Union Carbide

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Union Carbide Corporation
Type Subsidiary
Industry Chemical manufacturing
Founded 1917
Headquarters Houston, Texas, USA
Key people Patrick E. Gottschalk, CEO & President
Products Bulk Chemicals
Ethylene Derivatives
Revenue US$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.[1]

Union Carbide Corporation is a wholly owned subsidiary (since 2001) of 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, 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. Before divesting them, the chemical giant owned consumer products Eveready and Energizer batteries, Glad bags and wraps, Simoniz car wax, and Prestone antifreeze. The company divested other businesses before being acquired by Dow Chemical on February 6, 2001, including electronic chemicals, polyurethane intermediates, industrial gases and carbon products.[4]


The Union Carbide and Carbon Corporation was formed in 1917 from the merger of the former Union Carbide founded in 1898 and the National Carbon Company founded in 1886. These companies made carbon rods for arc lights and electrodes for electric arc furnaces, and produced aluminium.[5] Other companies merged included Linde Air Products, maker of liquid oxygen, Prest-O-Lite, manufacturer of calcium carbide, and Electro Metallurgical. 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, for example, the Bakelite Corporation became a division 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 until the late 1970s.[6]

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 was forced to sell many of its most familiar brands such as Glad Trashbags and Eveready Batteries. Eventually, Carbide was bought by Dow Chemical in 1999 for $8.89 billion in stock.[7]

Hawks Nest Tunnel disaster[edit]

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.[8]

Asbestos mining and 'Calidria' brand fibers[edit]

In the early 1960s, Union Carbide Corporation began mining a newly identified outcrop of chrysotile asbestos fibers near King City and New Idria, California. The fibers were sold under the brand name "Calidria", a combination of "Cal" and "Idria." These fibers were sold in large quantities for a wide variety of purposes, including addition into joint compound or drywall accessory products.[9] 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[edit]

Main article: Bhopal disaster

The Bhopal disaster was an industrial disaster that took place at a Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant in the Indian city of Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. 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 3,787 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 history.[10] 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 cleanup and India's demand for the extradition of then-Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson are yet to be resolved.

Union Carbide in Australia[edit]

Union Carbide's operations in Australia commenced in 1957 when they purchased the plant of the Australian owned company Timbrol Ltd. The Tibrol factory was in Rhodes, a suburb of Sydney Australia. At that time Tibrol had been producing Synthetic 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 in 1960 and Phenol Formaldehyde in 1964.[11]

Union Carbide had been "reclaiming" land on neighbouring properties by depositing spent lime and ash, which were waste by-products of their chemical manufacturing processes, into the adjacent marshes in Homebush Bay. This practice, which had been approved by the Maratime Services Board (MSB), ceased in 1970. (In 2002 at the inquiry into the "Redevelopment and Remediation of the Rhodes peninsula the Chief Executive Officer of the NSW Waterways Authority gave in evidence: "... the old MSB did give those approvals but in those days we did not have the legislation that we now have and people did those sorts of things without knowing what it was they were doing, essentially")[12]:52 Contaminated stormwater was also allowed to run off the site into Homebush bay until 1970 when it was intercepted to comply with the NSW Clean Water Act.[13] In 1970 Union Carbide commenced storing dioxin waste in drums for off-site storage after international research identified trace quantities of dioxin in the 2,4,5-T production. (Chemical companies in the USA had privately known since 1965 that production of the herbicide 2,4,5-T was contaminated by a "suprisingly high" amount of dioxin, and that this dioxin likely presented a serious health risk - but this information had been supressed by the Chemical companies)[14]

Union Carbide ceased operations in Australia in 1985.[15] In 1987 the NSW Pollution Control Commission ordered Union Carbide to remediate the site. This work, which cost Union Carbide approximately $30 million, was conducted between 1988 and 1993. The work involved excavation and encapsulation of the contaminated soil.[16] A bentonite cut off wall was constructed approximately 15 meters inside the existing sea wall, to prevent ground water flows, to continue to contaminate Homebush Bay. Neither the contaminated sediments in Homebush Bay, or the contaminated material between the sea wall and the bentonite cut off wall was remediated. Union Carbide Australia Ltd. was renamed Lednez Industries Ltd in 1991.[17]

Because dioxin from contaminated sediments can enter the food chain, NSW Fisheries banned all fishing in Homebush Bay in September 1989. A year latter in October 1990 this ban was extended to a ban on commercial fishing upstream of the Gladesville Bridge. This restriction was further extended in 2006 to a ban on all commercial fishing in Sydney Harbour.[18] Whilst recreational fishing is still allowed NSW Fisheries recommends that no fish caught west of the Sydney Harbour Bridge should be eaten. They suggest that for fish caught east of the Sydney Harbour Bridge that generally no more than 150 grams per month should be consumed.[19]

On 19 June 1997 the Hon. Carl Scully announced to the NSW Parliment that newly developed technology will be used to destroy the contaminants in Homebush Bay.[20] This involves involves removing the sediments, extracting the concentrated contaminants and destroying them. Mr Scully said that this technology had been developed by two Australian companies. The government will be inviting tenders from both local and overseas companies. He expected that the NSW Government's share of the clean up cost would be $21 million. In 1999 the Department of Urban Affairs and Planning rezoned land on the western side of the Rhodes Peninsula as residential.[21] This rezoning included the land which was still contaminated by Union Carbide.

On 24 October 2001 the Hon. Ian Cohen announced to the NSW Parliment that because of community concerns regarding plans for redevelopment of the Rhodes Peninsula an inquiry would be held. In particular local residents had major concerns about the intended management of toxic soils and sediments in the proposed development area. Matters the inquiry would examine include: the extent of contamination at Rhodes, the necesity and cost of remediation, liability for the cost and risks to current and future residents.[22]

On 27 June 2002 The Standing Committee on State Development reported to parliment the findings of their inquiry into the "Redevelopment and Remediation of the Rhodes Peninsula".[23] In relation to the contamination by Union Carbide the committee advised:

  • Under the "poluter pays" principle of Contaminated Land Management Act 1997 Union Carbide has a responsibility to remediate the contamination. However legal recourse was not considered practical because Union Carbide ceased business operations in Australia. Accordingly the current owners had the option voluntarily accept responsibility to remediate their land (Paragraphs 4.43 - 4.45).
  • Burying and caping of contaminated soil had made the land suitable for industrial use but not Residential Use (Paragraph 2.28). Remediation would allow residential use of the land and allow public access to the foreshore (Chapter 6).
  • Contamination had continued to migrate from the site into the Bay and this posed a asignificant risk to human health and the environment (Section 4.33). The fishing ban would remain in place until it was demonstrated that contaminant levels in fish are reduced to acceptable levels (Recommendation 16)
  • Orica had remediated their precinct at a cost of $24 million. There was concern that the the budget of $21 million committed by the state government may not be sufficient (Section 6.37). It was anticipated that remediation for residential development and remediation of Homebush Bay would be approximately $75 to $90 million if the indirect thermal desorption process along with the base catalysed decomposition process was utilised (Section 6.45).

On 4 May 2004 the minister for planning granted consent for the remediation of the former Union Carbide site to proceed. This approval included parts of Homebush Bay,[24] Thiess Services commenced excavation work on the former Union Carbide site in December 2005. Approximately 900,000 tons of soil were excavated from the land site and approximately 50,000 tons of sediment from the bay. Organic contaminants were removed from the soil using a directly heated thermal descorption plant. Remediation of Homebush Bay was completed in August 2010, and the land site in March 2011. The value of the remediation work was approximately $100 million.[25]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Robert T. Beall (1940). "Rural Electrification" (PDF). United States Yearbook of Agriculture. United States Department of Agriculture. pp. 790–809. Retrieved 2012-01-08. "Of the more than 6.3 million farms in the country in January 1925, only 204,780, or 3.2 percent, were receiving central-station electrical service." 
  2. ^ Union Carbide Corporation, About Us. Accessed May 31, 2011.
  3. ^ History of DJIA, globalfinancialdata.com
  4. ^ Union Carbide Corporation, History, Accessed July 9, 2008.
  5. ^ Themistocles D'Silva, The Black Box of Bhopal: A Closer Look at the World's Deadliest Industrial Disaster,Trafford Publishing, 2006 ISBN 1-4120-8412-1, page 27
  6. ^ See the Oak Ridge National Laboratory article.
  7. ^ Warren, Susan (5 Aug 1999). "Dow Chemical to Acquire Union Carbide --- Deal, Valued at $8.89 Billion, Would Position Firm to Challenge DuPont". Wall Street Journal A3. 
  8. ^ "Hawk's Nest Tunnel Disaster". West Virginia Department of Culture and History. Retrieved 2008-11-25. 
  9. ^ LA Times, "Case Hinges on Material Witness", Lisa Gurion, September 26, 2004
  10. ^ Eckerman, Ingrid (2001) Chemical Industry and Public Health — Bhopal as an example. Accessed 8 November 2010
  11. ^ "Redevelopment and Remediation of the Rhodes Peninsula". NSW Leglisative Council. Retrieved 26 June 2014. 
  12. ^ "Transcript of 7 February 2002 - Inquiry into Redevelopment and Remediation of the Rhodes Peninsula". Parliment of NSW. Retrieved 1 July 2014. 
  13. ^ "Remediation of the Lednez Site, Rhode sand Homebush Bay - Technical Paper 2". Parsons Brinckerhoff. Retrieved 27 June 2014. 
  14. ^ Burnham, David. "1965 memos show Dow's anxiety on Dioxin". New York Times. Retrieved 30 June 2014. 
  15. ^ "Union Carbide Australia Ltd. (1950-1985)". National Library of Australia. Retrieved 21 June 2014. 
  16. ^ "Environmental Impact Statement - Remediation of the Lednez site, Rhodes and Homebush Bay". Parsons Brinckerhoff. Retrieved 27 June 2014. 
  17. ^ "Mending Holes in the Green Safety Net". Precedent (113): 5. November–December 2012. Retrieved 28 June 2014. 
  18. ^ "Fishing in Sydney Harbour". NSW Department of Primary Industries. Retrieved 27 June 2014. 
  19. ^ Davies, Anne (30 October 2010), "The poison that got away", Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, Australia) 
  20. ^ Scully, Carl. "Homebush Bay Remediation". Hansard - NSW Leglislative Assembly. Retrieved 28 June 2014. 
  21. ^ "Remediation of Lednez Site, Rhodes and Homebush Bay - Main Report". Parsons BrincherHoff. p. 1.5. Retrieved 28 June 2014. 
  22. ^ Cohen, Ian. "Rhodes Peninsula Redevelopment". NSW Legislative Council - Hansard. Retrieved 28 June 2014. 
  23. ^ "Redevelopment and Remediation of the Rhodes Peninsula". Legislative Council. 
  24. ^ "Asessment Report". NSW Government - Department of Planning. Retrieved 29 June 2014. 
  25. ^ "Former Lednez/Union Carbide Site & Homebush Bay Remediation". Thiess Services. Retrieved 29 June 2014. 

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