BY MOLE333, POLITICAL CORTEX, AUGUST 24, 2006
Twenty two years after losing his parents and 5 siblings to Union Carbide’s criminal negligance at Bhopal, India, activist Sunil Kumar Verma has committed suicide after fighting for years with paranoid schizophrenia an illness which affected many Bhopal survivors.
Meanwhile, Union Carbide and its successor, Dow Chemical, has largely gotten off scott free.
From the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal:
On the night of Dec. 2nd and 3rd, 1984, a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, began leaking 27 tons of the deadly gas methyl isocyanate. None of the six safety systems designed to contain such a leak were operational, allowing the gas to spread throughout the city of Bhopal.
Half a million people were exposed to the gas and 20,000 have died to date as a result of their exposure. More than 120,000 people still suffer from ailments caused by the accident and the subsequent pollution at the plant site. These ailments include blindness, extreme difficulty in breathing, and gynecological disorders.
The site has never been properly cleaned up and it continues to poison the residents of Bhopal. In 1999, local groundwater and wellwater testing near the site of the accident revealed mercury at levels between 20,000 and 6 million times those expected. Cancer and brain-damage- and birth-defect-causing chemicals were found in the water; trichloroethene, a chemical that has been shown to impair fetal development, was found at levels 50 times higher than EPA safety limits. Testing published in a 2002 report revealed poisons such as 1,3,5 trichlorobenzene, dichloromethane, chloroform, lead and mercury in the breast milk of nursing women.
In 2001, Michigan-based chemical corporation Dow Chemical purchased Union Carbide, thereby acquiring its assets and liabilities. However Dow Chemical has steadfastly refused to clean up the site, provide safe drinking water, compensate the victims, or disclose the composition of the gas leak, information that doctors could use to properly treat the victims.
That is the background. The latest tragedy is reported in BBC News:
Sunil Kumar Verma, 34, was found hanging from the ceiling of his modest home in Bhopal, the capital of India’s Madhya Pradesh state, on the evening of 26 July…
Born in Bhopal in 1972, the son of a carpenter, Sunil was living with his family in JP Nagar, just across from the plant run by Union Carbide, now a subsidiary of Dow Chemicals, when the gas leak occurred.
They all escaped in panic as the poisonous cloud of methyl isocyanate gas descended on the slum settlement in the middle of the freezing night.
All the family members got separated. With his eyes burning and his chest exploding with pain, Sunil managed to board a bus that took him to Hoshangabad, about 70km (35 miles) away.
He lost consciousness and was taken to the district hospital.
He returned to Bhopal a week later to find both his parents, three sisters and two brothers dead.
His younger siblings, a sister aged 10 and a brother of two-and-half, were the only survivors. The 13-year-old Sunil was now the head of the family…
At the age of 13, Sunil got involved in campaigning for the rights of gas victims. In 1987, he formed “Children Against Carbide”.
In 1986 Sunil, a petitioner in the Bhopal civil suit, was sent to New York by the Indian government to testify in the gas tragedy case before Judge John Keenan…
In 1989 Sunil toured the world to garner support against the settlement agreed between the Indian government and Union Carbide.
He was arrested in Houston for trying to deliver an environmental report during Union Carbide’s annual meeting. He was released after hundreds of people called the city’s mayor to protest against his arrest…
In March 1997 Sunil started “hearing voices in his head”. He also suffered from insomnia and imagined people were plotting to kill him. By June 1997 his condition worsened and he often ran away from home.
He had also attempted suicide several times. He was finally diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia – a mental illness which affected many gas survivors – and began treatment.
When he hanged himself, he left a note saying he was committing suicide not because he was mentally unsound but with all his wits about him.
There has never been justice for the people of Bhopal. How can we say capitalism benefits people whose lives have been ruined for 22 years by the criminal negligence of an America company that has never even cleaned up its mess. Again from the International Capaign for Justice in Bhopal:
n 1991, the local government in Bhopal charged Warren Anderson, Union Carbide’s CEO at the time of the disaster, with manslaughter. If tried in India and convicted, he faces a maximum of ten years in prison. However Mr. Anderson has never stood trial before an Indian court; he has, instead, evaded an international arrest warrant and a summons to appear before a US court. For years Mr. Anderson’s whereabouts were unknown, and it wasn’t until August of 2002 that Greenpeace found him, living a life of luxury in the Hamptons. Neither the American nor the Indian government seem interested in disturbing him with an extradition, despite the recent scandals over corporate crime. This is unfortunate: Mr. Anderson’s decisions didn’t just wipe out retirement plans, they killed people.
The Union Carbide Corporation itself was charged with culpable homicide, a criminal charge whose penalty has no upper limit. These charges have never been resolved, as Union Carbide, like its former CEO, has refused to appear before an Indian court.
Union Carbide also remains liable for the environmental devastation its operations have caused. Environmental damages were never addressed in the 1989 settlement, and the contamination that Union Carbide left behind continues to spread. These liabilities became the property of the Dow Corporation, following its 2001 purchase of Union Carbide. The deal was completed much to the chagrin of a number of Dow stockholders, who filed suit in a desperate attempt to stop it. These stockholders were surely aware that a corporation assumes both the assets and the liabilities of any company it purchases, according to established corporate law. Indeed, Dow was quick to pay off an outstanding claim against Union Carbide soon after it acquired the company, setting aside $2.2 billion to pay off former Union Carbide asbestos workers in Texas. However Dow has consistently and stringently maintained that it isn’t liable for the Bhopal accident.
Thus the victims in Bhopal have been left in the lurch, told to fend for themselves as corporate executives elude justice and big corporations elude the blame. Dow’s unwillingness to fulfill its legal and moral obligations in Bhopal represents only the latest chapter in this horrifying humanitarian disaster.
Whatever happend to the good old fashioned American value of taking responsibility? Oh, yeah. This is Bush America where personal responsibility has been forgotten.
Help the people of Bhopal. And take action against Dow Chemicals (scroll down to the bottom for actions). Finally, find out more about Dow Chemicals, including contact info and other campaigns against Dow, from Co-op America (a group I have supported for years with a loan).