Carbide Consultant Says Sabotage Caused Bhopal Tragedy
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ A report from a consultant hired by Union Carbide Corp. said Tuesday that sabotage by a disgruntled employee, not negligence caused a deadly gas leak at the company’s Bhopal, India, plant about four years ago.
Arthur D. Little Inc.’s report supports previous assertions by Carbide about how the disaster occurred and refutes the Indian government’s negligence theory as ″physically impossible″ given the plant’s design.
The report does not provide a motive for sabotage, except to note that less serious incidents of vandalism previously had occurred at the plant, nor does it name the worker believed responsible.
But Bud Holman, an attorney for Union Carbide, said the company and the Indian government know the worker’s identity, and that it eventually would be revealed in court. He said the worker wanted to punish a superior who had demoted him.
Ashok Kalelkare, a senior vice president of Arthur D. Little, based in Cambridge, Mass., presented the findings Tuesday to a symposium in London sponsored by the Institute of Chemical Engineers of the United Kingdom.
″We retained them (Arthur D. Little) to bring an independent expert view to the cause of the Bhopal tragedy,″ Ed Van Den Ameele, a Carbide spokesman, said from Carbide’s Danbury headquarters. ″It does confirm our theory.″
An Indian government attorney involved in the case declined comment Wednesday on the report, saying it would be ″improper while we’re in litigation.″ He insisted on anonymity.
The Indian government has consistently rejected Carbide’s contention that the gas leak was caused by sabotage and has said it would prove the leak resulted from negligence.
In composite trading on the New York Stock Exchange, Carbide closed up 75 cents a share to $23.87 1/2 Tuesday.
At least 2,850 people were killed and 20,000 injured when methyl isocyanate gas leaked from a holding tank at Union Carbide India Ltd.’s Bhopal plant on Dec., 3, 1984.
More than 500,000 people have filed claims in the case and the Indian government filed criminal charges against Carbide in December.
The Arthur D. Little report theorized that a worker entered the plant’s storage area during a shift change the night of Dec. 2, 1984, and hooked up a rubber hose to the chemical tank containing methyl isocyanate with the intention of ruining the tank’s contents.
The chemical produces a deadly gas when mixed with water.
″The results of this investigation show, with virtual certainty, that the Bhopal incident was caused by the entry of water to the tank through a hose that had been connected directly to the tank,″ the report said. ″It is equally clear that those most directly involved attempted to obfuscate these events.″
The report was based on interviews with more than 70 former employees of the now-closed plant.
Among those interviewed was an unidentified instrument supervisor who told investigators that the day after the disaster he discovered that a gauge on the chemical tank had been replaced with a plug. Nearby, he also noticed a length of hose with water running from it, the report said.
The report theorized that the gauge was removed, the hose inserted, and the hole filled with a plug once the water had been added to the tank.
The Indian government contends that water got into the chemical tank when a worker failed to install a ″slip-blind,″ a device that prevents water from backing up, while cleaning a filter about 400 feet away.
But Arthur D. Little’s report asserted that the theory was implausible for three reasons: the hose pressure wasn’t high enough to raise the water to the level of the chemical tank; a safety valve to prevent such a mishap was found in good working order after the accident; and pipes that would have remained filled with water after such an occurrence were dry.
The report alleged that workers altered plant logs to hide that they tried to drain the tank after realizing water had been added.
The consultant’s report was highly critical of the Indian government, saying it stuck to the negligence theory despite evidence to the contrary and hindered Union Carbide’s ability to discover what actually happened.
The company finally got access to key plant records and through them the names of plant employees when a U.S. magistrate ordered India to produce copies of the documents as part of the civil suit to which it was a party.