"Today at World Economic Forum Dow is talking about “Taking Responsibilities for Tough Choices.” Dow knows nothing about Taking Responsibility for Tough choices. You should ask that mother who contemplates feeding her child contaminated water or breast milk laced with mercury. Dow should ask that young woman who had a spontaneous miscarriage after inhaling their toxic gases and now cannot get compensation because she has to prove whether she was really pregnant on the night of the disaster. Dow should ask that father who cannot decide if from his daily wages of Rs 50 if he should feed his family or buy medicines for his sick family."
Burial of an unknown child, the morning after the catastrophic Union Carbide gas leak that killed thousands in the small hours of 3 December 1984. Photographer Raghu Rai cried as he took the picture. Half of all pregnant women aborted and there was "a spate of horrific births". A quarter of a century later, horribly damaged children are stil being born in Bhopal.
Bhopal: where 25 years after the gas disaster, the epidemic of horrifying births continues
In Bhopal, more than 30,000 people are exposed to water containing mercury and lead, pesticides like Lindane and carcinogens like carbon tetrachloride. The chemicals are leaking from the same Union Carbide factory that in 1984 killed more than 7,000 people and left 100,000 suffering from horrifying illnesses. Union Carbide is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical. India’s Ministry of Justice has detemined that Dow inherited Carbide’s “polluter pays” liabilities and is responsible for making Bhopal’s water safe. But Dow flatly refuses to clean the factory and the water, thus endlessly prolonging the suffering.
The first disaster: December 1984, Union Carbide gas leak kills thousands
In the first minutes of December 3, 1984, on a bitterly cold night, a tank of MIC (methyl isocynanate), a chemical 500 times more toxic than hydrogen cyanide, leaked from a giant tank at a pesticide factory owned by Union Carbide, today a wholly-owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical. More than 7,000 people were killed immediately, or died within the next few days. The hospitals were full of injured, many of whom would never again know a day's health. Half of all pregnant women exposed to the gas spontaneously aborted.
The second disaster: cancers and birth defects hit an already poisoned people
After the disaster the factory was closed, but Union Carbide did nothing to clean it. Toxic chemicals were left piled in rotting sacks in warehouses open to the wind and rain. The factory was abandoned. Storms blew it apart, tanks rotted, spilling their lethal loads onto bare earth. The pile of 'rocks' below is carbaryl. If it caught fire it would release MIC, the gas that killed thousands in 1984. There were two grass fires in the factory in recent years, but luckily the flames did not reach the carbaryl. What this picture does not show is that the 'rocks' are weeping a deadly tar, which simply vanished into the ground. Twenty five monsoons have washed Carbide's chemicals deep underground where they have percolated into the acquifer and into the drinking wells of neighbourhoods lying downstream of the toxic plume.
Thousands of tons of screamingly toxic sludge were bulldozed into huge open air "solar evaporation ponds", but they were inadequately lined with plastic no thicker than a dustbin liner. The ponds leaked and in the monsoon they overflowed, sending poisoned water sheeting across soil and further tainting the water supply. Animals that strayed into the water frequently fell ill and died.
Carbide's deadly silence as birth defects in Bhopal climb to a rate ten times higher than in the rest of India
As early as 1989, five years after the gas leak, Carbide bosses knew that soil and water in the factory were lethally contaminated posing an obvious danger to the drinking water of nearby communities. A private memo never meant for public consumption reveals that the company decided to keep quiet.
As epidemics of cancers and birth defects began, Carbide bosses kept their silence, never issuing any warnings despite knowing full well that the families being hit were among those already decimated by the poison gases of 1984. The gas leak, although caused by the company's negligent management and disregard of safety, was an accident in the sense that it was unplanned. But the cover up of the water contamination was a deliberate cold-blooded act which must rank as a serious crime against humanity.
Dow Chemical promises to provide clean water for every person on earth. Except in Bhopal.
On 26th July 2006, Dow Chemical's CEO Andrew Liveris is visiting the United Nations building in New York to deliver a much-publicised speech.
Fire boats hired by Dow's public relations agency jet aloft
huge sprays over the Hudson River as Liveris tells the assembled diplomats, "Lack
of clean water is the single largest cause of disease in the world and
more than 4,500 children die each day because of it … We are determined
to win a victory over the problem of access to clean water for every person
on earth … we need to bring to the fight the kinds of things companies
like Dow do best."
Indian government holds Dow liable for Bhopal clean up
Liveris is wrong. In India as in the US, the "polluter pays' principle is enshrined in law. It means unequivocally that whoever created the pollution is responsible for cleaning it up. However Carbide is a criminal corporation in India following its failure for the last eighteen years to answer the summons of an Indian court where it faces serious criminal charges relating to the 1984 gas disaster.
The Indian courts and the Indian Ministry of Justice have determined that Dow Chemical acquired Union Carbide's liabilies along with its assets. Dow thus inherits the duty of cleaning the factory, the contaminated soil and water. But it refuses to do so, and instead has been trying to twist the arm of the Indian government, dangling the carrot of a $1 billion investment in India if the Bhopal liability is quashed.
Letter from Government of India to Lower District Court, Manhattan, 2004
Opinion from Indian Ministry of Justice about liability
of Dow Chemical
Dow's refusal to shoulder its reponsibilities is directly responsible for the suffering, the deaths, the cancers and birth defects still happening in Bhopal.