Responsible Care

This December marks the 30th anniversary of a grim milestone for the world’s chemical industry — the accidental release of methyl isocyanate gas from a pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, which killed about 4,000 people and severely compromised the health of thousands more. The event called into question the public accountability of chemical manufacturers.

In 1979, following the Bhopal disaster, the Canadian Chemical Producers’ Association (CCPA), under the leadership of CEO Jean Bélanger, created the Guiding Principles of Responsible Care that addressed all aspects of chemical processing, from initial research to safe disposal. Today, about 60 national manufacturing associations have signed on while major global chemical companies have also endorsed the Responsible Care Global Charter.

The impact of Bhopal sets the stage in the opening pages of Responsible Care: A Case Study, published by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). The book, which celebrates its one-year anniversary, explores how far Responsible Care has progressed over the course of three decades. This publishing project was spearheaded by Bernard West, who chairs IUPAC’s Committee on Chemistry and Industry. “Although Responsible Care has been active for over 25 years,” West writes in the preface, “it is not well understood in broader chemistry organizations, such as IUPAC, academia, many chemical societies, and those countries that have no chemical production but do use many chemicals in their own commerce.”  

Edited by McMaster University School of Engineering Practice faculty members Gail Krantzberg and Peter Topalovic, Responsible Care: A Case Study is useful not only as a university teaching aid but is a practical tool for industry. One case study explores the role that guiding principles could have played in preventing a tainted ingredient of cough syrup manufactured in China and distributed via Europe from making its way to Haiti, where it led to the deaths of dozens of children. Another example considers how a southern Ontario firm improved its operations, especially its relationship with the public, by adhering to Responsible Care. The book concludes with a practical guide for mounting workshops within organizations to introduce or reinforce these principles. 

Bélanger sees this book as relevant for industry and beyond. “The real benefit of this is not so much within industry as it is reaching out to universities and other groups. They need to hear this story also,” he says.