ENVIRONMENT-INDIA:Cleaning up After Bhopal Gas Tragedy - Not Begun
A generation after the
world's worst ever industrial disaster occurred at a U.S.
multinational-owned pesticide plant in Bhopal, central India,
responsibility continues to be evaded on cleaning up thousands of
tonnes of toxic chemicals that have contaminated the soil and
water in the vicinity.
The U.S. multinational, Dow Chemical, has now offered to partially bear the cost of cleaning the site of the plant that infamously leaked poisonous cyanide gases into the city in December 1984 causing some 4,000 immediate deaths. In return, Dow wants to be freed of legal liability inherited from Union Carbide Corp., which it bought in 2001.
By natural law Dow takes over all its liabilities as well as assets. But Dow has been lobbying hard, both directly and through the U.S. government, to influence senior officials of the Indian government to obtain a ruling in its favour.
If it succeeds, Dow can walk away from its responsibility of clearing the mess left behind by Carbide, which includes over 9,000 tonnes of poisonous chemicals which have contaminated soil and water and affected over 25,000 people living in the plant's vicinity. Dow is holding out the lure of large-scale investments in India if it is let off the liability hook.
Dow's latest offer follows numerous pleadings on its behalf by powerful Indian officials in the Planning Commission, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram and Commerce Minister Kamal Nath, as well as the U.S.-India Business Council composed of top-notch business leaders from both countries.
Apart from the deadly leakage of methyl isocyanate and other toxic gases that, activists believe killed at least 8,000 people in the first week there was enormous chemical damage that affected more than 200,000. This may have caused a further 15,000 deaths and continued disabilities and suffering among the survivors, including grievous damage to their lungs and other organs.
Carbide managed to escape civil liability for the faulty plant design and gross negligence which led to the accident by paying the paltry sum of 470 million US dollars in what was regarded as a collusive and unfair settlement in 1989. But its criminal liability still survives.
However, both Union Carbide and its directors refused to stand trial in a Bhopal criminal court and have proved absconders from the law. Dow has, in fact, been sheltering a fugitive from Indian law and selling Carbide's products, technologies and services in India.
"Dow's offer confronts the Indian government with a critical choice," says Satinath Sarangi, of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, which first discovered and established the toxic contamination of the soil and groundwater in 1990. "Either it collaborates and cuts a deal with a multinational corporation in a mercenary fashion; or it sides with the victims, who have been affected by chemicals leaching from the industrial waste include some that cause birth defects and cancers and damage to the lungs, kidneys and the liver."
The Indian government is sharply divided over the issue. Its Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers has held Dow legally liable for cleaning the site of the wastes, and demanded in court that the company deposit Rupees one billion (25 million dollars) as initial payment for the cost of the remediation (decontamination) pending adjudication of the matter.
But the Ministry of Law opposes this and says the determination of liability would depend on the terms of the 2001 merger between Dow and Carbide, whose fine print would have to be studied.
According to the organisations of the Bhopal victims, Carbide made a misrepresentation by claiming that it has no liabilities on account of the gas leak disaster. In fact, Union Carbide, some of its directors, including former chairman Warren Anderson, and its Indian subsidiary, stand charged before an Indian court with causing death by a negligent act.
Dow maintains that being a U.S. company, it is not subject to the jurisdiction of the Indian courts. The courts have not yet made a ruling on Dow's liability, but only asked that a part of the overground wastes, some 386 tonnes secured in a warehouse, be removed to a town in Gujarat to be incinerated.
The Madhya Pradesh High Court is however silent on what should be done with the 8,000 tonnes of chemical waste that lies underground at the plant site and also with the hundreds of tonnes that is strewn all over the compound. Victims' organisations argue that incineration is an unsafe and improper method of disposing of the waste, and that India does not have the right technology to detoxify it.
As an alternative method, they cite the example of Unilever Corp., which was ordered in 2003 by the Madras High Court to take 230 tonnes of mercury waste it had dumped in Kodaikanal in Tamil Nadu all the way to the U.S. for detoxification.
Two years ago, the victims' groups, including the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karamchari Sangh, Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangarsh Morcha, along with the BGIA, succeeded in getting a contract between Dow Chemical and the public sector Indianoil Corporation annulled. This involved the licensing of a proprietary technology of Union Carbide, which is a 100 percent-owned subsidiary of Dow.
Dow is negotiating the sale of petrochemicals technologies with Reliance Industries Ltd, one of India's largest private sector companies, which belongs to the Mukesh Ambani group.
"Evidently, all manner of entrenched interests are at work to help Dow duck its legal liability and obligation to clean up the site," says Nityanandan Jayaraman, of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal. "It's truly appalling that the Indian government is bowing to their pressure, and that too at a time when large volumes of foreign direct investment, exceeding ten billion dollars this year, are flowing into the country."
Jayaraman added that this showed up the ‘'utter servility on the part of the government towards the U.S. and giant transnational corporations, a phenomenon that has been in evidence ever since 1984. Clearly, high rates of GDP growth and India's claim to be an emerging economic superpower have not prevented it from acting like a Fourth World country, which puts corporate investment above the life and well-being of its citizens."
If the Indian government succumbs to pressure from Dow, from powerful Indian industrialists like Ratan Tata (who lobbied on the company's behalf), and from some of its own pro-neoliberal ministers, that will only add further insult to the colossal injury the victims have suffered, say activists.
Most of the Bhopal victims received less than 150 dollars for extensive injuries and prolonged suffering. Even families of the dead got as little as 5,000 dollars. A good deal of the compensation was alleged to have been siphoned off by corrupt officials, politicians and middlemen.
インドのマッディヤ・プラデーシュ州の州都ボーパールで操業していたユニオンカーバイド社の子会社の化学工場から約40トンのイソシアン酸メチル (MIC) が流出し有毒ガスが工場周辺の町に流れ出した。
事故は MIC 貯蔵タンクへの水の混入が原因である。その結果、タンク内部で化学反応がおこり大量の有毒ガスが発生した。タンク内の圧力を緊急排出したが、ガス洗浄装置が修理のために停止していたことで有毒ガスが漏れ続けた。調査によりいくつかの安全手順が回避されていたことが判明している（タンクに漏れている水を防ぐバッフルプレートの設置は省略されていた。また、タンクの冷却および流出したガスを焼却できたフレアタワーが停止していた）。そして、設備を他の工場と統一しなかったインド従業員の活動規範。こうした安全基準はユニオンカーバイドが当時関連していたインドの工場で「コスト削減計画」の妨げになるとして、1984年に意図的に省略されていたとされている。最近浮上した文書は、ユニオンカーバイドがインドの工場へ「無認可のテクノロジー」をしばしば輸出していたことを明らかにしている。工場が操業した時、地元の医師はガスの性質を知らされていなかった。また、災害時の基本的な対処法（湿った布で口を覆うような）は考えられていなかった。
U.S. Lawmakers Back Bhopal Survivors
congresspeople have asked the prime minister of India to support
Bhopal activists, who survived the toxic 1984 explosion of a
Union Carbide pesticide plant, by bringing this corporation and
its new owner, Dow Chemical, to justice.
・ "In this case, U.S. corporations have refused to submit to the jurisdiction of foreign [Indian] courts....It is outrageous that the executives of Union Carbide and its successor, Dow Chemical, have yet to be brought to justice," stated the letter sent to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh by members of Congress.
・ During February and March, the Bhopal activists marched 500 miles from Bhopal to New Delhi to demand that the Indian government hold Union Carbide and Dow Chemical responsible for the health and environmental repercussions of the chemical disaster. They have yet to see any results stemming from their actions.
・ The Bhopalis' campaign has also been endorsed by lawmakers in Britain and Scotland, and Amnesty International, while over 100 citizens from seven countries have signed up to fast with the Bhopalis for a day or longer.
・ On the night of December 2-3, 1984, the Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal leaked 40 tons of methyl isocyanate gas into the air, killing some 3,800 people within hours. The incident is widely considered the world's worst chemical disaster ever. According to Greenpeace International, the plant was poorly maintained and understaffed, and the long-term affects of the leak have killed up to 20,000 people and left 120,000 chronically ill. "The survivors have never received adequate compensation for their debilitating illnesses," Greenpeace says, "and even 20 years after the disaster, the polluted site of the abandoned factory bleeds poisons daily into the groundwater of local residents."
S. Lawmakers Back Bhopal Survivors
Congresspersons, led by Padma Bhushan Frank Pallone Jr, have sent
a letter to the Prime Minister expressing their support to the
Bhopalis ''epic march'' and demands, and urging the PM to bring
Dow Chemical and Union Carbide to justice. The Congressional
letter is the latest in a tide of support that has flowed in from
overseas, including endorsements from British and Scottish MPs,
Amnesty International, and more than 100 eminent writers and
people in the arts.
The US congressional letter sent on June 5, 2008, is strong in its criticism of US-based Dow Chemical and Union Carbide. "The conduct of American corporations outside the US is a long-standing concern of ours. . .In this case, US corporations have refused to submit to the jurisdiction of foreign [Indian] courts. . .It is outrageous that the executives of Union Carbide and its successor, Dow Chemical, have yet to be brought to justice."
Besides expressing their support for the Commission proposed by the Bhopalis, the 16 US legislators added wrote: "We hope that the Indian Government pursues Union Carbide and Dow Chemical for their civil and criminal liabilities in the country."
British MP Des Turner also coincidentally issued a press statement on June 5 expressing his outrage at the continued neglect of the Bhopal survivors. "It is morally totally indefensible that in a situation like this that many local communities are exposed to this toxic threat and the Dow Chemical Company continues to abrogate its responsibility for one of the greatest human tragedies in history. I shall be bringing this to the attention of the Indian High Commission." An Early Day Motion tabled in the British Parliament in support of the Bhopal campaign by Turner was endorsed by 68 British MPs, including himself.
Meanwhile, 60 organisations, including 17 US-based NRI organizations sent a letter to the Prime Minister, and a copy of the same to Ms. Sonia Gandhi seeking an urgent resolution of the Bhopal demands.
"International pressure will escalate. People are outraged at the Government's insensitivity in handling the Bhopalis' demands, and will find ways of expressing their opposition to the Government's lackadaisical attitude," said Aquene Freechild, a US-based supporter and member of the Students for Bhopal campaign.
Already, more than a 100 people from 7 countries have signed up to fast with the Bhopalis for a day or longer. Of these, 9 people from USA, France, Argentina and India have started an indefinite fast in their own homes. They are: Indra Sinha (France), Diane Wilson, George Stadnik, Amy Harlib, Jeevan Pendli, and H. Halen from the US, Catalina Farias Rodriguez from Argentina, and Alok Nayak, Shweta Narayan and Bharati Mamani from India.
Till date, the Prime Minister's Office has received more than 5027 faxes urging the PM to meet the Bhopalis and their demands. However, Bhopal organizations have received no response from the Government yet.
|June 5, 2008
Honorable Manmohan Singh
More over, no one has been held accountable for the leak and its after-effects. It is outrageous that the executives of Union Carbide and its successor, Dow Chemical, have yet to be brought to justice. Survivors have made continuous demands through both protest and litigation, but it has had little effect. We hope that the Indian Government pursues Union Carbide and Dow Chemical for their civil and criminal liabilities in the country.
The conduct of
Americanl corporations outside the US is a long-standing
concern of ours, especially with regards to environmental
protection standards. The US-run Union Carbide built a
poorly designed pesticide plant that poisoned local
water, and therefore should be held accountable for these
crimes and their disregard of basic human rights. Such
issues involving the lack of environmental protection
caused abroad by American corporations are increasingly
before US courts either because foreign jurisdictions are
unable or unwilling to adjudicate those claims. In this
case, US corporations have refused to submit to the
jurisdiction of foreign courts. There are existing civil
cases for the clean up of the contaminated plant sites
that are pending in the US. Although these cases may be
alleged by some as interference of a foreign government,
the gravity of the arguments being asserted by the
defendants of these cases is significant.
The victims from
the Bhopal tragedy are asking for and deserve an
empowered and fully funded commission. This Commission
would execute social, economic and medical
rehabilitation, implement an environmental clean-up of
the polluted land and provide funding for clean drinking
water. It is our hope that the Indian Government will set
up this commission to address the pressing needs of the
hundreds of thousands affected by the disaster.
National Day of Action and Solidarity of Bhopal
A National Day of Action and Solidarity will be observed by all the supporters of Bhopal across the country on June 17. It's been 75 days since the activists are on a dharna 断食座り込み at the Jantar Mantar but no concrete response has come their way.
SUPPORTERS OF Bhopal will
be observing a National Day of Action and Solidarity for Bhopal
on June 17, 2008, across the country in consultation with the
The survivors of the Bhopal gas disaster and activists have been on a dharna at Jantar Mantar for over 75 days. So far, there has been no concrete response from the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh on their demands.
They have posed two main demands:
First, to set up an empowerment commission on Bhopal by endorsing the Bill proposed by survivors’ organisations and committing to introduce it in the Parliament in the Monsoon session. This includes committing the funds required to allow the commission to function for 30 years for medical, economic, social and environmental rehabilitation.
The second demand said that the government should immediately initiate legal action against Dow Chemical and Union Carbide.
On June 9, in response to a peaceful sit-in at South Block, they were arrested and the children were abused by Delhi police. In protest, five days ago, nine activists started an indefinite hunger strike. Even till today, 23 of the Bhopalis are in Tihar Jail and their attempts to secure bail has been met with stiff resistance from the state.
One of the convener of the Delhi Solidarity Group, Joe Athialy said that this shameful state of affairs must stop. It is crucial that groups across the country unite in support to up the ante on the Manmohan Singh government.
Meanwhile, several organisations and prominent individuals across the country expressed their dismay and indignation at the indifference of the Prime Minister’s Office towards the rightful demands of the Bhopal gas survivors. Rather than meet their demands promptly, they alleged that the government has ignored their march from Bhopal to Delhi, met their two month-long dharna with empty promises, and dealt their non-violent protests with beatings and jailing.
In an appeal to the Prime Minister they said, “Your silence has now prompted them to launch an indefinite fast, where they are being joined by a growing number of people, including several from America, Britain and India, who have volunteered to fast indefinitely along with them.”
For the past 23 years, they have had a set of basic and simple demands, those that should have been met decades ago by any government that claimed to work for its people. However, on February 20, 2008, women, children and men from Bhopal, had to undertake a gruelling march of 800 kms to reach Delhi to press their demands.
In their appeal to the Prime Minister, they expressed their concern for the health of the people who have begun an indefinite fast. In particular, about the well-being of those among the hunger strikers who have already been affected by Union Carbide’s poisons.
They are also dismayed with the treatment meted out by the police on the protesters who resorted to a peaceful protest in South Block on June 9. Joy alleged that 14 Bhopali children, along with 22 adults, were arrested and later beaten up in police custody.
To add insult to injury, he said that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) and the police have denied this, hinting that the Bhopalis are liars. The concerned organisations and prominent citizens said that the PMO cannot reach any such conclusion without conducting an enquiry, and without speaking to the children who allege this abuse.
They urged the Prime Minister to initiate an enquiry and take legal action against the police personnel, many of whose names are known.
The PMO has also conveyed that the Bhopalis would need to understand that the law will take its course if they break it ? for instance, by breaching a high-security area around Prime Minister’s house or office. How is it that the law takes its course for the Bhopalis, but not for Union Carbide or Dow, they asked. How is it that the law does not take its course in delivering water to the Bhopalis for years after the Supreme Court orders that this should be done, they questioned.
However, they said that the statement read by Prime Minister’s emissary, Prithviraj Chavan has given them little hope, and they thanked him for that first step. But they were disappointed by the tentative manner, in which the government is approaching the setting up of the commission, claiming that the matter requires the complete assent of the state government.
They recalled that the government forgets that by declaring itself parens patriae (father of the people), it assumed the role of a parent to the Bhopalis during the civil litigation for damages from Union Carbide.
The signatories to this statement reiterating the demands of the Bhopalis include - Aasha Parivar, AID India, AISA, Amnesty International, Delhi Solidarity Group, Fishermen Coordination of Tamilnadu and Puducherry, INSAF, International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU), NAPM Delhi, Nadi Ghati Morcha, NCDHR, NFFPFW, PSU, PUCL Rajasthan, People’s Union for civil Liberties - Tamilnadu, Stree Adhikar Sangathan, Students for Bhopal, Tamilnadu Womens’ Collective, Yuva Samvad, CACIM, Corporate Accountability Desk Collective, TN, Delhi Forum, Focus on the Global South, Intercultural Resources, Jagori, The Other Media, Swechcha, Tamilnadu Environment Council - Dindigul, Human Rights Initiative - Tamilnadu, Cuddalore District Consumer Protection Organisation, Kanchi Makkal Mandram, Corporate Accountability Desk, Chennai, Speak Out and Salem.
July 7, 2008 NYT
Decades Later, Toxic Sludge Torments Bhopal
Hundreds of tons of waste still languish inside a tin-roofed warehouse in a corner of the old grounds of the Union Carbide pesticide factory here, nearly a quarter-century after a poison gas leak killed thousands and turned this ancient city into a notorious symbol of industrial disaster.
The toxic remains have yet to be carted away. No one has examined to what extent, over more than two decades, they have seeped into the soil and water, except in desultory checks by a state environmental agency, which turned up pesticide residues in the neighborhood wells far exceeding permissible levels.
Nor has anyone bothered to address the concerns of those who have drunk that water and tended kitchen gardens on this soil and who now present a wide range of ailments, including cleft palates and mental retardation, among their children as evidence of a second generation of Bhopal victims, though it is impossible to say with any certainty what is the source of the afflictions.
Why it has taken so long to deal with the disaster is an epic tale of the ineffectiveness and seeming apathy of India’s bureaucracy and of the government’s failure to make the factory owners do anything about the mess they left. But the question of who will pay for the cleanup of the 11-acre site has assumed new urgency in a country that today is increasingly keen to attract foreign investment.
It was here that on Dec. 3, 1984, a tank inside the factory released 40 tons of methyl isocyanate gas, killing those who inhaled it while they slept. At the time, it was called the world’s worst industrial accident. At least 3,000 people were killed immediately. Thousands more may have died later from the aftereffects, though the exact death toll remains unclear.
More than 500,000 people were declared to be affected by the gas and awarded compensation, an average of $550. Some victims say they have yet to receive any money. Efforts to extradite Warren M. Anderson, the chief executive of Union Carbide at the time, from the United States continue, though apparently with little energy behind them.
Advocates for those who live near the site continue to hound the company and their government. They chain themselves to the prime minister’s residence one day and dog shareholder meetings on another, refusing to let Bhopal become the tragedy that India forgot. They insist that Dow Chemical Company, which bought Union Carbide in 2001, also bought its liabilities and should pay for the cleanup.
“Had the toxic waste been cleaned up, the contaminated groundwater would not have happened,” says Mira Shiva, a doctor who heads the Voluntary Health Association, one of many groups pressing for Dow to take responsibility for the cleanup. “Dow was the first crime. The second crime was government negligence.”
Dow, based in Michigan, says it bears no responsibility to clean up a mess it did not make. “As there was never any ownership, there is no responsibility and no liability - for the Bhopal tragedy or its aftermath,” Scot Wheeler, a company spokesman, said in an e-mail message.
Mr. Wheeler pointed out that the former factory property, along with the waste it contained, had been turned over to the Madhya Pradesh State government in June 1998, and that “for whatever reason most of us do not know or fully understand, the site remains unremediated.”
He went on to say that Dow could not finance remediation efforts, even if it wanted to, because it could potentially open up the company to further liabilities.
In a letter to the Indian ambassador to the United States in 2006, the Dow chairman, Andrew N. Liveris, sought assurance from the government that it would not be held liable for the mess on the old factory site, “in your efforts to ensure that we have the appropriate investment climate.”
The claims have divided the government itself. It is now in the throes of a debate over who will pay - a debate that might have taken place behind closed doors were it not for a series of public information requests by advocates for Bhopal residents that turned up revealing government correspondence.
It showed that one arm of the government, the Chemicals and Petrochemicals Ministry, entrusted with the cleanup of the site, has wanted Dow to put down a $25 million deposit toward the cost of remediation, while other senior officials warned that forcing Dow’s hand could endanger future investments in the country.
The government is expected to make a final decision later this year.
Beyond who will pay for the cleanup here, the question is why 425 tons of hazardous waste - some local advocates allege there is a great deal more, buried in the factory grounds - remain here 24 years after the leak?
There are many answers. The company was allowed to dump the land on the government before it was cleaned up. Lawsuits by advocacy groups are still winding their way through the courts. And a network of often lethargic, seemingly apathetic government agencies do not always coordinate with one another.
The result is a wasteland in the city’s heart. The old factory grounds, frozen in time, are an overgrown 11-acre forest of corroded tanks and pipes buzzing with cicadas, where cattle graze and women forage for twigs to cook their evening meal.
Since the disaster, ill-considered decisions on the part of local residents have only compounded the problems and heightened their health risks. Just beyond the factory wall is a blue-black open pit. Once the repository of chemical sludge from the pesticide plant, it is now a pond where slum children and dogs dive on hot afternoons. Its banks are an open toilet. In the rainy season, it overflows through the slum’s muddy alleys.
The slum rose up shortly after the gas leak. Poor people flocked here, seeking cheap land, and put up homes right up to the edge of the sludge pond. Once, the pond was sealed with concrete and plastic. But in the searing heat, the concrete cover eventually collapsed.
The first tests of groundwater began, inexplicably, 12 years after the gas leak. The state pollution control board turned up traces of pesticides, including endosulfan, lindane, trichlorobenzene and DDT. Soil sediments were not tested. The water was never compared with water in other city neighborhoods. The pollution board saw no cause for alarm.
Nevertheless, in 2004, complaints from residents led the Supreme Court to order the state to supply clean drinking water to the people living around the factory. By then, nearly 20 years had gone by.
“It is a scandal that the hazardous wastes left behind by Union Carbide unattended for 20 years have now migrated below ground and contaminated the groundwater below the factory and in its neighborhood,” wrote Claude Alvares, a monitor for India’s Supreme Court, who visited here in March 2005.
He tasted the water from one well. “I had to spit out everything,” he wrote in his report. The water “had an appalling chemical taste.” Neighborhood women brought out their utensils to show how the water had corroded them.
As his report went on to point out, the government was long ago made aware of the likelihood of contamination. A government research center warned more than 10 years ago that, if left untreated, the toxic residue on the factory grounds would seep into the soil and water.
Around the same time, under public pressure, state authorities finally scooped up the toxic waste that had lain in clumps around the factory grounds, and stored it inside the tin-roofed warehouse. The warehouse was padlocked only about four years ago.
The waste was supposed to be taken to an incinerator in neighboring Gujarat, but the government has yet to find a contractor willing to pack it into small, transportable parcels. There have been delays in acquiring transport permits, too, with citizens groups raising new questions about the hazards of transporting the waste.
Ajay Vishoni, the state gas and health minister, said he was confident that none of the waste was hazardous anymore, nor had anyone proved to his satisfaction that it had ever caused the contamination of the groundwater. “There is hype,” he said.
In 2005, a state-financed study called for long-term epidemiological studies to determine the impact of contaminated drinking water, concluding that while the levels of toxic contaminants were not very high, water and soil contamination had caused an increase in respiratory and gastrointestinal ailments.
In the Shiv Nagar slum about half a mile from the factory, there is a boy, Akash, who was born with an empty socket for a left eye. Now 6, he cannot see properly or speak. He is a cheerful child who plays in the lanes near his house.
His father, Shobha Ram, a maker of sweets who bought land here many years after the gas leak and built himself a two-room house, said the boy’s afflictions were caused by the hand-pumped well from where his family drew water on the edge of the sludge pond for years. He said it had not occurred to him that the water could be laced with pesticides.
“We knew the gas incident took place,” he said. “We never thought the contaminated water would come all the way to our house.”
The stories repeat themselves in the nearby slums. In Blue Moon, Muskan, a 2-year-old girl, cannot walk, speak or understand what is happening around her. Her father, Anwar, blames the water.
In Arif Nagar, Nawab and Hassan Mian, brothers who are 8 and 12, move through their house like newly hatched birds, barely able to stand. They have no control over their muscles. Their mother, Fareeda Bi, is unsure of exactly what caused their ailment, but she, too, blames the water.
“There are more children like this in the neighborhood,” she said, “who cannot walk, who cannot see.”
To compound the tragedy, there is no way to know to what extent the water is to blame. The government suspended long-term public health studies many years ago.
Dow Chemical Must Defend Bhopal Claims, Court Rules
A lawsuit against Dow Chemical Co.'s Union Carbide stemming from the fatal 1984 chemical leak in Bhopal, India, was reinstated today by a U.S. appeals court.
The U.S. Court of Appeals in New York reinstated claims dismissed by a trial judge in 2006 and 2007 against the unit of Midland, Michigan-based Dow Chemical, the largest U.S. chemical maker. The appeals court said the judge didn't give the plaintiffs enough notice to respond to a dismissal bid by the company.
The suit was brought on behalf of people injured after the world's worst industrial accident, which killed thousands. H. Rajan Sharma, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said the decision will enable the plaintiffs to conduct discovery to determine Union Carbide's role in groundwater contamination from an abandoned chemical facility in Bhopal.
``We're seeking cleanup, monitoring, and damages for personal injury to at least 20,000 individuals, and property damage,'' Sharma said in an interview.
Union Carbide estimated that 3,800 people died from the gas leak. Amnesty International, a human rights group, commissioned a study that showed 7,000 died within days of the leak, and that another 15,000 have since died from exposure to the gas. Dow Chemical paid $12 billion to acquire Union Carbide.
``The Second Circuit didn't discuss the merits of the case or the merits of the trial judge's ruling of dismissal,'' Tomm Sprick, a Union Carbide spokesman, said today in a phone interview. ``It is our belief that the trial judge will follow the Second Circuit's direction to allow additional proceedings.''
The suit, which also names former Union Carbide Chairman Warren Anderson, follows years of litigation. The lower court judge dismissed both an earlier lawsuit and this one. The appeals court ruled that U.S. District Judge John Keenan in New York didn't give the plaintiffs enough notice before he entertained and granted Union Carbide's dismissal bid.
The suit by Janki Bai Sahu seeks class-action, or group, status on behalf of others harmed by the water contamination.
Sharma said the plaintiffs will get to review internal Union Carbide documents and question officials before answering to the company's dismissal request.
The case is Sahu v. Union Carbide, 06-5694, U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals (Manhattan).