December 2nd is the 30th anniversary of the 1984 Union Carbide catastrophe in Bhopal, India. US-owned Dow is now the owner of Union Carbide whose neglect of equipment & safety maintenance to save money caused the pesticide plant to leak the toxic chemical Methyl isocyanate, an ingredient in pesticides. The explosion killed an estimated 25,000, injured half a million, & permanently contaminated the environment & water supply, which has created new generations of children suffering chemically-induced illness & neurological disabilities.
The petitions to Union Carbide by victims & human rights groups received little help from the Indian government since it is collusive in this criminal travesty. In June 2010, an Indian court indicted seven former managers at Union Carbide for negligence & sentenced them to two years in jail & a fine of $2,100–a sentence that makes a slap on the wrist look draconian. Despite public outrage in India, the Supreme Court upheld corporate impunity & turned down an appeal for harsher sentences.
It’s not yet clear how civil & criminal litigation against Dow/Union Carbide will proceed since in June 2012 a US court absolved the company of all liability in the Bhopal disaster which means they are not liable for compensation, remediation or pollution-related claims. It’s not certain that legal appeals are exhausted. But what a surprise that a US court beholden to corporations rejected the appeals of victims of one of the worst chemical catastrophes ever.
As of now, Dow refuses compensation to the second & third generation of victims, many seriously disfigured & disabled, & poor families are forced to care for them with little assistance. Dow refuses to contain chemical efflux from that explosion which for now 30 years has poisoned the underground water reservoirs. The 50,000 people who still live in the area due to extreme poverty are forced to use the contaminated water for cooking, laundry, & bathing.
Dow will forever stand indicted but that is not sufficient. Justice is demanded & the survivors of Bhopal continue to fight. This is an instance when human solidarity means the difference between unimaginable & unmitigated human suffering & just a bit of justice & relief. Veterans of the anti-Vietnam War movement will remember that Monsanto & Dow were the manufacturers of Agent Orange, the herbicide that caused numerous health problems & death among US veterans & their offspring & continuing, catastrophic health problems for the people of Vietnam. Dioxin was the primary toxic agent in Agent Orange & at the time it was used in Vietnam was known to be life-threatening & was banned in several countries. At a certain point, solidarity becomes a matter of survival & is entirely reciprocal.
This little girl suffers from hearing & speech disorders. She is at a rehab center supported by Bhopal Medical Appeal (a UK charity) for children born with disabilities. The center only treats families they believe have been affected by the Union Carbide catastrophe. In reporting on the anniversary, news reports say “There has, however, been no long-term epidemiological research which conclusively proves that birth defects are directly related to the drinking of the contaminated water.” Apparently its red color is not persuasive of contamination. So the people of Bhopal should invite the editors of such rubbish for a little water tasting event.
(Photo by Danish Siddiqui/Reuters)