Coffee Break Training: The Bhopal Disaster   [open pdf - 453KB]

"The single event that dramatically changed America's hazardous materials response capability and provided the foundation for the current modern approach to hazardous material preparedness was a chemical disaster that happened halfway around the world in the town of Bhopal, India, in 1984. Union Carbide operated a pesticide plant in the city of Bhopal, in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh. In 1984, the plant had ceased operations but still had full tanks of chemicals that were dormant but not properly attended. During the evening of Dec. 3, 1984, a valve broke and a large amount of water entered a tank containing 42 tons of methyl isocyanate. The chemical reaction increased the tank's temperature to over 200 degrees Celsius, subsequently releasing a large amount of toxic gas. Methyl isocyanate is extremely toxic to humans, even in limited exposure. It attacks the respiratory tract and the eyes and can cause immediate asphyxiation, blindness and death. That night, a toxic cloud spread over the sleeping city of Bhopal with a devastating impact on the population. In all, it is estimated that 10,000 people died within 72 hours of the accident. Since then, 25,000 have died from different gas-related diseases. Several hundred thousand people suffered permanent damage, lifelong illnesses and birth deformities, and continue to suffer the aftermath to this day. The Bhopal disaster is often referred to as the world's worst industrial tragedy. It is truly one of the most devastating accidents in modern history."

Report Number:
Coffee Break Training - Hazardous Materials Series No. HM-2013-1
Public Domain
Retrieved From:
United States Fire Administration: http://www.usfa.fema.gov/
Media Type:
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