Union Carbide

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Union Carbide Corporation
Industry Chemical industry
Founded1917;103 years ago (1917)
Headquarters Houston, Texas, US[ citation needed ]
Key people
Richard Wells, CEO & President
ProductsBulk chemicals
Ethylene derivatives
RevenueUS$7.33 billion (2009)
Parent Dow Chemical Company
Website unioncarbide.com
1922 advertisement for Union Carbide gas lighting. Electric lighting was not yet common in many rural areas of the United States. Gas Lighting.jpg
1922 advertisement for Union Carbide gas lighting. Electric lighting was not yet common in many rural areas of the United States.

Union Carbide Corporation is an American chemical corporation wholly owned (since February 6, 2001) by Dow Chemical Company. It currently employs more than 2,400 people. [2] Union Carbide produces chemicals and polymers that undergo one or more further conversions by customers before reaching consumers. Some are high-volume commodities and others are specialty products meeting the needs of smaller markets. Markets served include paints and coatings, packaging, wire and cable, household products, personal care, pharmaceuticals, automotive, textiles, agriculture, and oil and gas. The company is a former component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. [3]


Founded in 1917 as the Union Carbide and Carbon Corporation, from a merger with National Carbon Company, the company's researchers developed an economical way to make ethylene from natural gas liquids, such as ethane and propane, giving birth to the modern petrochemical industry. The company divested consumer products businesses Eveready and Energizer batteries, Glad bags and wraps, Simoniz car wax and Prestone antifreeze. The company divested other businesses before being acquired by Dow including electronic chemicals, polyurethane intermediates, industrial gases (Linde) and carbon products. [4]


The Union Carbide and Carbon Corporation was formed on November 1, 1917, from the merger of the Union Carbide Company founded in 1898, the National Carbon Company founded in 1886, Linde Air Products Company, maker of liquid oxygen, and the Prest-O-Lite company, manufacturer of calcium carbide. In 1920, the company set up a chemicals division which manufactured ethylene glycol for use as automotive antifreeze. The company continued to acquire related chemical producers, including the Bakelite Corporation in 1939. The company changed its name to "Union Carbide Corporation" in 1957 and was often referred to as Carbide. It operated Oak Ridge National Laboratory from 1947 to 1984. [5] [6]

During the Cold war era, the company was active in the field of rocket propulsion research & development for aerospace and guided missile applications, particularly in the field of chemicals and plastics, solid rocket motors, and storable liquid fuels. R&D was conducted at the Technical Center in South Charleston, West Virginia. [7] The Aerospace Materials Department was part of the company's Carbon Products Division. [8]

Ucar batteries was Carbide's industrial and consumer zinc chloride battery business. The business, including Energizer alkaline batteries, was sold to Ralston Purina in 1986, following a hostile takeover attempt.

After the Bhopal disaster, Union Carbide was the subject of repeated takeover attempts. In order to pay off its debt, Carbide sold many of its most familiar brands such as Glad Trashbags and Eveready Batteries. Dow Chemical announced the purchase of Carbide in 1999 for $8.89 billion in stock. [9]

Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster

The Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster took place between 1927 and 1932 in a West Virginia tunnel project led by Union Carbide. During the construction of the tunnel, workers found the mineral silica and were asked to mine it for use in electroprocessing steel. The workers were not given masks or breathing equipment to use while mining. Due to silica dust exposure, many workers developed silicosis, a debilitating lung disease. According to a marker on site, there were 109 admitted deaths. A congressional hearing placed the death toll at 476. [10]

Asbestos mining and 'Calidria' brand fibers

In the early 1960s, Union Carbide Corporation began mining a newly identified outcrop of chrysotile asbestos fibers near King City and New Idria, California. These fibers were sold under the brand name "Calidria", a combination of "Cal" and "Idria", and sold in large quantities for a wide variety of purposes, including addition into joint compound or drywall accessory products. [11] Union Carbide sold the mine to its employees under the name KCAC ("King City Asbestos Mine") in the 1980s, but it only operated for a few more years.[ citation needed ]

Bhopal disaster

Protest in Bhopal, India, 2010 Dow Chemical banner, Bhopal, India.jpg
Protest in Bhopal, India, 2010

Union Carbide India Limited, owned by Union Carbide (50.9%) and Indian investors (49.1%), operated a pesticide plant in the Indian city of Bhopal. [12] Around midnight on 3 December 1984, methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas was accidentally released from the plant, exposing more than 500,000 people to MIC and other chemicals. The government of Madhya Pradesh confirmed a total of 16,000 deaths related to the gas release. It left an estimated 40,000 individuals permanently disabled, maimed, or suffering from serious illness, making it one of the world's worst industrial disasters. In 1982, Carbide's auditors warned of a possible 'runaway reaction'. Carbide insisted the accident was an act of sabotage by a rogue worker. Union Carbide was sued by the Government of India and agreed to an out-of-court settlement of US$470 million in 1989. The plant site has not yet been cleaned up.

Warren Anderson, CEO at the time of the disaster, refused to answer to homicide charges and remained a fugitive from India's courts. The U.S. denied several extradition requests. Anderson died on 29 September 2014 in Florida. Seven UCC employees were convicted of criminal negligence in 2010 and fined $2,000 each.

1985 West Virginia gas leak

The year after the Bhopal disaster a faulty valve at the UC plant in Institute, WV caused a large cloud of gas that injured six employees and caused almost 200 nearby residents to seek medical treatment for respiratory and skin irritation. Union Carbide blamed the leak of aldicarb oxime (made from MIC but does not contain any MIC itself), the main ingredient in the popular farm pesticide Temik, on a valve failure after a buildup of pressure in a storage tank containing 500 pounds of the chemical. A company spokesman insisted that the aldicarb oxime leak “never was a threat to the community.” [13]

Union Carbide in Australia

Union Carbide's operations in Australia commenced in 1957, when it purchased the plant of the Australian-owned company Timbrol Ltd. The Timbrol factory was on the shore of Homebush Bay in the Sydney suburb of Rhodes. Homebush Bay is on the Parramatta River which flows into Sydney Harbour. Tibrol produced phenol, the insecticides chlorobenzene/chlorophenol/DDT, and the herbicides 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T. Union Carbide continued the production of the 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T until 1976 and chlorobenzene/chlorophenol/DDT until 1983. Union Carbide also commenced the production of bisphenol A in 1960 and phenol formaldehyde resins in 1964. [14] :9

Union Carbide reclaimed land on neighboring properties by depositing spent lime and ash into the adjacent marshes in Homebush Bay. This practice, which had been approved by the Maritime Services Board, ceased in 1970.

Union Carbide ceased operations in Australia in 1985. [15] In 1987, the New South Wales Pollution Control Commission ordered Union Carbide to remediate the site. This work, which cost Union Carbide $30 million, was conducted between 1988 and 1993. The work involved excavation and encapsulation of the contaminated soil. [16]

In 2004, the New South Wales Minister for Planning granted consent for additional remediation of the former Union Carbide site to proceed, including parts of Homebush Bay. [17] Approximately 900,000 tons of soil were excavated from the site, 190,000 tons of soil from the adjacent Allied Feeds site, and approximately 50,000 tons of sediment from the bay. Remediation of the Allied Feeds Site was completed in August 2009, Homebush Bay sediments in August 2010, and the Union Carbide site in March 2011. The cost of the remediation work was $35M for the Allied Feeds site, and $100 million for Union Carbide site and Homebush Bay sediments. [18] [19]

Demolition of former New York headquarters building

The former Union Carbide headquarters building, at 270 Park Avenue in New York City, was a 52-story modernist office building designed by architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and completed in 1961. It later became the headquarters of JPMorgan Chase. In February 2018 it was announced that the building would be demolished and replaced with a new 1,200-foot-tall (370 m) tower serving as the consolidated headquarters for JPMorgan Chase. At 700 feet (210 m) tall, the Union Carbide Building would be the tallest building in the world ever voluntarily demolished, as well as the third-tallest ever to be destroyed, after the World Trade Center Twin Towers. [20]

See also

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Methyl isocyanate chemical compound

Methyl isocyanate (MIC) is an organic compound with the molecular formula CH3NCO. Synonyms are isocyanatomethane, methyl carbylamine and MIC. Methyl isocyanate is an intermediate chemical in the production of carbamate pesticides (such as carbaryl, carbofuran, methomyl, and aldicarb). It has also been used in the production of rubbers and adhesives. As a highly toxic and irritating material, it is extremely hazardous to human health. It was the principal toxicant involved in the Bhopal disaster, which killed 2,259 people initially and officially 3,787 people in total.

Bhopal disaster 1984 gas leak incident in Bhopal, India

The Bhopal disaster, also referred to as the Bhopal gas tragedy, was a gas leak incident on the night of 2–3 December 1984 at the Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) pesticide plant in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, India. It is considered among the world's worst industrial disaster. Over 500,000 people were exposed to methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas. The highly toxic substance made its way into and around the small towns located near the plant.

Dow Chemical Company American chemical company

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Rhodes, New South Wales Suburb of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

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Warren Martin Anderson was an American businessman who was Chair and CEO of the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) at the time of the Bhopal disaster in 1984. He was charged with manslaughter by Indian authorities.

Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) was a chemical company established in 1934, eventually expanding to employ 9,000 people working at 14 plants in five divisions. UCIL was 50.9% owned by Union Carbide and Carbon Corporation (UCC) and 49.1% by Indian investors including the Government of India and government-controlled banks. UCIL produced batteries, carbon products, welding equipment, plastics, industrial chemicals, pesticides and marine products.

Eveready Industries India

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Sunil Verma, himself a victim, was a campaigner for the rights of victims affected by the Bhopal disaster, the deadliest industrial disaster as of 2007. He testified in a case against the company when it came up for hearing in New York City in 1986. He formed the Children Against Carbide organization in 1987, when he was fifteen.

Students for Bhopal (SfB) is an international network of students and supporters working in solidarity with the survivors of the Bhopal disaster – the world's worst-ever industrial catastrophe - in their struggle for justice. Through education, grassroots organizing and non-violent direct action, SfB builds pressure against Dow Chemical and the Indian Government to uphold the Bhopalis' demand for justice, and their fundamental human right to live free of chemical poison. It was coordinated by Ryan Bodanyi, who founded the organization in 2003.

The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB) is a coalition of disaster survivors and environmental, social justice, progressive Indian, and human rights groups that have joined forces to hold the Indian Government and Dow Chemical Corporation accountable for the ongoing chemical disaster in Bhopal.

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Sambhavna Trust hospital in India

The Sambhavna Trust Clinic, or Bhopal People's Health and Documentation Clinic, is a charitable trust run by a group of doctors, scientists, writers and social workers who have been involved with various aspects of the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, India, ever since its occurrence in December 1984.

Rashida Bee is an Indian activist from Bhopal. She was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2004, together with Champa Devi Shukla. The two have struggled for justice for the surviving victims of the 1984 Bhopal disaster, when 20,000 people were killed, and organized campaigns and trials against those responsible for the disaster.

Champa Devi Shukla is an Indian activist from Bhopal. She was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize in 2004, together with Rashida Bee. Shukla and Bee have struggled for justice for those who survived the 1984 Bhopal disaster, when 20,000 people were killed, and organized campaigns and trials against the responsible company and its owners.

Rajkumar Keswani is a senior journalist. Keswani was the first journalist to bring attention to the safety lapses and impending Bhopal disaster that eventually came to pass at the town's Union Carbide pesticides plant overnight on 2–3 December 1984. Keswani had written several articles, from 1982 through 1984, detailing that safety standards at the plant were inadequate and that a catastrophic leak could result.


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  8. New Activities. // Missiles and Rockets, May 10, 1965, v. 16, no. 19, p. 41.
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