Dow refuses to clean up site of world's worst industrial disaster

Feature story - 24 October, 2002
Dow Chemical is shunning their responsibility for cleaning up the worst industrial disaster in history. When they bought out Union Carbide, they only saw the assets it would bring, they turned a blind eye to the to the 8000 that died in the immediate aftermath of the explosion in Bhopal. They ignored the 20,000 people who have died from exposure-related illnesses since. They continue to ignore an estimated 120,000 who remain chronically ill. Their attention is focused firmly on the bottom line which just reported third quarter sales of US$ 7 billion.

Lone survivor. This elderly woman was badly injured when exposed to the poisonous gas, but survived. Everyone else in her family died. Suffering from her injuries, she has an uncertain future.

The clean up is long over due.

The world's worst industrial disaster left 8,000 dead and half a million injured. But 18 years later the people of Bhopal are still suffering from the pollution that has seeped into their groundwater and contaminated their land following an explosion of the Union Carbide pesticide plant in India that leaked over 40 tonnes of lethal gas.

The owner of this now abandoned site is talking about increased sales. Dow Chemical is not however talking about spending some of its increased assets on cleaning up the hundreds of tonnes of toxic waste that remains on the site.

This week Dow chemical reported third quarter sales of US$7 BILLION. That's a five percent increase over last year's numbers. With annual sales of $28 billion, Dow operates in more than 170 countries and a wide range of markets including food, transportation, health and medicine, personal and home care, and building and construction, among others they report on their website.

You may not be able to see their presence, but Dow products are all around us.

The people of Bhopal aren't so lucky to be able to ignore this chemical giant's role in their daily life. The abandoned and contaminated factory site is a constant reminder of the poisons plaguing their lives.

Ruth Stinger is a scientist working for Greenpeace and has collected soil and water samples from Bhopal. "My research takes me to lots of contaminated areas, but never before have I witnessed a scene like this," said Ruth. "Survivors of the Bhopal disaster have been slowly poisoned by exposure to these chemicals for the past eighteen years."

The clean up must happen for the sake of the community and the many generations that will follow.

Along with members of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB), we presented new comprehensive guidelines on how to safely clean up the toxic waste at the factory site. "Dow must contain all the toxic poisons left behind at the Bhopal site and clean it up using the highest possible standards, at least equivalent to those that would be applied in the US or Europe," said Ruth.

With the ICJB we delivered these guidelines to Dow headquarters in the US and Europe and personally presented them to the Chief Minister of the State of Madhya Pradesh, Mr. Digvijay Singh.

Not long ago on October 19th the state Minister of Gas Relief, Mr. Arif Akeel told The Indian Express: "We will ask that Dow be held accountable for whatever environmental damages have occurred because while they inherited the assets they also become responsible for liabilities."

The Executive Director of Greenpeace in India, Ananthpadmadabhan, says that she supports the state government's move to make sure Dow shoulders the costs of cleaning up toxic waste in Bhopal. "Why should taxpayers in a country with a national average earning of USD 460 pay to clean up the waste of a US multinational chemical giant that boasts annual revenues of over USD 28 billion?" he said.