December 3, 1984: Bhopal, The Worst Industrial Accident in History


On December 3, 1984, a leak at a Union Carbide insecticide plant in Bhopal, India, released a large cloud of a chemical known as MIC. It killed at least 3,000 people—although, these numbers may be low—and injured perhaps more than a half-million.

Historically, the Union Carbide Corporation was closely tied to the Kanawha Valley. Its first plant was established at Clendenin in 1920. Five years later, Carbide relocated to South Charleston, which would become the “chemical capital of the world.” Carbide once produced hundreds of chemicals. Most were used by industrial customers, but some, such as Prestone antifreeze and Eveready batteries, were well-known consumer products.

The Bhopal tragedy, though, was the beginning of the end for Carbide. The 1984 disaster led to new concerns about safety at chemical plants, including an MIC unit in the Kanawha Valley. In 1989, the Indian government and Union Carbide reached a $470 million settlement.

Deeply in debt and trying to avoid a hostile takeover, the company sold nearly half its productive businesses. Finally, in 2001, Union Carbide was acquired by Dow Chemical and ceased to exist as a separate corporation.