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Bhopal Timeline

Background - 10 November, 2009
Find out how cost cutting, greed, misinformation and politics caused the biggest industrial disaster in history and how almost 20 years later the issue is still unresolved. Against all the odds the survivors of the disaster continue to fight for justice from the worlds biggest chemical company. From 1969 to March 2003:

Greenpeace activists on their way to Dow headquarters in the Netherlands to deliver a deadly cargo of waste from the Bhopal site in India, in yellow hazardous waste barrels.

1969:

Bhopal factory built in state capital of Madhya Pradesh, India.

1973: First methyl isocyanate (MIC) imported from the USA. This chemical is highly dangerous and difficult to handle and transport. Exposure causes damage to eyes, throat and lungs which can be permanent.

1979: The Bhopal plant starts to manufacture its own MIC.

1980 to 1984: The work crew of the MIC unit was halved from 12 to six workers, the maintenance crew from six to two workers. On December 26, 1981 a plant operator was killed by a phosgene gas leak. Another phosgene leak in January 1982 severely injured 28 workers and in October the same year MIC escaped from a broken valve and four workers were exposed to the chemical. The senior officials of the Union Carbide, privy to a "business confidential" safety audit in May 1982, were well aware of 61 hazards, 30 of them major and 11 in the dangerous phosgene/MIC units. Remedial measures were then taken at Union Carbide's identical MIC plant in West Virginia, USA, but not in Bhopal.

December 2-3, 1984: Poisonous gas leak from Union Carbides pesticides factory. In three days around 8,000 people die. On the night of the disaster, water (that was being used for washing the lines) entered the tank containing MIC through leaking valves. The refrigeration unit, which should have kept the MIC close to zero degrees centigrade, had been shut off by the company officials to save on electricity bills. The entrance of water in the tank, full of MIC at ambient temperature triggered off an exothermic runaway reaction an consequently the release of the lethal gas mixture. The safety systems, which in any case were not designed for such a runaway situation, were non-functioning and under repair. Lest the neighbourhood community be "unduly alarmed", the siren in the factory had been switched off. Poison clouds from the Union Carbide factory enveloped an arc of over 20 square kilometres before the residents could run away from its deadly hold.

View the slideshow of the Immediate aftermath of the disaster.

December 7, 1984: Union Carbide chairman Warren Anderson amongst nine people arrested by Indian police during a visit to the factory. He is released on bail of US$2000 and promptly flees the country. Union Carbide named as accused #10 in the criminal case charging culpable homicide. Subsequently, Anderson declared fugitive from justice after failing to appear in criminal proceedings in India.

1985: Indian government files claim for US$3.3 billion from Union Carbide in US court.

1986: Union Carbide succeeds in persuading the court to send case back to Indian courts where it knows it will be able to get away with much smaller damages.

February 1989: After five years of legal wrangling the Indian Government and Union Carbide strike an out of court settlement. Compensation amount brought down to US$470 million from original US$3.3 billion claimed by the Indian Government. Union Carbide shares immediately rocket as markets realise the company has escaped lightly.

April 1992: - After ignoring four court summonses, Warren Anderson declared a fugitive from law.

November 1994: Indian Supreme Court allows Union Carbide to sell off its encumbered assets in India to fund a hospital. Criminal proceedings against Union Carbide become difficult to enforce because, although the accused refuse to appear in Court, Carbide no longer has any assets in India.

August 1999: Union Carbide announces forthcoming merger with Dow Chemical Company.

November 1999: We test soil, groundwater and wells in and around the derelict Union Carbide factory and finds 12 toxic chemicals and deadly mercury in quantities up to 6 million times higher than expected. Read the full report.

November 1999: Several victims of Bhopal disaster file class action suit against Union Carbide and its former CEO, Warren Anderson, in federal court in New York, charging Carbide with violating international human rights law, environmental law, and international criminal law.

August 2000: We set up a computer centre outside the factory to allow survivors of the disaster demand justice from Union Carbide. Thousands of survivors send email to the company which responds by closing it email server for two days and blocking all future message on Bhopal.

February 2001: Union Carbide and Dow chemicals merge to form the largest chemical company in the world. Dow inherits assets and liabilities of Union Carbide. However, Dow claims it is not responsible for a factory it didn't operate. Lawyers advise that under Indian and US law this claim by Dow is legal nonsense. Survivors demand Dow should be held responsible for all medical and environmental liabilities in Bhopal and that pending criminal liabilities against Carbide be transferred to Dow. Dow's US$10 billion acquisition of Union Carbide opens the possibility of enforcing criminal liability against the corporation as Dow has four subsidiaries and assets in India.

January 9, 2002: Dow accepts Carbide's liabilities in the US and settles a Texas asbestos lawsuit originally filed against Union Carbide. Its share price skids 23 percent. The plunge wipes out US$7.16 billion in equity and puts Dow shares back where they were in October, 2000. Despite accepting Union Carbide's US liabilities Dow shows no sign of doing the same in India.

January 2002: A scientific report finds lead and mercury in the breast milk of nursing mothers in neighbouring communities around the plant.

May 2002: Bhopal survivors tour the US culminating in an informal meeting with the then Dow CEO, Michael Parker at the

Dow AGM. Dow continues to ignore claims to clean up Bhopal.

July 19, 2002: It is revealed that the Indian government plans to drop charges against Warren Anderson, Union Carbide CEO at the time of the disaster. Survivors of the disaster launch of 28 day hunger strike in Delhi and global relay hunger strike is called in support of the survivors.

17 July - 15 August, 2002: On hearing of the plight of the survivors in Bhopal, Diane Wilson starts a hunger strike outside a Dow plant in Texas, USA. The Dow factory has been polluting the Gulf coast since construction of the plant.

July 2002: Commenting on the plight of survivors, Dow public affairs spokesperson Kathy Hunt claims: "$500 is plenty good for an Indian." Survivors facing chronic illnesses due to the gas leak and an environment polluted daily by the abandoned factory have received a maximum of US$500 compensation. This amounts to US$0.07 cents a day to ease a life time of suffering. Dow previously paid out US$10 million to a US family whose child was brain damaged by the Dow pesticide Dursban. Now banned in the US, Dow still markets Dursban as safe in India.

August 28, 2002: Despite pressure from the Indian government, charges of culpable homicide reaffirmed against Warren Anderson in Bhopal court. Court demands his immediate extradition.

August 29, 2002: A UK newspaper discovers Warren Anderson living in a life of luxury in New York State, US. Despite being wanted by India and Interpol, US authorities have made no effort to extradite Anderson, claiming they are unable to find him. The newspaper found him in two weeks.

Watch a short film comparing Andersons life of luxury with the mess his company has left in India - Quicktime (4.7Mb) Real Player (4.3Mb) Windows Media (4.2Mb)

September 30, 2002: A new study from The People?s Science Institute, Dehra Dun confirms the presence of highly toxic mercury in Bhopal drinking water, in some places as high as two micrograms per liter, and warns of grave risk to health. People have been drinking the water for 18 years after the gas leak.

October 4, 2002: Bhopal survivors and our activists hold a protest at Dow's European headquarters. The CEO of Dow Europe is presented with a broom and requested to clean up the toxic mess in Bhopal. Polite acceptance is followed by further Dow inaction.

October 6 2002: "Jhaadoo Maaro Dow Ko" campaign launched by survivors in Bhopal. The phrase means "Hit Dow with a broom". It is an invitation for Dow to clean up its toxic mess and a promise to sweep Dow out of India if it does not.

October 21 2002: State of Madhya Pradesh announces that it will petition the Indian Supreme Court to compel Dow Chemical to clean up the contaminated soil and ground water at the Union Carbide factory site.

October 21-23 2002: Indian Government Ministers tell reporters that India is proceeding with an application to extradite Carbide's ex-CEO Warren Anderson from the US.

October 25 2002: Guidelines drawn up by us for the clean-up of Carbide's abandoned factory site are presented to Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister and simultaneously handed to Dow offices in India, Europe and the USA.

October 2002: Bhopal survivors tour Dow plants in Europe to confront executives of Dow Chemical and chemical industry associations in different countries with brooms they have carried with them from Bhopal.

November 11, 2002: Plaintiffs organisations share documents from the discovery process of the US class action suit with the Indian Central Bureau of Investigations (CBI). The documents disclose that the company and Warren Anderson had imposed "unproven technology" on their Bhopal factory in the critical MIC unit. CBI acknowledges that the documents will be of great use for prosecution and the extradition of Warren Anderson.

November 14, 2002: Survivors release documents obtained via discovery in the New York class action. Documents show that UCC imposed 'unproven technology' in the critical MIC unit in order to cut costs and retain control of their Indian subsidiary.

November 19, 2002: Activists erect signs to warn people living around an area of land used by Union Carbide to dump its hazardous waste. When the factory was operating, toxic chemicals were disposed in open evaporation ponds. Some people have been digging up soil from the area and using it to build their houses.

November 22, 2002: Secret Union Carbide documents go public. The documents show that Union Carbide tested soil and water in and around its factory in Bhopal after the disaster and found them to be heavily contaminated. It did not make this information public but used another report, which said there was no contamination, to appease the public and the government of India. The confidential documents show they considered the findings of this report to be unreliable.

November 25, 2002: Local residents and our activists enter the Union Carbide site to contain part of the toxic waste on site and show Dow how it should be dealing with it's own mess. Despite the worthy intentions, police arrest everyone within one hour for trespassing. A strange world indeed where the people responsible can ignore the continued poisoning of thousands but police arrest anyone seeking to bring the world's attention to the problem?

November 28, 2002: Dow posts an internal memo on its website stating the following: "But what we cannot and will not do - no matter where Greenpeace takes their protests and how much they seek to undermine Dow's reputation with the general public - is accept responsibility for the Bhopal accident." A few days later the author Dow CEO M. Parker is dumped.

December 2, 2002: Women survivors march to Indian headquarters of Dow to bring to it a sample of what is poisoning them every day. After a peaceful protest a Dow employee accepts the contaminated soil and water from around the plant.

December 3, 2002: Thousands march in the streets of Bhopal on the 18th anniversary of the disaster. Candle lit demonstrations are held across the globe in support of the call for justice in Bhopal.

December 3, 2002: Activists pay Dow CEO a visit at his home to ask what he will be doing about Bhopal 18 years on. Despite claim he will be spending 'a few quiet moments reflecting on the tragedy' he appears to be holding a dinner party instead. Parker meets with the activists, and promises to release the composition of the gas, previously considered by the company as an off-limit trade secret. The information could help physicians who are trying to appropriate treat the 150,000 chronically ill gas-affected Bhopal survivors. Watch the video (Real Player)

December 3, 2002: Tired of the endless public relations platitudes on Dow's website but complete lack of action in Bhopal, internet activist group, the yesmen, decide to represent Dow a bit more honestly on the internet. The site is an instant hit and Dow responds in typically heavy handed manner to attempt to quash the protests but this only serves to spread the hypocrisy of how Dow is more concerned about its image than poisoning people in Bhopal. The story rumbles on, on the web and in print.

December 5, 2002: Money talks - Investment firms with stock of US$13 billion say Dow should resolve the Bhopal issue to prevent further damage to its image.

December 13, 2002: Dow CEO M. Parker is sacked and replaced by William S. Stavropoulos who masterminded the takeover of Union Carbide. Parker was sacked only for the 'poor financial performance' of the company, apparently.

December 13, 2002: Inspired by the yesmen, we launch parody website mad-dow-disease.com to expose Dow's blatant double standards.

December 23, 2002: Dow files a claim for US$10,000 against women survivors who peacefully protested outside the Dow Bombay office on Dec 2nd. Not content with ignoring Bhopal, Dow is now suing the very people it should be helping.

January 7, 2003: To show Dow that problems in India cannot just be ignored because they are far away

we returned Bhopal waste to its new owner at Dow's biggest plant outside the US. Dow's response: arrests of over twenty activists.

January 23, 2003: In the last few months Dow has recieved over 15,000 emails and thousands more postcards asking it to clean up Bhopal. So far it has ignored all messages from concerned citizens. Se we organised something that is not so easily ingnored - a call in day to Dow's ethics line.

Hundreds of people called in and Dow's response was the closure of phone lines to any questions on Bhopal.

March 10, 2003: To highlight Dow's attempts to silence survivors protests in India with a US$10,000 damages claim, we launch a internet sit-in of Dow's greenwash site at bhopal.com. True to form Dow refuses to drop the suit against peaceful protestors and attempts to evade the internet action with technical tricks. The protest brings down bhopal.com on Wednesday 12 March.

March 11, 2003: Activists block the entrances to the Houston Dow Center after delivering 250 gallons of contaminated water taken from wells in Bhopal, the site of the world's worst industrial disaster. The water, the same water that the people of Bhopal are forced to use everyday, is removed from the scene by a US hazardous materials team. Dow gets people in chemical suits to remove the water but is content to let poor Indians use it everyday?

March 18, 2003: Disappointment as a US court throws out Bhopal survivors' civil damages lawsuit. The judge, John F Keenan, has thwarted all three attempts to prosecute Union Carbide in the US, and his latest decision makes no effort to conceal its bias. Survivors seek an appeal and a new judge for the case citing his decision as "glaring instance of juridical prejudice."

March 25, 2003: Survivors organisations confirm intent to appeal the decision. Read the grounds for appeal and an interesting look at the shaky grounds the judge used to protect corporate criminals for a third time. Even the local paper in Dow's hometown says Dow should be cleaning up the polluted site.

April 22, 2003: Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla, gas affected Bhopal survivors and Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action arrive in Texas for a 40 day tour of the US. During their tour, Rashida and Champa visit various communities affected by Dow Chemical, and also engage in strategic discussion with support groups to strengthen their struggle for justice.

May 1, 2003: Rasheeda, Champa and long-time Bhopal activist Satinath Sarangi along with other Bhopal supporters launch a satyagraha - fast for justice - against Union Carbide's new owner, Dow Chemical, with a demonstration in New York. A Dow spokesman blithely remarks in response to the hunger strike, "We view the situation as resolved"

May 8, 2003: At the Dow annual meeting in Midland, Michigan, Rasheeda, Champa and Satinath bring the disaster home to top executives of Dow Chemical. The activists are reluctantly granted a meeting with the Dow CEO. However the now familiar stonewalling and another lecture in corporate hand washing and PR is the only result of the short meeting. William Stavaropolos, Dow CEO, claims in a speech to the shareholders at the meeting that Dow-Carbide no longer faces any criminal cases in India. John Musser, Dow's public relations spokesperson is later forced to admit that this claim is wrong.

May 12, 2003: The three hunger strikers today end their personal fast by calling on supporters and justice campaigners around the world to take over and fast in relays from now until the 19th anniversary of the Bhopal gas disaster.

July 1, 2003: Significant developments as the Indian government finally and reluctantly does what it and its predecessors ought to have done long ago by serving extradition papers to the US government for the chairman of Carbide at the time of the disaster, Warren Anderson. This time last year, it was applying to dilute the charges against Anderson. It has taken huge pressure from survivors and their supporters around the world, plus two global hunger-strikes, and angry condemnation by an all-party committee of Indian MPs to force the government's hand. More from Bhopal.net (scroll to bottom of page).

July 22, 2003: Eighteen members of US Congress send a letter to Dow Chairman William Stavropoulos demanding that his company assume liability for the wrongdoings of Union Carbide (its 100 percent subsidiary) in Bhopal. Read the letter (pdf file) and press statement.

More:

The campaign for justice in Bhopal continues and you can find out how you can help.

This timeline was created using information from the following sites:

Bhopal.net

Students for Bhopal

Earthrights.org

Theyesmen.org

Corpwatchindia.org