"The management did not adhere to safety norms"

It is 15 years since 60 tonnes of methyl isocyanate (MIC) leaked outfrom Union Carbide Corporation's (UCC) plant in Bhopal, killing 5,000 people and affecting more than five lakh. Even today, many questions remain unanswered: How did the gas leak occur despite the 'fool proof' safety measures claimed by the officials of UCC? How did the water pipe corrode and the water mix with MIC, resulting in the release of 65 poisonous gases? KAMAL PAREEK, a mechanical engineer, was the safety manager at the UCC. He left the company in 1983, a year before the tragedy. In an interview with RICHARD MAHAPATRA, Pareek says that the Bhopal tragedy was caused by the management which failed to provide adequate attention to safety measures

Published: Friday 15 January 1999

Who do you think was responsible for the tragedy?
The responsibility lies with the management which did not adhere to the safety norms. There were no technically qualified personnel to look after safety measures. On the day of the tragedy, not a single safety mechanism was in place.

I left the plant a year before the tragedy occurred. While leaving, I warned the management of an impending disaster in the factory. I fail to understand why the management did not discuss the safety measures. MIC, like teargas, is easy to manage. But when mixed with water in an impure state, it becomes poisonous.

Can you recall any instance when the management turned down your request for safety equipment/measure?
I told them that the water pipes running very close to the MIC tanks should be made of stainless steel. MIC corrodes iron, and if kiic mixes with water it reacts violentlv. But the management never bothered to take my suggestion seriously. My fear was vindicated when the tragedy took place. When MIC was leaking, it was simultaneously corroding the pipes. Ultimately, the MIC in the tanks came in contact with water creating violent reactions. What actually happens when water comes in contact with MIC'7 When it comes in contact with water, MIC can create a lot of reactants. According to experts, some 65 gases were formed when the tragedy took place.

In the case of the Bhopal tragedy, was the MIC impure?
At the UCC, MIC was manufactured from phosgene, a coloutless gas (the very ame mustard gas which was used during World War I). The impurity in this case means traces of phosgene gas only. When this gas mixes with water it creates deadly reactants.

Why is the UCC and the government not disclosing the names of the reactants that were released on the day of the leak? Will the information not help in giving proper treatment to the victims?
I do not agree with the assumption that the doctors do not know the identity of the 65 gases released. At the same time, I do not know why the UCC did not disclose it even though they are the first to know about it.

You said that MIC is like teargas. If so, how do you explain the high casualty rate?
First, the bfficials of UCC did not inform the residents living around the plant about the leak. When the people heard about it, they panicked and started running. In the process, they inhaled more. A simple solution is to use a wet cloth for-breathing. Even the doctors were not told about it.

But I still believe that MIC is a very easy gas to manage. If a drop of MIC is released in the corner of a big room, it would take seconds to notice its presence in the air. Nobody in the plant died of MIC, even though there were many instances of leaks preceding the big one.

So there were other instances of MIC leakage in the plant before the one in December?
There were many minor incidents of gas leak. Once, a safety supervisor was killed due to a leak. He too was operating without any safety measures. Although the plant had all the safety measures, they were never implemented.

The plant design matched Europear standards. It had even passed the safety tests stipulated by the us. In fact, we were sent to design and set up a mi, plant in Germany. But the management never bothered to employ goo professionals to implement the safety measure.

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