Wednesday, January 26, 2005
Dow Chemical: Forgive Us Our Trespasses
At midnight on December 2, 1984, 27 tons of lethal gases leaked from Union Carbide's pesticide factory in Bhopal, India, immediately killing an estimated 8,000 people and poisoning thousands of others.
Today in Bhopal, at least 150,000 people, including children born to parents who survived the disaster, are suffering from exposure-related health effects such as cancer, neurological damage, chaotic menstrual cycles and mental illness. Over 20,000 people are forced to drink water with unsafe levels of mercury, carbon tetrachloride and other persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals.
Activists from around the world – including human rights, legal, environmental health and other experts – mobilized this year to demand that Dow Chemical, the current owner of Union Carbide, be held accountable.
Twenty years after this disaster, the company responsible for this catastrophe and its former executives are still fugitives from justice. Union Carbide and its former chairman, Warren Andersen, were charged with manslaughter for the deaths at Bhopal, but they refuse to appear before the Indian courts.
Here is part of Dow's statement on Bhopal:While Dow has no responsibility for Bhopal, we have never forgotten the tragic event and have helped to drive global industry performance improvements. This is why Responsible Care was created and why these standards are essential for the protection of our employees and the communities where we live and work. Our pledge and our commitment is the full implementation of Responsible Care everywhere we do business around the world.
Dow has no responsibility for Bhopal? The people of Bhopal don't agree. They say Union Carbide was responsible, and if Union Carbide is now owned by Dow, then Dow is responsible.
In commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the crime of Bhopal, we present here 20 things to remember about Dow Chemical – the company now responsible for Bhopal and a fugitive from justice.
20. Agent Orange/Napalm: The toxic herbicide and jellied gasoline used in Vietnam created horrors for young and old alike.
19. Rocky Flats: The top secret Colorado site managed by Dow Chemical from 1952 to 1975 remains an environmental nightmare.
18. Body burden: In March 2001, the Centers for Disease Control reported that most people in the United States carry detectable levels of plastics, pesticides and heavy metals in their blood and urine.
17. 2,4-D: One of the key ingredients in Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant used in Vietnam, 2,4-D is still the most widely used herbicide in the world.
16. Mercury: In Canada, Dow had been producing chlorine using the mercury cell method since 1947. Much of the mercury was recycled, but significant quantities were discharged into the environment. In March 1970, the governments of Ontario and Michigan detected high levels of mercury in fish in major waterways. Dow was sued by state and local officials for mercury pollution.
15. PERC: Perchloroethylene is the hazardous substance used by dry cleaners everywhere. Dow tried to undermine safer alternatives.
14. 2,4,5 T: One of the toxic ingredients in Agent Orange.
13. Busting unions: In 1967, unions represented almost all of Dow's production workers. But since then, according to the Metal Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, Dow undertook an "unapologetic campaign to rid itself of unions."
12. Silicone: The key ingredient for silicone breast implants made women sick. Litigation continues over silicone breast implants, removed from the market more than a decade ago.
11. DBCP: The toxic active ingredient in the Dow pesticide Fumazone. Doctors who tested men who worked with DBCP thought they had vasectomies, because no sperm was present.
10. Dursban: Trade name for chlorpyrifos, a toxic pesticide, proved to have nerve agent effects. It was tested on prisoners in New York in 1971. It replaced DDT when DDT was banned in 1972. A huge seller, in June 2000, EPA limited its use and forced it off the market at the end of 2004.
9. Dow at Christmas: "Uses of Dow plastics by the toy industry are across the board," boasted Dow Chemical in an internal company memo one Christmas season. Among the chemicals used in these toys are polystyrene, polyethylene, ethylene copolymer resins, saran resins, PVC resins, or vinyls and ethyl cellulose.
8.The Tittabawassee: A river and river basin polluted by Dow in its hometown, Midland, Michigan.
7. Brazos River, Freeport, Texas: A February 1971 headline in the Houston Post read: "Brazos River is Dead." In 1970 and 1971, Dow's operation there was sending more than 4.5 billion gallons of wastewater per day into the Brazos and on into the Gulf of Mexico.
6. Toxic Trespass: From Trespass Against Us: Dow Chemical and the Toxic Century by Jack Doyle: "Dow Chemical has been polluting property and poisoning people for nearly a century, locally and globally – trespassing on workers, consumers, communities, and innocent bystanders – on wildlife and wild places, on the global biota and the global genome."
5. Holmesburg Experiments: In January 1981, a Philadelphia Inquirer story revealed that Dow Chemical paid a University of Pennsylvania dermatologist to test dioxin on prisoners at Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia in 1964.
4. Worker deaths: Dow has a long history of explosions and fires at its facilities. In May 1979, an explosion ripped through Dow's Pittsburgh facility, killing two workers and injuring more than 45 others.
3. Brain tumors: In 1980, investigators found 25 workers with brain tumors at the company's Freeport, Texas facility – 24 of which were fatal.
2. Saran Wrap: The thin slice of plastic invaluable to our lives, Saran Wrap was produced by Dow until consumers went looking for Dow products to boycott.