PANNA: 17th Anniversary of Bhopal Disaster


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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 survivors.

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," http://www.bhopal.net/factsheet.html; "Bhopal: 17 Years of Tragedy and Injustice," http://www.cmaq.net/viewarticle.ch2?articleid=2693&language=english; "The cost of free trade behind closed doors," http://www.indiatogether.org.

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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