Union Carbide Corp. wants to resume production of methyl isocyanate (MIC), a key ingredient in pesticides, in time for the spring growing season, but board Chairman Warren M. Anderson said here today that profits are secondary to safety.
The MIC unit at nearby Institute was down after a leak of the deadly chemical at Carbide's plant in Bhopal, India, on Dec. 3 killed at least 2,000 people.
"We wouldn't jeopardize anybody just to start up that plant," Anderson told a meeting of 1,200 Carbide employes and retirees at a meeting in the Charleston civic center today. "We're not driven by the profit motive."
Anderson said, "Profits come to well-managed companies."
Anderson said that a major goal of the company is to "accept the moral responsibility" for the accident and to "see that the victims are fairly and justly compensated." He said he hopes that the Indian authorities will reach the conclusion that "an out-of-court settlement is in the best interests of all concerned."
Anderson said, however, that he hopes the MIC unit can be reopened about April 1, and by that time the company will know what caused a runaway reaction that resulted in the worst industrial accident in history. The Bhopal plant was modeled after the one in Institute, where the chemical has been made safely for 17 years.
Anderson said Indian officials have not allowed the company to interview any of the survivors of the tragedy, citing confidentiality of a criminal investigation.
Anderson said there is some good news from Bhopal. "The medical prognosis is not as bad as first thought" for the scores of thousands of people who were injured. He said that contrary to initial reports, doctors have found "not a single case of blindness, although a handful of people will need cornea transplants."
He said Carbide technicians have been meticulously analyzing residue from the tank where the leak occurred and are "making good progress" toward finding the cause. Replicating the conditions "will tell us what happened in that tank, but I can't or won't speculate on what happened outside that tank."
He told the "members of the Carbide family" that he is certain that the "combination of circumstances" that caused the deaths in India "simply could not happen at Institute."
He pledged that the company will not resume production of MIC "until our report has the peer review of the scientific community" and various state and federal agencies. But he added that "our report won't deal with whether somebody took a tea break." Anderson was referring to a report by The New York Times that a Carbide supervisor who was told that water was leaking into the MIC tank took a tea break before investigating.
Today's meeting and a second one tonight for day-shift workers had a booster atmosphere.
Anderson assured one worker that any changes resulting from the Bhopal findings likely would increase, rather than decrease, employment at the Carbide plant at Institute, which is the only place in the United States where MIC is made. One possibility, he said, is that all of the MIC produced here will be made into end products, rather than much of it being shipped to other chemical plants.