US Congresspersons Ask Dow Chemical to Take Bhopal Disaster Liabilities
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Eighteen members of Congress sent a letter to Dow Chemical today, condemning the corporation for "refusing to address" liabilities associated with the 1984 chemical gas disaster in Bhopal, India, the worst industrial tragedy in human history. "The disaster in Bhopal continues," the letter states, "and is likely to worsen if Dow Chemical does not step forward to fulfill its responsibilities," the letter said.
Midland, Michigan-based Dow Chemical purchased Union Carbide Corporation(UCC) in February 2001, despite being warned about UCC's significant outstanding liabilities in Bhopal. Dow's refusal to address these liabilities makes it a "party to the ongoing human rights and environmental abuses in Bhopal," stated the members of Congress.
A deadly gas leak from Union Carbides pesticide factory in Bhopal on December 3, 1984, poisoned at least 500,000 people. More than 8,000 people died within three days and over 20,000 people have died to date as a result of their exposure. An estimated 1,50,000 people continue to suffer from long-lasting effects of gas exposure, which include diminished vision, cancer, respiratory, neurological and gynecological disorders. Second generation victims are known to be suffering from growth defects and severe menstrual disorders.
The site has never been properly cleaned up and abandoned chemical wastes continue to poison over 10,000 inhabitants of the communities living in the vicinity of the abandoned factory. Testing conducted by Greenpeace in 1999 found cancer, brain-damage- and birth-defect-causing chemicals in soil and groundwater in and around the factory site, at levels up to 50 times higher than EPA safety limits. Mercury levels were 20,000 to 6 million times higher than levels accepted by WHO. A 2002 study by the Fact-Finding Mission on Bhopal found traces of lead and mercury in the breast milk of nursing women.
The letter, circulated by Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), a current Democratic Presidential contender, and Frank Pallone (D-NJ), follows a meeting on Capitol Hill with Rashida Bi and Champa Devi Shukla, two women survivors and leading members of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB). At the meeting, organized in May by Kucinich and the ICJB, the survivors testified to the ongoing humanitarian and environmental crisis in Bhopal. Following the meeting, Kucinich and Pallone drafted the Congressional sign-on letter, and at least one member, Jim McDermott (D-WA), expressed an interest in visiting Bhopal on the 19th anniversary of the disaster in December 2003.
The members of Congress demand that Dow provide medical rehabilitation and economic reparations for the victims of the tragedy; clean up contamination in and around the former factory site in Bhopal; and ensure that the Union Carbide Corporation, now a 100% subsidiary of Dow, appears before the Chief Judicial Magistrate's court in Bhopal, where UCC faces criminal charges of manslaughter. Signatories include U.S. Representatives Kucinich (D-OH), Pallone (D-NJ), Grijalva (D-AZ), Brown (D-OH), Jackson-Lee (D-TX), Baldwin (D-WI), Towns (D-NY), Holt (D-NJ), Stark (D-CA), DeLauro (D-CT), Crowley (D-NY), Faleomavaega (D-Am. Samoa), Solis (D-CA), Payne (D-NJ), Hinchey (D-NY), Schakowsky (D-IL), Markey (D-MA), and Lee (D-CA).
"It is disheartening to note that a company such as Dow, who professes to lead the chemical industry towards 'responsible care' shies away from its obligations when truly responsible care can be demonstrated," the letter states. "More disturbing is the manner in which Union Carbide and Dow Chemical have ignored the summons of the Bhopal court. This exposes a blatant disregard for the law."
"Dow's continued refusal to accept or address its liabilities around the world completely undermines its claim of environmental leadership," declared G Krishnaveni, the US Coordinator for ICJB. "While Dow continues to evade and delay, people in Bhopal continue to die. After 18 years, it's high time that the company demonstrated some accountability, and we're happy that so many members of Congress have called on Dow to do just that."