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Bhopal Complete

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International Dimensions of Ethics Education in Science and Engineering

Case Study Series

Bhopal Plant Disaster – Situation Summary

by MJ Peterson Revised March 20, 2009

During the night of 2-3 December 1984, a leak of some 40 tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas mixed with unknown other gasses from a chemical plant owned and operated by Union Carbide (India) Limited, a partly-owned subsidiary of the US-based Union Carbide Corporation, caused one of the highest-casualty industrial accidents of the 20th century. At least 2000 people died immediately and another 200,000 to 300,000 suffered respiratory and other injuries of varying severity. Property damage consisted mainly of contamination to nearby areas by various chemical residues. The defoliation of trees immediately afterward is clearly attributable to the gas leak; contamination in the nearby settlements may have multiple sources, the contamination of the plant site resulted from many years of general production activity.

India’s Economic Ambitions

When India attained independence from Great Britain in 1947, its new political leaders wanted to make the country wealthier by encouraging development of modern industry. It had strong support from the citizens, who generally agreed that India’s current lack of industrialization and economic development were the result of these colonial-era policies. Thus the new government could expect widespread support for any policy that appeared to set the country on the path to industrialization. The new political elite brought to this task a set of beliefs about economic policy that sought a middle way between the heavy reliance on private enterprise that had characterized British industrialization in the 18th and 19 th centuries and the reliance on central planning of the whole economy characteristic of the Soviet Union’s industrialization effort...

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