Avoiding Future Bhopals
Runaway chemical reactions are rare events, particularly in this heyday of the redundant and ‘defence-in-depth’ safety design for complex, high-risk technologies. Yet, during the chill of night between 2-3 December 1984, a statistically improbable worst-case scenario moved from the computer simulations of the risk assessors and played itself out on the unsuspecting citizens of Bhopal, India. A parade of failures – in design, in maintenance, in operation, in emergency response and in management – conspired with a southerly wind and a temperature inversion to push a lethal cloud of methyl isocyanate (MIC) out to kill and injure thousands of people, animals and plants in the area. By sunrise, the unprecedented horror had catapulted Bhopal to the head of history’s roll of industrial disasters (see Table 5.1).