Bhopal Plant Disaster
In the early 20th century after India obtained their independence, much was needed to be done in terms of the social and economic situations in the country and a change in the colonial-era policies were necessary CITATION MJP09 l 1033 (Peterson, 2009). With a growing population there was a need to feed more mouths and create new jobs and one of the more attractive options due to market demand was expansion in the chemical industry. Large scale production of pesticides looked feasible since farmers were in dire need of pesticides to increase agricultural productivityCITATION scr l 1033 (Bhopal gas tradegy and its ethical issues, 2016). In 1969, the American Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) came to an agreement with the government of India to set up a plant in the city of Bhopal. India would have the plant, jobs and the manufacturing products and UCC would get 51% shares in return. It was a clear win-win situation for both partiesCITATION scr l 1033 (Bhopal gas tradegy and its ethical issues, 2016).
In this regard we can see that the major stake holders involved were 1, The environment – (a), this includes people in the city of Bhopal, particularly in the areas that were closer to the set-up of the plant whose interests lied in the economy as well as jobs and community expansionCITATION Gav03 l 1033 (Lee, 2003). (b), the ecosystem including trees, animals, water and soilCITATION scr l 1033 (Bhopal gas tradegy and its ethical issues, 2016). 2, The Union Carbide Corporation – this includes both the parent company in the USA (UCC) and the Union Carbide (India) Limited (UCIL) whose shared interests were to expand the company brand and to increase profits. 3, The CEO of the Union Carbide – during the time, Warren Anderson whose interests were the same as UCCCITATION Gav03 l 1033 (Lee, 2003). 4, The government of India whose interests were expansion of the economy, money and creation of jobs. 5, The West Virginia Engineering Firm whose key interest was in the designing of the plantCITATION Gav03 l 1033 (Lee, 2003). 6, Other relevant victims of the gas attack such as the employees of UCIL and after the incident, 7, Dow Chemicals, the major courts involved as well as the Green Peace Group.
Considering the West Virginia Engineering firm, there are several problems/ issues which violate section 3(3) and 3(4) in The Engineering Council Of South Africa’s code of conduct under the Pubic Interest and Environment sections, which state that registered persons must at all times look out for the health and safety of the public as well as to avoid or minimise adverse effects on the environment. Firstly, during the design, the engineers at the West Virginia Engineering firm did not take into consideration the location and environment with regards to where the plant was going to be set-up and what impacts this would have i.e. placing it approximately 4.8 km from a very much densely populated area. In fact, some studies reveal that even before the disaster the air, soil and water were not within safety limitsCITATION web18 l 1033 (Essays, 2013).
There were also some evidences that substantial risk assessment techniques were lacking during the design phase as engineers didn’t consider the fact that a ‘runaway’ reaction could have occurred and hence in this case again not looking out for the health and safety of the public. It is clear engineers at the firm were unethical in making some of the decisions during the initial stages and failed at their responsibilities of ensuring safety in design.
The Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) are much guilty of violation of sections 3(3) and 3(4) for similar reasons as mentioned above with regards to the West Virginia Engineering firm and much more. In addition to these violations the UCC are also found guilty of section 3(2), f, which states that registered persons must avoid situations which give rise to a conflict of interest. Most of the decisions made by UCC were based on cutting costs and saving money, in turn making profits. If the main objective of the organization was to set up the plant for money, other factors are overlooked, such as safety for public and environment, responsibilities for safety in the plant as well as professional ethics and this in turn creates a conflict of interestCITATION web18 l 1033 (Essays, 2013). It was the responsibility of UCC to ensure that there were safety measures in place and one of the fundamental issues leading to disaster was the fact that there were no serious implementations on safety proceduresCITATION web18 l 1033 (Essays, 2013).
In as much as UCIL were responsible for carrying out safety procedures it was ultimately the parent company that pressured UCIL to reduce costs for economic gain and in turn giving rise to many technical related issues on the plant. UCIL’s management failed dismally. Many of the safety systems were not in operating order during the short period before the disaster occurred. Operational units such as the gas vent scrubber used to neutralize gas was turned off and refrigeration units were set to 20 ºC as opposed to the required 4.5 ºC to save money. Tanks were stored with more than the amount required, which was 10% over the stipulated 50%. The flare tower could only handle 25% of the gas that escaped and to make things worse, water sprayers couldn’t spray high enough due to the low pressures they were being operated atCITATION web18 l 1033 (Essays, 2013). In addition, one of the fundamental issues impacting the disaster was the fact that workers were not educated and trained properly with regards to safety, and manuals were given to them in English as opposed to their native languages. Another code violated by the UCC in the Codes are section 3(1), b. This states that registered persons may only undertake work which their education and training renders them to perform however, in the case at Bhopal many workers were taking positions outside their field of expertise and training was reduced from the initial 6 months to 15 daysCITATION Gav03 l 1033 (Lee, 2003). Not only this but the UCC also violates section 3(2) c, which states registered persons must not engage in acts of dishonesty however, doctors, police officers and workers were all lied to and along with this, false claims and accusations were made by the UCC on trialCITATION Gav03 l 1033 (Lee, 2003). Another culprit engaging in possible unethical behaviour should be the government of India. Although in context to the The Engineering Council of South Africa’s Codes would be irrelevant since the government can’t be regarded as engineers there are still some ethical issues with probable violations if we use standard/common morality as basis. Firstly, the government had put the UCC in a predicament as the UCC had asked the government to close down the plant, since there was no longer profit potential due to change in the demand of the market (this was in the year 1980). However, the government refused as they were convinced that the jobs and products from the factory were a contributing factor to the economyCITATION Stu17 l 1033 (Bhopal Ethics, 2017). In this we see that the government went through something similar to a conflict of interest as they had put economic growth before the safety of people and this was questionable ethically. It was also through this action that the UCC started to neglect and became more reluctant into fulfilling their duties. Moreover, the government neglected the shanty towns whose inhabitants were the first victims of the gas leak. It was the responsibility of the government to ensure public safety and clearly the government had failed to do so CITATION Stu17 l 1033 (Bhopal Ethics, 2017). Apart from the government there are some other parties to be considered such as the Green Peace Group. Seeing that the Green Peace Group were in operation before the incident it was the responsibility of the Green Peace Group to ensure that the environment surrounding the plant was kept clean. This was not the case, as some studies reveal that most of the water, the air and the soil was polluted. One such study reveals many different toxic compounds dumped some of which include amongst many, mercury, benzene and phosgene.
There were several possible alternatives for the different stakeholders involved. Back at the main plant in the USA there was a 4-stage back-up system as opposed to a single system used at the Bhopal plant. The UCC could have implemented this in BhopalCITATION scr l 1033 (Bhopal gas tradegy and its ethical issues, 2016). It is known that the UCC made inspection and visited the Bhopal plant a year before the incident. They noted 61 safety issues and none of those issues were implementedCITATION scr l 1033 (Bhopal gas tradegy and its ethical issues, 2016). Consequences of this would quite likely have led to better safety regulations within the plant. With regards to the MIC there were two possible alternatives the UCC could have taken. 1, Cease production and dispose the MIC or 2, Cease Production and increase safety regulations. Alternative 1 would be safe for the local residents but too expensive as opposed to alternative 2 since disposing the chemical safely would be very costly CITATION Jac l 7177 (Jackson Chao, n.d.). Moreover, the UCC could have provided toxicity data to the relevant parties and try to educate the public in general about the types of chemicals and their dangers, this includes local residents, doctors, police officials and workers. There was a lot more that could have been done, had people been educated.
Alternative actions Anderson could have taken was to close down the plant immediately instead of selling off its assets one by one. Also since the government refused to accept the shutdown proposed by the UCC, Anderson should have attempted to come to an agreement to try to negotiate with the government to take the company as India’s state-owned company and in turn Anderson would not have to take responsibility and blame for the consequences of the gas leakCITATION scr l 1033 (Bhopal gas tradegy and its ethical issues, 2016).
Alternatives the government could have taken was to, instead of having MIC produced locally have it imported. Consequences would have been much less detrimental. In addition, the government could have done something about the shanty towns but these were left neglected and in turn contributing to much more deaths. Ultimately, the government could have allowed the UCC to terminate the plant by realising that it is unethical to risk the lives of people at the cost of an economic gain although some may argue this through cost benefit analysis, saying that jobs and pesticides provided food for the poorCITATION Stu17 l 1033 (Bhopal Ethics, 2017). The Green Peace Group could have also brought the issue of safety and a safe environment long before the incident as there were many evidences indicating the plant was engaging in unsafe activities.
Although some unclear, it is quite evident that the different stake holders involved (some of which weren’t discussed due to space i.e. Dow chemicals, Courts) had different weights of responsibility however, due to the lack of ethical direction and application lots of the issues went beyond the control of many. Taking an ethical approach, much of this would have been avoided and even if it wasn’t avoided, penalties would have been much less significant.