Broken Union – Union Carbide

The former site of Union Carbide in Piscataway is a desolate wasteland. Though Dow Chemical, which merged with Union Carbide in 2001, and other nearby facilities are still in full operation, Union Carbide remains a shadow of its former self and the grounds are an empty shell. In the 1920’s, the facility produced Bakelite phenolic, the first true “plastic” in the world. Along with the positives involved with developing these materials, however, the Piscataway plant (to some degree) and the other plants worldwide (to a larger degree) began to develop a bad environmental reputation.

According to Endgame Research Services, in the 1950’s and 60’s, 1/3 of the world’s mercury was brought to the Oak Ridge Union Carbide facility in Tennessee, and more than 2.4 million pounds were left unaccounted for. Much of this material is believed to be buried under buildings, while hundereds of thousands of pounds were leaked into a creek and into the air. The site documents air pollution, spills and leaks, and numerous explosions and accidents that caused death and illness to innocent employees and locals. At the Piscataway site, there were often reports of injuries and deaths at the facility, almost on a daily basis. There was also a reported fire that claimed the lives of many workers. However, there was no greater Union Carbide accident than in 1984, when according to Common Dreams News Center, “40 tons of poisonous substances leaked from Union Carbide’s (now Dow’s) pesticide plant in Bhopal, central India. A huge yellow cloud exposed a half million people to the gases, which hung over the city for hours. It remains the worst industrial accident of all time, with an estimated 7,000 deaths and 190,000 injuries the first few days and over 15,000 claims of deaths to date”.

The Piscataway Union Carbide facility closed its doors in 2004, and the desolate land surrounding the area is eerily quiet, with no signs of growth or life. It leaves one wondering about the chemical activities that went on through the years and how they affected the immediate landscape. A few bags of medical waste were discovered out back, containing used gloves and chemicals. The building is covered inside and out with graffiti, with threats and warnings to those who even think of entering. There is still ongoing talk about what to do with the land and what to build, but the sad spirit of the broken facility seems like it will always remain.

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