MIC Flare Tower

MIC Flare Tower

Anyone who has lived near, or even driven past a chemical plant even a few times should probably recognize this sight. Pretty much anytime there is a dangerous chemical being used or produced there is one of these in the unit to act as an emergency fail safe to burn off the chemical in the case of a leak or an equipment failure. Normally when the unit is in operation you will always see a small flame coming out of the top of the tower like in this picture. What you may not know is when the flame is larger than normal, that it most likely means there was some sort of problem in the unit and they have turned up the flame to make sure none of the chemical escapes into the atmosphere which, depending on what it is, could cause serious harm or even death to the workers in the plant as well as the residents living near the site.

This particular flare tower is at the Institute, WV plant in the Methyl Isocyanate, or MIC, unit. Although this is not the most deadly chemical produced and stored in Institute, it is most likely the one which has gotten the most publicity. On the night of December 2nd, 1984 at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, 40 metric tons of MIC escaped into the atmosphere. There was no warning for the surrounding residents, of which more than 3,000 died and around half a million were injured. I won’t go into it here, but suffice it to say, there were many reasons why this leak was so catastrophic and is probably unlikely for it to happen as badly here in Institute. This area is much more densely populated so it wouldn’t take a very large leak to kill as many, or more people than in Bhopal. On the night of August 30, 2008 in the Larvin unit at Institute there was an explosion due to mismanagement and poor decision making which very nearly ruptured a tank of MIC. Larvin is a highly concentrated pesticide which is made, in part, with MIC. As much as the Bayer plant wishes to cover it up, this could have very easily become another Bhopal incident.

This painting is the smallest of the series and I think is probably one of the more successful because of its size. It was also the last one I painted and I think you can probably tell that I had gotten a pretty decent feel for the cloud painting and atmospheric perspective. There are at least five different planes of subject matter and I think that also is one of the reasons it is one of the more well received.