Chemical Safety Tips All Laboratories Can Take from the Bhopal Tragedy

Chem Industry News, Lab Safety

chemical safety tips from Bhopal incident
Many companies have taken the disaster at the Bhopal Union Carbide Limited plant and used it as a lesson in chemical safety, but perhaps more can be done to prevent such tragedies.
Image source: Flickr user Bhopal Medical Appeal



December 2 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Bhopal gas tragedy, one of the worst chemical accidents in India and the world. To mark the event, Hollywood is releasing a movie this month titled Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain. The movie portrays the decisions that were made both in India and the United States in the months prior to the tragedy, in which a leak at a pesticide factory exposed a crowded Indian city to methyl isocyanate gas and other chemicals. The incident eventually claimed the lives of upwards of 2,000 people, and left approximately 200,000 more with injuries.

Since the event, many laboratories and chemical companies have attempted to learn from the mistakes made at the plant. Many have focused on reporting problems and maintaining safety procedures. However, there are other lessons that can be learned from this incident as well.

Below are three more chemical safety tips that we can learn from the Bhopal gas leak:

  1. Act On the Small Problems

It has been documented that there were at least two other leaks that occurred in months leading up to the December 1984 catastrophe. However, management failed to take action on these smaller leaks and make corrections in a timely manner.

A small issue may truly just be an accident, but it also might be an indication of a larger problem. It’s far better to investigate each small chemical accident and its relation to the system as a whole to ensure that it is not the sign of something more significant.

  1. An Ounce of Prevention Is Better Than a Pound of Cure

Although authorities are not sure of the exact cause of the leak, Union Carbide, the company that owned the plant, did take fiscal responsibility for the incident. The final settlement, reached in 1989, was for approximately $470 million dollars (with today’s inflation, that sum totals $907 million dollars).

There is some evidence that had the company invested in more safety measures up front, they might have saved themselves the liability on the backend. It is better to invest in safety equipment before an accident than to have to pay for negligence after an accident occurs.

In addition, chemical accidents are costly and difficult to clean up. In the case of the Bhopal leak, the groundwater has been contaminated and the area still poses a health risk for residents in the community. All of this might have been prevented by investing in the safety.

  1. Disclose Chemical Information to First Responders

When the effects of the gas leak began to manifest, many people rushed to the hospital in order to seek care. Unfortunately, the doctors at the hospitals were unaware of how to properly treat victims because they did not know the specific chemicals people had been exposed to. This resulted in even more death and injuries than were perhaps necessary, simply because doctors could not help the victims.

Laboratories that store potentially dangerous chemicals onsite have a responsibility to inform first responders regarding the potential dangers of each chemical. Sadly, disclosure of chemical contents is not currently followed in many places, even in the United States. The explosion in West, Texas, that killed 15 firefighters may have been prevented had the firefighters been aware of the dangers associated with the chemicals housed at the plant.


The most effective way to help communicate chemical information with first responders is to use a chemical inventory management system. The benefits offered by such a system include the ability to produce a detailed list of the chemicals currently stored on site, as well as information regarding their location. This can then be shared with first responders to ensure their safety and to empower them to act appropriately if an accident occurs.

The Bhopal gas leak was a devastating catastrophe. By acting on small problems, focusing on prevention and supplying first responders with the necessary information, we may be able to prevent a repeat event from occurring. For more information on how BIOVIA CISPro can help your laboratory keep track of your chemical inventory and prevent accidents, please visit our website today.

5 thoughts on “Chemical Safety Tips All Laboratories Can Take from the Bhopal Tragedy

  1. Prevention seems like a waste of time but it is vital to running a safe lab. Whenever you think you are wasting your time, just think of the worst case scenario to get you back on track.

  2. This sounds like an amazing movie that is could potentially to make a difference in the world in terms of lab safety that can also help in saving lives! It’s difficult to see that there are still some companies that do not understand the importance of prevention! Going to keep an eye out for this movie for sure.

  3. Tragic in that it was completely preventable. I wonder how often chemical spills have happened and the damage has been publicly known. I would never want to live near a chem plant for that reason, plus the higher nearby cancer rates.

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