including establishing a charitable trust fund to which it paid approximately $100 million (including the proceeds of its sale of all its UCIL stock) to build a hospital that opened in Bhopal in 2000. (Please see “The Incident, Response and Settlement” section of this web site for additional information on UCC’s efforts and contributions.) 

Pursuant to the settlement, the Government of India assumed responsibility for disbursing funds from the $470-million settlement and providing medical coverage to citizens of Bhopal in the event of future illnesses. In July 2004, fifteen years after reaching settlement, the Supreme Court of India ordered the Government of India to release all additional settlement funds to the victims. Unfortunately, in April 2005, the Supreme Court of India granted a request from the Welfare Commission for Bhopal Gas Victims and extended to April 30, 2006, the distribution of the rest of the funds by the Welfare Commission.  News reports indicated that approximately $390 million remained in the fund as a result of earned interest. In September 2006, India media reported that "registrar in the office of Welfare Commissioner... said that all cases of initial compensation claims by victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy had been cleared.... With the clearance of initial compensation claims and revision petitions, no case was pending...." We are encouraged by this report and hope that these funds will help alleviate any suffering being experienced by the victims and/or their families.

It is important to remember that when the Supreme Court of India affirmed the settlement in 1991, the Court also:

  • Required the Government of India to purchase, out of the settlement fund, a group medical insurance policy to cover 100,000 persons who may later develop symptoms; and
  • Required the Government of India to make up any shortfall, however unlikely, in the settlement fund.

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22. Where does responsibility lie for the clean up of the factory site in Bhopal and to address any on-going needs of the victims and their families?

Responsibility for the clean-up of the site lies with the Madhya Pradesh State Government, which today controls the site.  The State is in the best position to evaluate all scientific information that is available, to complete whatever remediation may be necessary, and to make the right decision for Bhopal. 

The central Government of India needs to address any ongoing concerns of the Bhopal people, thereby fulfilling the terms of the 1989 settlement and subsequent ruling upholding the settlement by the Indian Supreme Court in 1991.

Union Carbide's responsibility - along with the rest of the chemical industry - is to work hard every day to prevent a tragedy like this from ever happening again.

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23. Why haven’t Union Carbide and retired Chairman Warren Anderson appeared in the criminal proceedings in India?

With regard to Bhopal litigation in India, all the key people from Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) -- officers and those who actually ran the plant on a daily basis -- have appeared to face charges, which were reduced to a misdemeanor status.  Neither Union Carbide nor its officials are subject to the jurisdiction of the Indian court since they did not have any involvement in the operation of the plant.

By requirement of the Government of India, the plant was designed, owned, operated and managed on a day-to-day basis by UCIL and its employees.

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24. Since Union Carbide is a subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company, why didn’t Dow acquire liabilities for the Bhopal tragedy?

There were no liabilities for Dow to inherit through Union Carbide on the Bhopal gas release.  Dow acquired the shares of Union Carbide in 2001, more than a decade after Union Carbide settled its liabilities with the Indian government in 1989 by paying $470 million and seven years after UCIL became Eveready Industries India Limited. Dow never owned or operated the UCIL plant site.

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25. What processes have been put in place industry-wide to prevent a tragedy like this from occurring again?

Union Carbide, together with the rest of the chemical industry, has worked to develop and globally implement its “Responsible Care” program, designed to prevent any future events through improving community awareness, emergency preparedness and process safety standards. For more information on Responsible Care®, please visit www.responsiblecare.com or www.icca-chem.org (the web site of the International Council of Chemical Associations).

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