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The Blundering of Union Carbide

How One Company Refuses to Learn Public Relations

Breathing in methyl isocyanate gas kills within a few minutes. The gas works by breaking down red blood cells, eliminating the blood's ability to carry oxygen, and the lungs are unable to function. The resulting pressure on the vessels and arteries causes minor ruptures and the blood seeks escape from the body, usually through the eyes, ears, nose and throat (Avirook, 1994, 1). This is a part of the description that the world heard during the last days of 1984 as word filtered out from Bhopal India about a massive chemical leak that had emanated from a Union Carbide plant. Around midnight on December 2, 1984, the gas began leaking from the plant, and settled like a bright green cloud over the sleeping town. Within hours, 3,000 Indians were dead, and another 20,000 hospitalized. Within hours, also, the world press was hammering on the doors of Union Carbide executives around the world who answered with the then-typical response "no comment." Thus began a classic textbook case of the many, many ways a company should and must handle an industrial disaster. What is fascinating about the Bhopal Incident, as it is now referred to in press archives, is that Union Carbide executives not only refused to follow a solid crisis management plan (although it had one on the books since 1974), it refused to handle the event in an intelligent manner (Rudolph, 1986, 53). For even today, 14 years after the disaster, Union Carbide still refuses to admit its error and the world courts are clogged with thousands of class action suits against the company from aggrieved citizens of Bhopal. What happened? What could have been done differently? What can we learn from this? Those are a few of the questions to be dealt with in this position paper. Crisis management experts agree on certain step-by-step action plans that should be implemented in case of a disaster (Blackburn, Doran, & Shrader, 19...

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The Blundering of Union Carbide. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 14:44, March 18, 2019, from