Union Carbide: Accidental Giant – Part 1

UCC WVChemPlant

A photo taken in the UCC South Charleston Plant by the famous photographer Ansel Adams.

I have been very interested in Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) for a long time.  As a child I saw their huge plants as meccas for the production of modern materials our society was/is built out of.  My first job as an EHS Professional was with the organization that had been the Union Carbide Ferroalloys Division.  It was previously known as the Electrometalurgical Company.  ElectroMet, as it’s employees called it, was one of the two founding divisions of Union Carbide Corp (Linde Gas the other).

My early years were spent growing up in Charleston WV.  This area was a center of operations for Union Carbide in it’s middle years.  The area was an attraction because of the natural springs in the area useful for chemical production and the availability of hydroelectric energy used for smelting metals.  I recall many car rides by the UCC South Charleston plant.  To my child’s mind it looked like an alien world of pipes and vessels that made mysterious substances used for an untold number of final products.  I recall a Star Trek episode about a refinery that has similar back drops (Where No Man Has Gone Before, Episode 3, Season 1).  I guess in the beginning the South Charleston plant had a science fiction feel to it.  It always captured my imagination.  An odd turn of life that I started my professional career at a former unit of the company.  This unforeseen path was also quite fortunate for a budding EHS Pro.

This is the first of what I think will be 10 chapters (posts) telling the story of Union Carbide with a slant towards EHS&S implications.  It’s not going to be another one-sided view of Carbide as the irresponsible industrial behemoth out to ruin the environment for another quarter of earnings to please Wall Street.  Although the company’s EHS legacy is deeply tainted by the horrific events at Bophal, Carbide’s story is much more complicated  than that.  For instance, UCC invented the organic chemicals industry in the United States while also discovering hundreds of important metallurgical agents used in creating most of the modern metal alloys that serve the human race today.

Join me in the chapters that follow to learn the whole story of Union Carbide, the Accidental Giant.

About Chet Brandon

I am a highly experienced Health, Safety and Environmental Professional for Fortune 500 Companies. I love the challenge of ensuring HSE excellence in process, manufacturing and other heavy industry settings. The connection of EHS to Sustainability is a fascinating subject for me. I believe that the future of industrial organizations depends on the adoption of sustainable practices.
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