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E-M:/ Bhopal's 911-Like Horror Comes to Dow in Midland



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Enviro-Mich message from MCKENNA193@aol.com
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Dear EMers, 

We need to hold Dow accountable for Bhopal reparations. . .

Here's my article in today's City Pulse, to catalyze some action. . .

Fire a blowtorch at my eyes, pour acid down my throat. Strip the tissue from 
my lungs. Drown me in my own blood. Choke my baby to death in front of me. 
Show me her struggles as she dies.  From A Survivor's Poem

On December 3rd 1984, just after midnight, 40 tons of poisonous substances 
leaked from Union Carbide's pesticide plant in Bhopal, central India. A huge 
yellow cloud exposed a half million people to the gases, which hung over the 
city for hours. It remains the worst industrial accident of all time, with an 
estimated 7,000 deaths and 190,000 injuries the first few days and over 
15,000 claims of deaths to date.

Given the death counts, the prolonged agony, and the persistent callous 
treatment of its victims, the Union Carbide disaster is worse than the 
September 11th tragedy.
It seems incredible, but true, and that nearly 5,000 death claims have yet to 
be compensated, and the 10,237 claims that were paid  averaged just $3,000 
per life. 

Union Carbide did not clear up its site after the explosion, and instead 
launched a PR campaign to downplay the medical impacts of the leak. Its 
officials have been criminally charged with culpable homicide in India, but 
refuse to appear for trial.
But on February 6, 2001, the story took a dramatic turn as Union Carbide 
merged with Dow Chemical, in Midland, just 100 miles north of Lansing. 
Victim's rights groups feared that Carbide would use this as a device to 
shirk its responsibility. This was confirmed when Dow announced that it had 
no liability for the accident.

A clever move to escape justice? Case closed? Not so fast.

There are two class action suits against Dow, one by the victims and another 
by Dow shareholders angry that Dow officials merged with Union Carbide, 
making the company vulnerable to lawsuits.  Indeed, on November 2001, a U.S. 
federal judge upheld 7 of 15 complaints by the Bhopal plaintiffs, opening the 
door to a major U.S. trial.

Bhopal is only the most recent of Dow's toxic activities. It was/is the 
producer of napalm, Agent Orange, and dioxin, agents that have sickened and 
killed people and plants worldwide. Currently Dow is fighting a dioxin 
scandal in Midland, where the DEQ has found dioxin levels 80 times higher 
than the EPA standard. Meanwhile there is word that Dow may be sued for 
selling Dursban, a pesticide banned in the U.S. but sold in India.

By merging with Union Carbide, Dow dramatically improved its market share in 
the chemical industry. It is now the country's second largest chemical 
company, after DuPont. With revenues of $28 billion in 2001, the company 
boasts that it has paid a dividend to stockholders every year since 1912.

But Bhopal beckons. Seventeen years after the accident new effects of the 
Bhopal gas are still coming to light. There is retarded growth and menstrual 
chaos among girls born around the time of the gas. Amazingly, Union Carbide 
has refused to release internal medical data on the gas, methyl isocyanate, 
that would help the victims. The disability scoring system for compensation 
by the Indian government denies the existence of: multi-system damage, 
reproductive disorders, injury to the nervous system and psychological 
problems such as depression and anxiety. 

Imagine.

In 1989 Union Carbide agreed to pay the Indian government $479 million, an 
amount so inadequate that its share-price jumped in relief. By contrast, when 
the Exxon Valdez spilled its oil on the Alaskan coast, nobody died, but Exxon 
paid out $5 billion. Most injury victims have received no more than $300, not 
even enough to buy seventeen years' worth of aspirin.

Bhopal activists have opened a free clinic, Sambhavna, which means 
`possibility.' Healers combine modern medicine with traditional Indian herbal 
remedies, yoga breathing and massage. Recently the staff voted to forego 
three months' salary in order to pay for an urgently needed microscope.

Last year about 350 protestors in Bombay threw balloons filled with red paint 
at Dow's offices there. Dow is now suing them for damages to its property. 
"How shameless can a corporation be?" asked Raj Sharma, the chief lawyer for 
Bhopal suit against Dow. "Dow is harboring a fugitive of a criminal case in a 
corporate crime at the highest possible level, while they themselves litigate 
against activists."

Ann Arbor's Ecology Center has been attempting to negotiate with Dow to 
provide reparations, but few Lansing citizens are even aware of the 
controversy.

"I'm really surprised that word about the Dow controversy hasn't reached 
people in Lansing," said Satinath Sarangi, with the Bhopal Group for 
Information and Action. "They must try to do something."

I pointed out that Dow is deeply integrated into MSU's culture.
In April, 1996, for example, Dow gave $5 million to build the Dow Institute 
for Materials Research, a 46,000-square-foot addition to the east wing of 
MSU's Engineering Building.

Given that MSU is an educational institution, I asked Sarangi what he would 
say to MSU students.

"I would tell them to bring Union Carbide officials to justice in India, to 
finance the long-term medical care of the victims, to support the economic 
and social rehabilitation of the toilers who can no longer work and to 
clean-up the contamination around the factory."

Unlike 911, Bhopal has not received much recognition. As one observer noted, 
"no crusade was launched, no rock concert was staged for their benefit, nor 
were songs written about freedom. Their suffering has never stopped. They are 
still dying in Bhopal."

If Dow continues its intransigence, this could be Michigan's environment 
story of the decade. It's a case that embodies the axiom, "think global, act 
local." MSU students can help make Dow accountable if they study the issue 
and educate their neighbors.
Here's a place to start.

This Spring Dow Chemical is co-sponsoring a seminar series at MSU's Detroit 
College of Law, called, "Creating Sustainable Cities in the 21st Century." On 
March 19th the talk is titled, "Abandonment of the Cities."

We cannot let Dow Chemical abandon 

Brian McKenna


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