17 Years After the Bhopal Tragedy, Union Carbide Continues to Evade Responsibility

17 Years After the Bhopal Tragedy,
Union Carbide Continues to Evade

Pesticide Action Network Updates Service
17th Anniversary of Bhopal Disaster
December 5, 2001

Before dawn on December 3, 1984, a holding tank at the Union Carbide
pesticide factory in Bhopal, India, overheated and burst, releasing
methyl isocyanate (MIC), a highly toxic gas. MIC, hydrogen cyanide and
at least 65 other gases spread across the city in a cloud, killing over
5,000 people within three days. Some drowned in their own bodily fluids;
others were trampled to death trying to escape. The leaves of Bhopal's
trees turned black.

Seventeen years later, survivors suffer from neurological disorders,
breathlessness, menstrual irregularities, early cataracts, persistent
coughing, loss of appetite, recurrent fever, panic attacks, memory loss
and depression. At least 20,000 people have died as a result of exposure
to the gases. Approximately 15-20 more die each month.

Action against Corporate crime and Toxic terror: Bhopal (AaCcTt:
Bhopal), a new coalition of survivors' organizations and international
supporters, is demanding financial compensation for victims, prosecution
of those whose negligence and aggressive cost-cutting (at the expense of
safety regulations) led to the disaster, and a thorough environmental cleanup.
The Bhopal survivors' organizations -- Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog
Sangathan, Gas Peedit Nirashrit Morcha, Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery
Karmchari Sangh and Bhopal Group for Information & Action, all part of
the AaCcTt: Bhopal coalition -- have declared 2002 the "Year Against
Corporate Crime."

To date, victims have received little or no assistance. In 1989, as part
of a court settlement, Union Carbide paid US$470 million on the
condition that it could not be held liable in any future criminal or
civil proceedings. The Indian government was responsible for dispensing
the money. As of June 2001, 90% of death settlements have been for
US$550, the minimum amount allowed by Indian federal regulations
established in 1993. In many cases, this is far from enough to pay off
initial debts for medical treatments and funeral services. An estimated
US$240 million of the Union Carbide settlement remains in the Indian
government's 'stewardship'; accrued interest will not be passed along to

Warren Anderson, then-CEO of Union Carbide, has been charged in India
with culpable homicide, punishable by imprisonment for life. Under his
direction, safety standards were undermined in the interests of profit.
For example, the number of operators in the MIC unit at Bhopal was cut
in half between 1980 and 1984, and of the three safety systems that
should have averted the disaster, one was switched off, one
malfunctioned and one was under repair. Indian courts issued a warrant
for Anderson's arrest almost ten years ago, and he has received a
summons from Interpol. Although the U.S. and India have made formal
legal agreements ensuring the extradition of criminal suspects, neither
government has moved to force Anderson to stand trial. The Indian
Attorney General has recently suggested that the charges against
Anderson may be dropped.

Over the years, Union Carbide has refused to supply documents that
reveal the composition of the gases, claiming that the company would be
jeopardizing "trade secrets" by making such documents public. In
February 2001, Union Carbide merged with Dow Chemical, and this policy
of secrecy continued.

When asked about Union Carbide's liability for the Bhopal disaster,
Chairman Frank Popoff replied that Dow will not assume any
responsibility for the disaster. As part of the "Year Against Corporate
Crime" campaign, the Bhopal Group for Information & Action will focus
its efforts on Dow. The corporation is well known for being the world's
largest producer of dioxin (one of the most toxic chemicals known to
exist, responsible for hundreds of thousands of birth defects, ailments
and deaths in Vietnam).

Currently Dow seeks to expand its Indian sales of Dursban (active
ingredient chlorpyrifos), an organophosphate insecticide -- after having
almost all household uses of Dursban eliminated in the US because of
health risks. The Bhopal Group for Information & Action will campaign to
ban Dursban in India.

As Tarun Jain of the Association for India's Development states,
"Seventeen years after the largest industrial disaster the world has
ever witnessed, Bhopal is a continuing reminder of the travesty of
putting profits before people."

For more information visit http://www.bhopal.net.

Sources: Los Angeles Times August 30, 2001; Friends of Bhopal press
release, December 3, 2001; Campaign for Justice in Bhopal press release,
March 12, 2001; Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangatham et al. press
release, November 27, 2001; CorpWatch letter to the Indian Ambassador,
December 3, 2001; "16th Anniversary Fact Sheet,"
"Bhopal: 17 Years of Tragedy and Injustice,"
"The cost of free trade behind closed doors,"

Contact: Bhopal Group for Information & Action, B-2/302, Sheetal Nagar,
Berasia Road, Bhopal, India; email sambavna@bom6.vsnl.net.in.

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