International Dimensions of Ethics

Case Study:

The Bhopal Plant Disaster
• Massive toxic gas leak from Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) chemical plant at Bhopal in December, 1984.


Thousands killed and hundreds of thousands injured by 40 ton release of methyl isocyanate (MIC).
Caused by unsafe conditions and series of failures in poorly maintained and understaffed plant.

Adopted from The Bhopal Plant Disaster, IDEESE Case Study Series, © 2008 IDEESE

9%) of UCIL – Plant managed and staffed locally by UCIL • Climate – Plant initially welcomed at Bhopal for its economic potential – Located 2 miles from city center. surrounding population expanded significantly between construction and disaster – Government classified plant as “general” (not “hazardous”) industry in 1976. © 2008 IDEESE .International Dimensions of Ethics Some Context: • The Bhopal Plant – Built in late 1960’s to process pesticides – Expanded in 1970’s to add production capability – Production cut in 1980’s due to market forces and decision to sell plant • Ownership and Operation – Union Carbide owned controlling share (50. IDEESE Case Study Series. even after approving MIC-based processes at plant and establishing a “hazardous industry” zone 15 miles from city Adopted from The Bhopal Plant Disaster.

International Dimensions of Ethics The Disaster: Contributing Factors Human Error – Critical isolation valve not closed before pipes were flushed with water. Poor Maintenance – Tank refrigerators inoperable. © 2008 IDEESE . IDEESE Case Study Series. Failure of Safety Equipment – Stack scrubber. – Flare for flame neutralization of escaping gas was shut down Inadequate Safety Equipment – Reach of sprayer for water neutralization of escaping gas was inadequate. had been drained of freon – Blockage in pipes meant to drain water that pressurized tank Adopted from The Bhopal Plant Disaster. Plant managers were aware of deficiency. activated by operator during leak. causing the fatal pressurization of tank containing MIC. – Flare system lacked capacity for major gas leak. failed.

© 2008 IDEESE . evacuation slow and uncoordinated – Response of medical workers hampered by lack of info about MIC Adopted from The Bhopal Plant Disaster. but only for a few minutes – Public response panicked. IDEESE Case Study Series.International Dimensions of Ethics The Disaster: Contributing Factors (cont.) Inadequate Staffing – Union-Carbide-trained supervisors had left Bhopal by 1984 – Staffing in MIC unit had been cut below half of recommended level – Second-shift maintenance supervisor position eliminated weeks before disaster Lack of Evacuation Plans – Visiting Union Carbide engineers repeatedly stressed need for a plan to alert and evacuate population in the event of a gas leak – UCIL claimed to have developed such plans – City and state officials claimed no knowledge of such plans Inadequate Response – Warning siren activated upon leak.

IDEESE Case Study Series. and what were their ethical responsibilities? • Which ethical dimensions arise from. or are complicated by. the international nature of the case? Consider international dimensions via… Adopted from The Bhopal Plant Disaster.International Dimensions of Ethics Ethical Dimensions: Discussion • What are the ethical dimensions of the Bhopal case? • Who are the stakeholders. © 2008 IDEESE .

© 2008 IDEESE . IDEESE Case Study Series.International Dimensions of Ethics Analysis of International Dimensions Recall Framework • • • Apply ethics prevailing in the society where activity occurs no matter who does it. Adopted from The Bhopal Plant Disaster. Apply ethics of own society to all activities of its members wherever the activity occurs Develop ethical principles and rules common to all societies where the scientific or engineering work occurs.

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