The December morning air smelled cool, fresh,
Coals of industry a faint background scent.
Bhopal contained an old pesticide plant
That employed locals and brought in money.

Poisonous intermediate
The methyl isocyanate
Built pressure in the old vessels,
But the aging pipes and valves failed.

They thought the meter
Failed and went on home
To leave the pressure
Building on and on.

But then
It popped


Agony of 3,787 deaths
Many more injuries, some severe

No litigation could repay this woe
But it failed to bring justice anyway.
Innocents were killed, but money was made,
Fulfilling the prophecy of profit.


This was written for the Terrible Poetry Contest #21, an engineering fail.

When I was in school for Chemical Engineering, the professors repeatedly pointed out Bhopal as the biggest engineering fail we should never aspire to. I think the poem got darker than it should have, and I actually feel like maybe I shouldn’t have written a poem about it, but… I hope I wasn’t funny so much as solemn and contemplative about the subject.




The distillation column rose hundreds of feet into the air.  Shimmering steel, the power of mankind, the doom of us all.

Bill repaired a pipe hastily.  Letting the refinery go down could cost the plant hundreds of thousands, and that was certainly worth more than his little life.  Crude oil was cheap right now, and he needed to work while he could.  The volatile, pressurized liquid in the pipe could kill him, but that precious liquid gold would become gasoline, jet fuel, and commodity plastics.

A tightened rivet, and Bill safely opened the valve.  His life’s value did not increase.


This was written for Joanne the Geek’s BRAND NEW prompt – Flash Fiction Challenge #1, Gasoline.  It’s looking to be a monthly prompt, so join in at your leisure!  I’d love it if you could participate and get my friend Joanne’s prompt off to an excellent start.  

Also, I’m a chemical engineer.  How could I have used ‘gasoline’ in any other way?

Picture from Pixabay.