Bhopal: Lessons for technological decision-makers

Ayres, R.U. & Rohatgi, P.K. (1987). Bhopal: Lessons for technological decision-makers. Technology in Society 9 (1) 19-45. 10.1016/0160-791X(87)90028-5.

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The accidental release of methyl isocyanate (MIC) on December 2 and 3, 1984, at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide manufacturing plant in Bhopal, India, killed at least 1,750 people, and probably as many as 2,500,1 while injuring 50,000 or more. This episode appears likely to mark a watershed in the historical relationships between scientists, corporations, governments and communities. Among the many assumptions that will have to be questioned and reconsidered in the wake of this disaster are the following: that it is possible, in principle, to know enough in advance about a complex chemical process to design a totally safe system; that it is possible, in principle, for human workers to operate such a system safely; that it is possible, in principle, for a public agency to regulate such a system effectively (even if it could be designed); and that “fault” in the legal sense can be meaningfully attributed to one among the various actors in the event of a complex system failure. The above questions all arise prominently in connection with the Bhopal tragedy. This paper recounts the key factors insofar as they are known, commenting on the information available to various parties and the decisions that were made. Some general conclusions are drawn at the end.

Item Type: Article
Research Programs: Technology, Economy, Society (TES)
Depositing User: Romeo Molina
Date Deposited: 11 Apr 2016 08:36
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 17:26

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