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The World’s Worst Industrial Disaster

Bhopal, 1984


Roshan Lamichhane
Department of Chemistry
West Virginia University
Betsy B. Ratcliff
Department of Chemistry
West Virginia University
Mark W. Schraf
Department of Chemistry
West Virginia University
Anitha S.L. Gowda
Department of Chemistry
West Virginia University


In this directed case study, students first watch a brief video and then read a short passage about the 1984 Bhopal, India, disaster in which a Union Carbide pesticide plant released 30 metric tons of poisonous gas throughout the city. Through a combination of small group work and classroom discussion, students work through a set of questions designed to help them apply their basic chemistry knowledge in order to understand the physical and biological significance of a tragedy in which almost 20,000 people died, and nearly 200,000 people were exposed to highly toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas. The events in Bhopal revealed that expanding industrialization in developing countries without concurrent evolution in safety regulations could have catastrophic consequences. The case is suitable for general chemistry, non-majors chemistry and allied health (i.e., GOB; general, organic, and biological) chemistry courses or courses that have familiarized students with Lewis dot structures, resonance structures, formal charges, molar mass, unit conversion or dimensional analysis, specific gravity or density, and balancing reactions.


  • Recognize the Bhopal disaster as one of the world’s worst chemical disasters and the consequences that ensued.
  • Compare the various Lewis dot structures of MICs.
  • Review the molar mass concept.
  • Perform dimensional analysis to convert ppm of MIC that can be fatal for humans to grams.
  • Recognize that the boiling point is related to a phase of matter under a given condition.
  • Report answers in proper significant figures and units.
  • Balance reactions concerning the synthesis of MIC.
  • Identify safety concerns in order to educate people to possibly avert or survive another MIC or similar chemical spillage disaster.


Bhopal disaster; methyl isocyanate; MIC; Sevin; pesticide; industrialization; Union Carbide Corporation; UCC; India; industrial accident

Topical Areas

Ethics, Policy issues

Educational Level

Undergraduate lower division



Type / Methods

Analysis (Issues), Directed, Discussion



Subject Headings

Chemistry (General)  |   Environmental Science  |   Organic Chemistry  |  

Date Posted


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The following video(s) are recommended for use in association with this case study.

  • Bhopal Gas Tragedy: World’s Worst Industrial Disaster
    This video outlines the geography of the city where the incident took place, the type of plant, what the plant manufactured, the chemical that leaked from the plant, and the immediate effects and long-term consequences of the disaster. Running time: 12:18 min. Produced by Merc, 2016.