On Dec. 3, 1984, associations representing this country's chemical industry were shocked into action after deadly gas escaped from a chemical plant in Bhopal, India, killing more than 2,000 people.

More than a year later, the Chemical Manufacturers Association and the American Institute for Chemical Engineers still are coping with the tragedy by developing public-awareness and emergency-response programs.

"Bhopal had an enormous impact on every person who works for our industry. And it put us squarely on trial in the public mind," said the chairman of the Chemical Manufacturers Association, George Sella.

Sella, who is also chairman, president and chief executive officer of American Cyanamid Co. in Wayne, N.J., spoke at a meeting in early February in New Orleans to introduce the latest of CMA's public-awareness programs, the Air Toxics Control Policy.

The policy, based on the association's belief that a community should know what kind of chemicals its local plant is emitting or storing, recommends that chemical firms consider such questions as, "Which materials could, if released, pose a risk of harm to individuals and the environment?" The association also asks that the companies share information with other facilities and the public on accident prevention and daily emissions.

"The public has a right to know what's in local plants, how it's made, what's stored on the premises and what potential dangers exist," Sella said in New Orleans. He referred to a "recent opinion poll" that concluded that two out of three Americans "expect" a major chemical-plant accident in the next few decades that they fear will cause thousands of deaths.

CMA developed the first of its public-awareness programs, the Community Awareness and Emergency Response (CAER) program, soon after the Bhopal tragedy to inform local communities about the chemicals produced and stored at their doorsteps.

CAER offers chemical companies detailed guidelines on how to reach out to their communities through fact sheets about the chemicals they produce, tours of the facility and other community-oriented programs. The programs are aimed at making the public more comfortable with the "mysterious" and "fenced-in" chemical plant in their backyard, according to the CMA.

CAER also suggests that companies coordinate emergency procedures with a chosen community representative in case of a chemical spill or leak that would force evacuation of the community.

Thus far, the CAER guidelines have been implemented in 175 chemical plants across the country, and more than 14,000 packets have been distributed to company and community officials, said Chris Cathcart, CMA's associate director for health and safety and manager of the CAER program.

In March 1985, CMA set up its National Chemical Response and Information Center, which offers assistance during a chemical spill through a network of CMA-trained chemical response teams.

The CMA also sponsors a Chemical Referral Center in Washington that provides consumers with an 800 number to call with questions regarding chemical ingredients in products such as laundry detergent. The center refers the caller to the product manufacturer.

In the case of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, its member industry representatives called for action following the Bhopal incident. The institute formed a Center for Chemical Process Safety, which, in the past year, has developed a 200-page book for the industry that shows how to evaluate possible hazards, handle storage of toxic or reactive materials and deal with emergency leaks or "episodic releases."

The center also sponsors continuing-education programs for practicing chemical engineers on safety topics. Thomas Carmody, director of the center, said programs on safety and health are the most popular courses. Carmody said the center is interested in funding the development of a curriculum for college chemical engineering courses that would deal with all aspects of chemical safety and emergency response on a case-level basis.

But not all groups concerned about chemicals are pleased with the associations' response to Bhopal. Fred Millar, director of the toxic-chemical safety project for the Environmental Policy Institute in Washington, decried CMA's programs as "teaching the American public to run for the hills" rather than forcing chemical companies to develop state-of-the-art equipment and push for federal regulations on plant safety. According to Millar, the civilized approach to dealing with toxic and chemical materials is to prevent accidents, not teach communities how to react to them. TRADE

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), the lobbying group for small business, has named Terry D. Hill, press secretary and campaign manager to Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.) for the past three years, as its new national media relations manager. In his new post, Hill will supervise the group's nationally syndicated radio news program, "Assignment: Small Business," and deal with the Washington press corps. NFIB's Research and Education Foundation also has selected its first director. Gregg O. Lehman, president of Taylor University in Indiana for the past four years, says he plans to concentrate the group's research on emerging trends that may affect small business.

Susan C. Murtaugh has left the United States Telephone Association to become communications manager at the American Association of Equipment Lessors. Murtaugh started at USTA in 1984 as publications manager and became manager of media services before leaving that group.

The American Electronics Association is sending 12 American students to work in Japanese electronics companies this fall. For the third year, AEA's Japan Research Fellowship Program will send graduate students in electrical and computer engineering to companies such as Sony, Hitachi and Oki Electric in Japan. The students stay in Japan for up to a year to observe management and research environments there. AEA has received contributions from 12 U.S. firms and the National Science Foundation that will be used to sponsor Japanese language and culture courses for the students before the trip. Students will receive air fare, housing and food stipends and other help from a sponsoring Japanse firm. PROFESSIONAL

The American Chemical Society has named Ronald G. Dunn, former director of marketing for the society, as director of Washington operations. The change will be effective April 15 when his predecessor, Ronald L. Wigington, takes over as director of the group's Chemical Abstracts Service in Columbus, Ohio.

The American Society for Travel Agents has chosen Charles R. Honaker as its public-relations vice president. Honaker worked most recently for the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association as vice president of public affairs.

Accountants for the Public Interest, a nonprofit group from California that organizes public-service work for accountants, has moved its headquarters to Washington. The 10-year-old group matches accountants with nonprofit groups in need of bookkeeping help and provides educational and tax-assistance programs to individuals and small businesses.