PANNA: Increasing Grassroots Opposition to Dow Chemical


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Increasing Grassroots Opposition to Dow Chemical
May 21, 2004

Dow Chemical, among the largest pesticide companies in the world, is facing increasing opposition from grassroots groups in the U.S., India and elsewhere. Several groups have recently taken action against the company for its rejection of responsibility for clean up and restitution related to the 1984 pesticide plant disaster in Bhopal, India, it's dioxin contamination and other social and environmental impacts.

The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB) recently completed a five-week "survivors tour" of the U.S., beginning in San Francisco, California, and culminating at Dow's 2004 annual shareholders meeting, in Midland, Michigan. In 1984, a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal released 40 tons of methyl isocyanate into neighboring communities, killing thousands, injuring more than half a million and leading to thousands of gas-related deaths since the incident. In 2001, Dow merged with Union Carbide, legally assuming all of Union Carbide's assets and liabilities.

The tour included public appearances, protests and "a celebration of solidarity across geography, culture, race, and constituencies," according to organizers. Rashida Bee, a survivor of the accident and community organizer in Bhopal stated, "We are aware that the day we succeed in holding Dow Chemical liable for the continuing disaster in Bhopal it will be good news for ordinary people all over the world." Groups in Bhopal are demanding that Dow release information to doctors still treating victims of the disaster, which the company holds as "trade secrets." They also want Dow to clean up the factory, which continues to contaminate local ground water, and to produce Union Carbide officials in court in India.

In April, Bee and survivor Champa Devi, who also took part in the tour, won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. The award, given annually to six "heroes of the environment" worldwide, provides a "no strings attached" grant of $125,000.

On May 13, at Dow's annual shareholders meeting, concerned investors introduced a resolution asking Dow to report any new initiatives planned to help Bhopal and to spell out any risks the disaster may pose to Dow's finances or reputation. As expected, the resolution failed, but garnered 6% of the vote, twice the level necessary under Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules for shareholders to resubmit it next year.

At the annual meeting activists from Tittabawassee River Watch, the Lone Tree Council and the Ecology Center of Michigan, protested Dow's release of dioxin from its Midland plant, which has contaminated the surrounding community and the floodplain of the Tittabawassee River. Citizens in the area have filed a class action lawsuit against the company. Dioxin has been linked to cancer, diabetes, endometriosis, developmental problems, birth defects, immune system damage and other conditions.

The Dow annual meeting followed the April release of a report by Innovest Strategic Value Advisors saying that Dow is underreporting to SEC -- and its shareholders -- the full impact of expenses related to asbestos liability, Agent Orange and a variety of environmental contamination issues on the company's bottom line. Innovest labeled Dow's stock a risky investment.

Also this month, Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA) released a report, Chemical Trespass: Pesticides in Our Bodies and Corporate Accountability, that focuses on Dow's responsibility for exposure of U.S. residents to chlorpyrifos (found in products such as Dursban). (See PANUPS, "Toxic Pesticides Above Safe levels in Many U.S. Residents.") The average six to 11year-old child sampled was exposed to the nerve-damaging organophosphorous pesticide at four times the level considered acceptable by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for long-term exposure. Using a "Pesticide Trespass Index," the PANNA report estimates that Dow is responsible for at least 80% of the chlorpyrifos breakdown products found in the bodies of those in the United States. "Chemical Trespass" is available at http://www.panna.org.

PANNA also recently produced a well-documented corporate profile of Dow, focusing on the company's pesticides and its political and social influence. It is available at http://www.panna.org/campaigns/caia/corpProfilesIntro.dv.html.

Many organizations are beginning to work together to address the full range of Dow's impacts, including ICJB, PANNA (U.S.), PAN UK (UK), Association for India's Development (U.S.), Bhopal Action Resource Center (U.S.), Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationary (India), Bhopal Group for Information and Action (India), Bhopal Information Network (Japan), Center for Health and Environment (U.S.), Ecology Center of Michigan (U.S.), Environmental Health Fund (U.S.), Environmental Health Watch (U.S.) and groups in Vietnam and Central America.

Dow is a leading producer of pesticides, plastics, hydrocarbons and other chemicals. The company is responsible for hazardous pesticides (such as 2,4-D, Dursban, Telone and DBCP), byproducts such as dioxin, ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and Agent Orange and napalm used during the Vietnam War. Recently Dow has positioned itself as one five corporations dominating the genetically engineered seed market.

Sources: News stories available at http://www.bhopal.net; PANNA Corporate Profile: Dow Chemical Company; and Chemical Trespass: Pesticides in Our Bodies and Corporate Accountability, Kristin S. Schafer, Margaret Reeves, Skip Spitzer, Susan Kegley, Pesticide Action Network North America, May, 2004.

Contact: PANNA.

PANUPS is a weekly email news service providing resource guides and reporting on pesticide issues that don't always get coverage by the mainstream media. It's produced by Pesticide Action Network North America, a non-profit and non-governmental organization working to advance sustainable alternatives to pesticides worldwide.

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