Bhopal Cincinnati Style

Cincinnati is no stranger to industrial accidents. They can and do happen here even though businesses, as well as city, state and federal governments spend immense resources to prevent them. What makes industrial accidents in Greater Cincinnati different is the commitment of our government employees, the ability of our communities to respond and clean up, and sometimes just plain old luck.

The first photo is from a dramatic fire in Reading, Ohio. Many departments responded to the fire and the smoke could be seen in from my house in Montgomery. During the fire a train of tank cars passed by the fire, probably less than 200 feet from the building. No tank cars exploded. This was just luck.

Check out the chemical plant behind the burned out building. The building operated a process that used explosive materials and there were several full tank cars unloading just before the fire. Plain old luck again.

All though I didn’t get called out for this fire, I spent the next day on site ensuring that the contractors cleaned the site up correctly. Years later the owner rebuilt the building and process, but could not meet the new source environmental standards and closed.


The photo below is the view from the front door of our office in Price Hill. In this case a drum reprocessing factory caught on fire and the sprinkler system did not work. Falling ashes started the mulch at our building on fire! I didn’t get called in to this one either, but about six hours into the fire, the warning sirens were turned to ensure people sheltered in place in their homes. This site was demolished after the owners cleaned the property under EPA oversite.

Queen City Barrel

The picture below is internet clip art of a BASF plant that exploded near Xavier University in July of 1990. (The picture looks different than I remember the plant) I was in a basement lab behind the Museum Center at least five miles from the site of the explosion. The sound and shockwave was greater than anything I experienced in the Army. This was national news: two people died and most nearby buildings were destroyed. I oversaw the contractor doing the groundwater remediation. We hired former employees from the site, and they told stories similar to the Union Carbide employee in the Bhopal film.


It happened here, hopefully it never will again.

Mike Cappel

Photos by Jim Weast and Chris Hall Taken from SWOWEA IW Seminar PowerPoint Presentation. date unknown.


5 thoughts on “Bhopal Cincinnati Style

  1. There’s also a great deal of privileges that protect us from things like what happened in Bhopal. Yes, we still face disasters caused by corporate greed, but it’s unimaginable that we would see anything on this scale. Companies tend to follow a “Don’t shit where you eat” rule and leave their worst atrocities for underregulated overseas companies.
    – Matt McDaniel


  2. I think a distinction needs to be made about what you discussed here. Domestically, there is a fine line between preventative measures and quick response times. Preventative measures would encourage change in the industry as a whole, ie limiting or ending government fertilizer subsidies in order to prevent future water pollution. Quick response time is simply an efficient way to keep it all quiet. I think what Matt commented about also goes along with this.
    -Jordan Wilcox


  3. It is crazy to think such similar conditions to Bhopal can happen any day in our own backyard. It makes me wonder how regulated these types of companies really are. Also, if the engineers behind the projects notice something wrong with their systems and the higher ups in the company won’t do anything about it because they do not want to spend the money.

    Andrew Traicoff


  4. I had never really thought about how this stuff could have all the time and does happen. It’s nothing to the scale that it could be, but no the less it does happen. What Jordan comment about preventative measures I thought was really interesting and how this could leave to change in the industry as a whole.
    Cori Wolfe


  5. The regulatory team I am part of is a group of about 50 people we have samplers, inspectors, investigators, supervisors and a large well equipped lab. (Our class is welcome to take a tour.) We focus on just wastewater issues. There are other groups for air, solid waste, hazardous waste, safety, etc at other agencies. My team also meets quarterly with an environmental crimes unit.


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