"War is the greatest threat to public health." - Gino Strada, Italian war surgeon and founder of the UN-recognized Italian NGO Emergency

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Bhopal: 25 Years Later, and Still No Justice

Shortly after midnight on December 3rd, 1984, more than 40 tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC) gas leaked from Union Carbide Corporation’s (UCC) pesticide plant in Bhopal, India. Between 8,000 and 10,000 people exposed to the deadly gas died that night, and at least 520,000 people (exposed to MIC from that release) suffered (and still suffer) significant illness and premature death.  Even subsequent generations suffer due to continuing exposure to chemicals from the abandoned plant that have contaminated soil and groundwater.

UCC discontinued operation of its Bhopal plant following the disaster and essentially abandoned it.  The plant continues to leak a variety of chemicals and heavy metals into the soil and local drinking (groundwater) water supplies.   Recent samples of water and soil (in two separate studies) from inside the factory as well as water samples from up to 3 kilometers from the accident site showed elevated levels of a number of chemicals.  One of those studies found a "chemical cocktail" in the local drinking water supply, in which the carcinogen, carbon tetrafluoride, was found at a concentration "2,400 times the World Health Organization's guidelines."

Although UCC still claims the accident was caused by sabotage, objective evidence shows that all the factors causing the accident demonstrate UCC’s negligence. The paper trail going back months before the disaster shows a blatant disregard for the safety and health of chemical plant workers and the surrounding community.  The company had cut costs dramatically and laid off a third of its workforce (due to poor sales), and had shut down a number of critical plant safety features that would have prevented the disaster.

Through some very clever maneuvering, UCC’s shareholders and top executives reaped bountiful profits – UCC is now owned by Dow Chemical – while keeping a significant portion of UCC’s assets out of reach of the victims of the disaster.  Now that's some clever corporate conniving$$$

It has been 25 years since the tragic accident at Bhopal, and because of corporate greed and arrogance, and inaction on the part of the Indian government, the people of Bhopal continue to suffer.  Besides a variety of chronic ailments including "some of India's highest rates of gall bladder and esophageal cancers," babies born with serious birth defects are "10 times more common than the national average."

The accident at the UCC pesticide plant was a crime in and of itself.  But the far greater crime was the utter contempt shown by the people running UCC, as well as Dow Chemical, which now owns UCC, by leaving the plant to rot and continue to destroy the lives of human beings who have no other place to go and no other source of drinking water.  This is the story of the ultimate lack of humanity of the corporate machine.  No matter what agreement is claimed between Dow and the Indian government, the chemical company is responsible to clean up its mess. 

It is not too late to clean up the toxic legacy left behind by Union Carbide in Bhopal.  We can call on Andrew Liveris, Chairman and CEO of Dow Chemical to demonstrate moral and corporate responsibility by fully decontaminating the site and surrounding groundwater, removing all remaining chemicals, cooperating fully with those assessing health and environmental effects, and making full reparations for health and environmental effects.  Meanwhile, they could provide the residents with safe drinking water!!!

Click here to learn more and send an email to Mr. Liveris (courtesy of Amnesty International). 

The people of Bhopal have endured this toxic legacy for 25 years and still there is no justice. We can advocate to help bring an end to their suffering so they can begin to rebuild their lives and their community. 

Peace (and Justice),

Bhopal: The victims are still being born, in The Independent, November 29, 2009.
Bhopal water still toxic 25 years after deadly gas leak, study finds, Guardian.co.uk, December 1, 2009
Bhopal’s Water Still Toxic 25 Years After Chemical Disaster, Circle of Blue WaterNews, December 1, 2009
The Night Bhopal Was Poisoned In Its Sleep, Tehelka, April 5, 2008
Air, Water, Earth And The Sins Of The Powerful, Tehelka, April 5, 2008
A Tale of Laughter and Wickedness, Tehelka, September 27, 2007

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