Abridgement of statement by Tim Edwards, Bhopal Justice Campaign UK
‘To keep coming back to the notion that you acquire a company where there is a bright line on the liability that was settled way beyond your time, and to hook you in to that event, it’s beyond belief that people are still trying that.’ Andrew Liveris, CEO of Dow Chemical, quoted by Bloomberg, March 1, 2012
The Gassing of Bhopal
The world’s worst industrial disaster began at an ultra-hazardous, under-designed and poorly maintained Union Carbide pesticides factory on the evening of December 2nd, 1984 when a large amount of water and contaminants mixed with over 40 tons of the highly reactive, volatile and toxic chemical methyl isocyanate (MIC). A rapid runaway exothermic reaction ensued.
Shortly after midnight, approximately 27 tons of MIC gas and other reaction products jetted from the top of a high smokestack, spread out, and drifted down close to the ground in a dense cloud that was carried by prevailing winds straight into the heart of Bhopal city, whose central train station lay less than a mile from the factory. Carrying an exposure threshold limit of 0.02 parts per million, MIC is five times more lethal than WWI chemical weapon phosgene and 500 times more dangerous than hydrogen cyanide. Dispersion calculations indicate that MIC drifted at concentrations between 3000 and 10 parts per million for up to 3.5 miles from Carbide’s factory during the gassing of Bhopal.
Gas survivor and justice campaigner Rashida Bee described the night of terror:
Everyone was running all over the place shouting, “Run away, we will all die”… When we reached Pokhta Bridge our eyes had got swollen and we had so much trouble in our lungs that it felt as if someone had lit a fire in our body… Our eyes started to black out and we found it very hard to breathe… We could hear voices around us saying ”O God, please grant us death”. That day, death appeared desirable.
Crime without punishment
Crime No.1104/84 was registered, suo moto, by a Bhopal Police Station House Officer on December 3, 1984, less than 24 hours after the onset of the disaster, whilst hundreds of corpses still lay scattered across the old city.
Following a three year investigation by India’s Interpol unit, Union Carbide Corporation was formally charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder - the equivalent of criminally negligent homicide in U.S. law - amongst other serious criminal charges. A series of summonses and arrest warrants were issued.
Gassed, Poisoned, left to Die
Meantime, the ongoing poisoning of another 40,000 people in Bhopal continues unabated.
Because even if the 1984 gas disaster had somehow been averted, Union Carbide’s chemicals would still be damaging the bodies of thousands of families in Bhopal.
According to former workers of the factory over 15 years a massive amount of chemical substances formulated in the plant - including pesticides, solvents used in production, catalysts, and other substances, as well as by- products - were routinely dumped in and around the factory grounds, causing pollution of the soil, water and air. Between 1969 and 1977, byproducts and wastes were dumped into pits situated in the factory premises, covering 21% of the total site area. In 1977, disposal ponds were constructed 400 metres north of the plant, covering an area of 14 hectares. Several thousand tonnes of toxic wastes and by-products were henceforth dumped at these sites. By 1982, UCIL was informing UCC of major leakages from the ponds. In 1983, following the death of several cattle, a local attorney wrote to management of potential legal action due to contamination threatening the health of local communities. The management termed the claims “baseless”.
No Justice, No Business
Union Carbide declares itself to be part of Dow’s global business. Dow‚s global business, therefore, is contesting ‘polluter pays‚ whilst thousands of innocent families continue to be poisoned. Dow‘s global business, therefore, is a fugitive from India, on the run from criminal charges.
The Union Carbide shareholders of 1984 couldn‚t reasonably have been expected to know that management had created a disaster-in-waiting in Bhopal that would ensue before the year-end.
The Dow Chemical shareholders of 2014 are complicit in management‘s policy of liability evasion at all costs, including but not limited to human, ethical, social and environmental, a policy that extends, perpetuates and deepens the suffering of a city that has already suffered enough.
Despite three decades worth of legal travesties, dirty politics and gross miscarriages of justice, Bhopal survivors have maintained an unbending determination to obtain remedies and restitution via legal processes.
Purely as a result of survivor group interventions, criminal, civil and environmental cases remain alive in Indian and U.S. jurisdictions, and Dow has made substantial material losses through abandoned investment programmes in India.
In response, Dow’s Indian subsidiary has itself filed several legal suits against Bhopal survivor groups - which include some of the poorest people in the world - the latest of which includes a demand for hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Dow has demonstrated itself to be a company without scruples or humanity. It’s impossible to imagine a more deserving winner of a Black Planet Award.