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Thursday, December 2

More on Bhopal

I was curious about the claim by Union Carbide of employee sabotage. It seems like the only defense, if true, for Union Carbide not being morally (if not legally) liable for the accident.

From what I've been able to gather from reading, methyl isocyanate is a liquid at room temperature. Water mixed with the chemical creates a chemical reaction which involves a lot of heat and turns the liquid into gas - which is extremely hazardous/fatal to inhale. It seems that a large amount of water got piped/sent into a container of methyl isocyanate. The container was never designed to deal with such a chemical reaction and so leaked and exploded. The company claims that there were safety systems in place to keep water from ever mixing with the chemical and that the large amount of water that caused the accident can only have been introduced into the container deliberately (sabotage).

"The UCC sabotage theory did not explain how several other simultaneous failures contributed to the accident. In addition to water entry, there were failures in four safety devices - the vent gas scrubber, the flare tower, the refrigeration system, and the water spray. There were failures in design, operating procedures, and staffing, as described earlier. The positive-pressure systems in the MIC tanks had failed, four to eight weeks before the accident.

The deliberate introduction of water into MIC storage tanks might have taken place without any intention to commit sabotage. A small quantity of water from pipe washing could have initiated the accident. Operators on duty might have been alarmed by the sight of a rumbling hot tank and could have introduced water to cool it. Such a scenario was hinted at by some witnesses and it accommodates most of the claims raised in the sabotage defence."

The scenario offered here does seem very plausible and reasonably fits with the company's claims that the introduction of large amounts of water could only have been done deliberately and the criticisms about the company's failure to maintain the equipment safely.

If this is really what happened, then it was actually employees who were trying to contain the accident who actually multiplied the harmful effects and even possibly caused them (perhaps the container would have been able to keep the gas, or at least more of the gas, from escaping with an introduction of a small amount of water but not with a large amount of water).

This might still be considered the responsibility of the company - to educate its workers - at the very least to make sure its employees knew not to add water to methyl isocyanate!

It does seem that if the company had solid evidence about the identity of a sabotager, it should be presented or the company be held liable.

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