logo2 carbide_logo3


 
 

Frequently Asked Questions regarding the Bhopal Tragedy of 1984

Updated November 2013

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. Is there groundwater contamination at the site?


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


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


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


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


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


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


21. What role has the Government of India played in the aftermath of the Bhopal tragedy?


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


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


24. 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?


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


26. Didn’t Dow inherit the Bhopal plant facility and liabilities for the Bhopal tragedy when it acquired the shares of Union Carbide Corporation?


27. 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.

Back to Top

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.

Back to Top

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.

Back to Top

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.

Back to Top

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.

Back to Top

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.

Back to Top

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.

Back to Top

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.

Back to Top

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 Mcleod Russel 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 Eveready, took over the facility and assumed all accountability for the site, including the completion of any additional remediation.

Back to Top

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 Eveready, 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.

Back to Top

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…"

Back to Top

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.

Back to Top

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.

Back to Top

14. Is there groundwater contamination at the site?

According to media reports, various groups have made assessments of the groundwater quality at the Bhopal site through the years, including a recent effort supervised by the State of Madhya Pradesh. Questions regarding groundwater are best addressed by the State Government.

Back to Top

15. 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.

Back to Top

16. 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 organizations' 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....”

Furthermore, in a report to the State of Madhya Pradesh dated June 2010, India's NEERI concluded that the "groundwater in general is not contaminated due to seepage of contaminants from the UCIL" plant site. This conclusion is consistent with NEERI's earlier findings that all groundwater samples tested were within drinking water standards.

For additional information, contact the Madhya Pradesh State Government.

Back to Top

17. 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 Eveready, 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.

Back to Top

18. 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.

Back to Top

19. 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.

Back to Top

20. 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.

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 rejected by the court. In June 2012, a Federal court unambiguously concluded that neither UCC nor its retired Chairman Warren Anderson are liable for any environmental remediation or pollution-related personal injury claims made by residents near the Bhopal plant site. However, plaintiffs filed an appeal. In June 2013, the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the 2012 court decision, stating: "...many others living near the Bhopal plant may well have suffered terrible and lasting injuries from a wholly preventable disaster for which someone is responsible. After nine years of contentious litigation and discovery, however, all that the evidence in this case demonstrates is that UCC is not that entity".

A separate case -- Jagarnath Sahu et al v. UCC and Warren Anderson -- filed in 2007 in New York District Court seeks damages to clean up six individual properties allegedly polluted by contaminants from the Bhopal plant, as well as the remediation of property in 16 colonies adjoining the plant. This suit, which had been stayed pending resolution of appeals in Janki Bai Sahu case, is the last remaining Bhopal-related case before U.S. Courts. UCC has indicated to the court and opposing parties that it will be moving for summary judgment in this case.

Back to Top

21. What role has the Government of India played in the aftermath of the Bhopal tragedy?

The Government of India entered into a settlement with Union Carbide Corporation and Union Carbide India Limited on behalf of the victims. The settlement resulted in a fund that determined eligibility and paid the victims; a government organization administered the fund. In its 1991 reaffirmation of the 1989 Bhopal settlement, the Indian Supreme Court required the Government of India to make up for any shortfall in the settlement account (see page 682, paragraph 198 of the Court’s ruling on Bhopal.com) and to acquire a medical insurance policy to cover 100,000 people who might later develop symptoms shown to have resulted from being exposed during the gas release (see pages 684-686, paragraph 205-208).

Therefore, any question regarding monetary reparations as a result of the Bhopal tragedy should be directed to the Government of India.

Back to Top

22. 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, Indian 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.

Back to Top

23. 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.

Furthermore, in 2007, the Supreme Court of India again reaffirmed the adequacy and finality of the 1989 settlement.

Back to Top

24. 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 Bhopal site lies with the Madhya Pradesh State government. In 1998, the Madhya Pradesh State Government, which owned 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. As owners of the site, the State is in the best position to evaluate all scientific information that is available, to complete whatever remediation may be necessary.

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.

Back to Top

25. 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.

Back to Top

26. Didn’t Dow inherit the Bhopal plant facility and liabilities for the Bhopal tragedy when it acquired the shares of Union Carbide Corporation?

No. Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) owned, operated and managed on a day-to-day basis the Bhopal plant. UCIL was a publicly traded Indian company of which Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) owned 50.9 percent of the stock. Indian financial institutions and thousands of private investors in India owned the remaining stock. At the time of the incident, UCIL was one of the top 50 companies in India and had a 50-year history in the country.

UCIL still exists today. It underwent an ownership change in 1994 when UCC sold its interest in the company to Macleod Russel India Limited. The renamed company now is known as Eveready Industries India Limited. The proceeds from this sale were used to construct and fund a hospital in Bhopal for the ongoing care and treatment of those whose health was affected by the tragedy.

Today, UCC still remains a separate company, but its stock now is fully owned by The Dow Chemical Company. UCC had settled all civil claims related to the gas release with the Government of India and was no longer doing business in India when Dow acquired its shares in 2001. Dow did not inherit any liability from UCC.

Back to Top

27. 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).

Back to Top