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Bhopal gas tragedy...

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  • 1. Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries 18 (2005) 195–196 www.elsevier.com/locate/jlp Editorial Bhopal Gas Tragedy and its effects on process safety The Bhopal Gas Tragedy was the worst-ever industrial slow pace. The number of converts to it in any country candisaster. Forty-one tonnes of deadly methyl isocyanate gas and be counted on the fingers of one hand. Much of that hasits reaction products were released in to the air on the midnight occurred due to accreditation requirement in someof December 2–3, 1984 from the Union Carbide plant in countries. Within chemical engineering faculties, veryBhopal, India. It resulted in the immediate death of several few, if any, working in the areas of catalysis, reactionthousand people and caused untold sufferings to hundreds of kinetics, process control, thermodynamics, transportthousands. Quoting Charles Perrow, Yale University (Perrow, phenomena, etc. have extended their research to include1999) ‘The accident that released deadly methyl isocyanate the aspects of process safety. To quote Cussler, et al. (2002),gas (MIC) in Union Carbide’s Bhopal, India, plant in ‘Professors are by nature conservative, in that they conserveDecember 1984, resulting in atleast 4000 ‘prompt’ deaths what they are good at doing.’ All the books and courses inand over 200,000 injuries, was for me the most theoretically these subjects also generally do not account for deviationssignificant catastrophe.In the words of one of the most from normal behaviour while most of the accidents in ´interesting cliches in this business, ‘It was an accident waiting process industry are the results of such deviations. ´to happen’. But .equally common cliche ‘we were lucky it Specialized conferences in these areas do not discuss as towas not worse’ for once does not hold. Bhopal was that rare how they can make the process industry safer even thoughaccident that could hardly have been worse; they are hard to these specialized fields play a very significant role in thearrange’. He calls it the ‘Union Carbide Factor’. design and/or operations of the chemical industry. What a The death toll, since then, has reached over 20,000 with perfect chemical engineering world! This, while thevictims dying from the complications caused by inhaling the academicians know that from the very first day a chemicalgas that night. Over 120,000 continue to still suffer. engineer enters a job, he/she will have to be concerned withThe hazardous chemicals buried at the company site when safety, while the other chemical engineering subjects taughtthe plants were operating and those left behind after the at colleges take a back seat and some may never be of anydisaster in 1984, have polluted the soil and underground use. Thus, we are guilty of sending a half-baked product towater, severely affecting the health of a large number of the industry and assume that industry will teach the newpeople living in the vicinity who have no other source of recruits about this important subject. That is, they will learnwater. Thus, the Bhopal Gas Tragedy has turned out to be it on the job. We should know that learning from accidentsthe world’s worst pollution disaster as well. is very costly. On the 20th anniversary of the disaster in December In the above context, Gygax’s message to the universities2004, articles and news stories appeared in all the major is still very valid: “Chemical Reaction Engineering can benewspapers and the technical press in India and in many defined as the art of conducting chemical processesother countries. There was a vast coverage by the visual selectively, effectively and safely.To achieve thesemedia as well. BBC, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation goals, the chemistry and physics of the reacting systemand the National Geographic released new documentaries. are studied.In most Chemical Engineering text books,A couple of new books were also released. these efforts are directed primarily to the conversion of the Since the Bhopal disaster, the interest in process safety materials into products under operational conditions.Forhas been increasing. Elective or compulsory courses are safe process operation, it is however equally important totaught in some universities. Active researchers are to be extend Chemical Engineering Principles to the study offound in several countries. Specialized International failure conditions. Only if runaway scenarios are kept inconferences on process safety are also held. focus can the best process design concepts be evaluated. So far so good. With very little process safety activity up .It is the responsibility of the universities to be leadersuntil 1984, any increase is to be genuinely welcomed. in promoting it through their Chemical Engineering But have we done enough? Not by a long shot. The new courses” (Gygax, 1988).discipline of Process Safety is emerging at an excruciating It is not that the chemical engineering faculty does not0950-4230/$ - see front matter q 2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. get into newer areas. The moves to biosciences, moleculardoi:10.1016/j.jlp.2005.07.028 genetics, nano engineering, etc. in the recent past are
  • 2. 196 Editorial / Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries 18 (2005) 195–196examples of the dynamic nature of the profession, once it will not tolerate any failures. The challenge of postmodern-decides to act. It is interesting to note that safety is of ism to chemical engineers is: Stop pollution and make sureconcern even in these areas: both in production and in use. your processes and products are totally safe’. US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board It would be good for the profession to become proactive(CSB) has been investigating chemical accidents in the US in process safety before public outcry forces very restrictivesince 1998. In a Senate hearing held in January 2005, the legislation, especially after 9/11 when large chemicalCSB Chair, Ms Carolyn Merritt stated (Merritt, 2005) ‘.I facilities are also considered to be attractive targets for theam disturbed by what the CSB’s investigations have shown. terrorists. Staying ahead of legislation brings respect to aIn the cases we have examined, preparations for chemical profession, not when forced to comply with it. It is thereforeemergencies were found to be uneven and inadequate. imperative that the safety culture should become more.The lack of preparation potentially leaves our country pervasive amongst companies, governments, communities,vulnerable to the effects of both chemical accidents and academics, media, judiciary, .all the stake holders at allpossible acts of terrorism. .if such a disaster should levels all over the world. International organisations need tohappen, we must be prepared to respond quickly and become more active as well. Several other related pointseffectively. The time for planning is now, not after a in an earlier invited editorial would interest the readers oftragedy..’ this one (Gupta, 2003). The chemical engineering faculty has a significant role in The conference at Kanpur did bring a dedicated andthis planning. Their teaching and research into process devoted group of researchers and industry participants.safety including in Inherently Safer Design and Process Cloning many more of the type will not violate any lawIntensification, will make the chemical industry less against cloning but will be a very welcome step.attractive to terrorists, make the industry safer to operate This special issue of the journal is dedicated to those whoand easier to mitigate the consequences of any accident. The lost their lives and to those who continue to suffer due to theplant size as well as storage inventory would reduce Bhopal Gas Tragedy.significantly, reducing the capital and operating costs byan order of magnitude. Stankiewicz and Moulin (Stankie-wicz & Moulin, 2000) give a very interesting comparison of Referencesa present-day refinery and an intensified one of the future.The latter looks from the outside as clean as an electronics Perrow, C. (1999). Normal Accidents. Princeton: Princeton University Pressplant. One cannot see the equipment, hear it or smell the p. 356. Cussler, E. L., et al. (2002). Refocusing Chemical Engineering. Chemicalchemicals! Engineering Progress, 98(1), 26S. The chemical industry in the US was worth $460 billion Gygax, R. (1988). Chemical Reaction Engineering for Safety. Chemicalin 2000, employed over a million directly and many Engineering Science, 43(8), 1759.millions indirectly, contributed the maximum to the exports, Merritt, C.(2005). Testimony before the U.S. Senate Homeland Securityand is involved in all aspects of daily life and living and Governmental Affairs Committee, Washington DC. April 27, 2005. Stankiewicz, A. I., & Moulin, J. A. (2000). Process Intensification(American chemistry council, 2002). It is true in most major transforming Chemical Engineering. Chemical Engineering Progress,countries. Yet, its reputation is not as high as the above 96(1), 22.figures would dictate. The number of students opting for American Chemistry Council (2002), Protecting a Nation—Homelandchemical engineering and the number and amounts of Defence and the Business of Chemistry, Arlington, VA, April 2002, p. 3.research grants are far less than in many other engineering Prausnitz, J. M. (2001). Chemical Engineering and the Postmodern World, 15th P.V. Danckwerts Memorial Lecture. Trans IChemE (UK)fields, biological and health sciences, chemistry and Chemical Engineering Research and Design, 79(A), 777.physics. Accidents anywhere rattle people all over the Gupta, J. P. (2003). Bhopal: .eighteen, going on nineteen and fading?world, thus universally reducing the attraction for chemical Invited Guest Editorial. Trans IChemE (UK), Process Safety andengineering. Environmental Protection, 81(B), 227. Chemical Engineers should not have a smug feeling thatbecause our products are so pervasive in society, we shouldbe subject to lesser scrutiny and some accidents should be J.P. Gupta*accepted as a small price to pay. Prausnitz’s comments are Conference Coordinator and Guest Editorvery timely (Prausnitz, 2001): ‘.Our unavoidable task is Department of Chemical Engineering,to serve society. We need to re-examine ourselves and Indian Institute of Technology,be concerned with how we are seen by others. .Companies Kanpur 208 016, Indiashould realize that business is not apart from but a part of E-mail address: jpg@iitk.ac.inculture. .While society eagerly uses chemical products, it * Tel.: C91 512 2597629; fax: C91 512 2590104.