Category Archives: News Articles on Bhopal & Dow Chemical

News articles published about the 1984 disaster and the Bhopal campaign

Dow poison scandal breaks in New Zealand

A report on the effects of exposure to dioxin from Ivon Watkins-Dow’s chemical plant is today expected to overturn 30 years of assurances that residents had nothing to fear. The residents have claimed for years that the plant’s emissions caused birth defects, cancer and other diseases. A Health Ministry team has been in the affected area preparing for today’s release of the study into contamination from the long-closed chemical plant which made the herbicide 2,4,5-T. The dioxin came from the former Ivon Watkins-Dow – now Dow AgroSciences – plant next to the New Plymouth suburb of Paritutu, which made 2,4,5-T from 1960 until 1987.

The study out today reveals a serious public health problem and will contradict previous assurances that residents had little to fear from dioxin exposure. The acting head of public health, Doug Lush, is in the town with about eight ministry officials. Dr Lush met New Plymouth mayor Peter Tennent and other regional leaders last night, but refused to make any public comment.

Green Party health spokeswoman Sue Kedgley said she understood the study would show the level of contamination in the blood tests of residents would suggest the Government is facing a “serious health problem”. Prime Minister Helen Clark is understood to have been briefed up to three weeks ago.

Officials have also been expecting that Dow AgroSciences may seek a court injunction stopping the report’s release. The company’s general manager, Peter Dryden, refused to comment last night on that possibility, or on the report’s contents. The Government and the ministry were also refusing to comment yesterday.

The study looks at who may have been exposed during the 1960s and 1970s. Blood from 50 participants has been tested. The first phase of the study, made public in March last year, said that when the next phase was revealed, people might want to know their results. If high contamination was found, that should be “communicated with care” by a health professional. Ms Kedgley claimed there had been a “30-year cover-up” of the effects of the plant on the health of nearby residents. “Everyone for 30 years has been trying to minimise, downplay or deny that there’s any risk.” New Plymouth MP and minister outside the Cabinet Harry Duynhoven said yesterday that he had not seen the results of the study. “Like everyone else I’m waiting,” he said.

Nguyen Thi Van Long, 20, with birth defects believed to be caused by Agent Orange, works in her classroom at the Friendship Village on the outskirts of Hanoi, Vietnam on Wednesday, March 29, 2006. Civilians and Vietnam war veterans from several countries held a two-day conference to plead for recognition of health problems they say are associated with Agent Orange, the chemical defoliant U.S. forces sprayed during the war. (AP Photo/Richard Vogel)

Dioxin can cause cancer and has been linked to reproductive failure and birth defects. It is a byproduct of making trichlorophenol, one of the chemicals used in the weedkiller 2,4,5-T. Dow imported trichlorophenol until 1969, when it started making it locally. Former midwife Hyacinth Henderson, aged 87, and now living in Dunedin, says she saw many birth defects when she worked at New Plymouth’s Westown Maternity Hospital. Between 1965 and 1971 she recorded 167 birth defects out of 5392 babies born there. She told the Herald yesterday that they had abnormalities she had never seen before and she had been in obstetrics for 40 years. “Some of them were horrific . . . There were two anecephalics, which means there is no brain or the brain is sheared off above the eyebrows. There were a large number of bone deformities such as clubbed feet and things like that.”

Phil Cassin, a retired GP living in Queensland, worked at Opunake until 1967 and delivered about 200 babies a year. Between 1963 and 1967, he had three cases of major congenital deformities and cancers that occur, respectively, in one in 1 million cases, one in 100,000 cases and one in 30,000 cases. He believed the cause of the deformities was the combination of the weedkillers 2,4,5-T and 2,4-D (together known as Agent Orange) and background radiation from French nuclear tests in the Pacific. Ms Kedgley said there were parallels with Vietnam veterans and Agent Orange.

To which we need hardly add, there are also clear parallels with Bhopal, devastated by Dow’s 100% subsidiary Union Carbide Corporation 20 years ago.

How long will we put up with the activities of the irresponsible greed-driven executives who run companies like Dow and Union Carbide? Join us in a Global Day of Action for Bhopal on 3rd December 2004, the twentieth anniversary of the Union Carbide disaster. For years we have been warning people around the world that they must take action to protect themselves, because it could happen to them. The news from New Zealand this morning is miserable confirmation. Get involved! Join us! Do it now!

Greenpeace New Zealand comments, 9th September 2004

30 YEARS OF NEGLECT FOR PARITUTU RESIDENTS

A report released by the Ministry of Health today has confirmed that Dow is one of the largest historical polluters in New Zealand, says Greenpeace.

Dioxin levels detected in Paritutu residents are up to fivefold on nation-wide levels which are second only to South Vietnam. “This is a damning indictment of 30 years of neglect,” said Greenpeace toxics campaigner Mere Takoko. “We will be supporting the call made by the Paritutu Dioxins Investigation Network for an independent inquiry into the environmental and health abuse of Paritutu residents committed by Dow.”

Greenpeace also noted that the Ministry of Health’s consultation and delivery of a study on the blood serum levels of Paritutu was a fiasco. The media knew about the visit by the Ministry to New Plymouth before the people whose blood was tested. “We wonder who the Government is more concerned about: New Zealanders or Dow?”

“The ramifications of this issue spread far beyond Paritutu. This company has affected many groups such as railway workers, forestry workers and farmers,” said Andrew Gibbs Researcher for the Paritutu Dioxin Investigation Network. In what has been described by residents as the “second Vietnam,” the company now faces undeniable charges of corporate crimes that compare with the scale of the South Vietnam. “Dow’s parent company has been linked to human rights and environmental abuses throughout the world. They are currently under litigation for the Bhopal disaster, where 3,000 people were killed during the world’s largest chemical spill. [In fact the immediate death toll was at least 8,000 and after 20 years it now stands at more than 20,000 — Ed] They are also under litigation by the Vietnam Veterans in America and the Vietnamese,” said Mere Takoko.

“The Government is driven by its financial interest of protecting its possible liability. Given that the Government was, in 1969, subsidising 116 Dow products, it has reason to be worried.”

THE POISONING OF NEW ZEALAND

Article from Investigate Magazine, October 2004 issue

Outbreaks of rare diseases and tumours are appearing in clusters around New Zealand, close to chemical factories. Why doesn’t the Government want to investigate? SIMON JONES discovers what the authorities don’t want you to know:

Walk down any street in New Plymouth and you will probably hear a mixture of coughing and spluttering. Look inside any school and there appears to be more special needs children than is the norm for a city the size of New Plymouth. It’s often been said that everyone knows someone with a serious disease, whether it be cancer or multiple sclerosis. ad luck? Possibly, but for the last 15 years a group of residents have turned scientists to uncover what they say is a national health scandal – and one which, despite the government and media’s persistent attempts to ignore, won’t go away.

They may sound like conspiracy theorists in overdrive – and there is little in the way of official evidence and health statistics to back up what they say. But here is the frightening thing: If, in this real-life game of Fact or Fiction?, only 10 percent of what the residents say is true, we have a huge health scandal on our hands – the magnitude and implications of which are unimaginable.

The story centres around one of the city’s major employers, the Ivon Watkins Dow Plant. Since the early 1960s, and up until 1987, it manufactured the 2,4,5T herbicide – which contains the deadly dioxin also used to form Agent Orange – a weapon of huge destruction in the Vietnam War.

In New Zealand and around the world 2,4,5T is used to kill scrub, gorse and blackberry. In Vietnam, with concentrations of dioxin much higher, it had the same effect – to the extent where it devastated the country’s crops and caused major health problems amongst veterans, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, while creating learning difficulties amongst the vets’ children.

Is it just coincidence that many in New Plymouth – and in areas around New Zealand, where this herbicide was extensively sprayed, complain about the same health problems?

For years governments, both here and overseas, turned a blind eye to the damaging effects of dioxin, refusing to admit that there was any link between Agent Orange and health problems suffered by vets.

Yet recently, in a draft report leaked to the Washington Post, the US government upgraded dioxin to a ‘human carcinogen’ – in other words a substance which is a major cause of cancer, as well as birth defects and infertility.

Only a pending lawsuit by New York restaurant owners, who claim the link to cancer will scare away customers, has blocked publication of the report.

The US Environmental Protection Agency notes that emissions of dioxin have plummeted from peak levels in the 1970s, but still pose a significant threat to some who ingest it – mostly in food, especially food of animal origin.

John Moller, the president of the Vietnam Veterans Association, says it is ironic that some of the 3,800 Kiwi vets who served during the war came home to find that they were still partly exposed to chemicals associated with Agent Orange either by living in New Plymouth or areas where the herbicide was sprayed.

“The New Zealand government says that because of the few figures involved and the time span it is not worth running tests on veterans now.

“That’s rubbish because the government has given $200,000 to the nuclear test veterans association for research and legal fees. Their exposure happened before Vietnam and their figures are much smaller.

“The government has buried its head in the sand for too long,” he says. “For example, when an enquiry was finally instigated, they took samples from native forest but not the Pine forest where 2,4,5-T was heavily used.

“The problem with dioxin exposure is that there is a 30-year envelope. The historical effects are only beginning to come through now.”

The US government invented 2,4,5T in 1941 to be used as a weapon of war against Japan. Later, with concentrations lower, it is intended to control unwanted vegetation, most of which is found in Taranaki, Northland and Gisborne.

The manufacture of 2,4,5-T is said to have started in New Zealand around 1962 and by 1970 the number of birth defects in New Plymouth doubled and the number of cases nationwide started to rise.

Because of international health concerns 2,4,5-T production was halted around the world – with the exception of one factory, the Ivon Watkins Dow Plant in New Plymouth which persevered until 1987. The plant is still in operation today but only produces pesticides.

Levels of dioxin found in 2,4,5-T were reduced through the late 70s and 80s as Ivon Watkins responded to health concerns, yet residents say the effects of intense manufacture in the 1960s are etched on the faces and, more importantly, the glands and
livers of local people now.

Time for some statistics. The average level of dioxin in Agent Orange was around 198 parts per million. In New Plymouth, at the peak of production, the average level in the manufactured product was around 95 parts per million – around half that of Agent Orange. By 1987 the level of dioxin was down to 0.1 or 0.05ppm following heightened awareness about the potential health problems.

Initially residents and workers were happy with health assurances from company bosses, particularly with the way waste was disposed through burning. But only recently have secret dumps been found around the city, dumps which residents say have infected soil and water.

In 1986 the Ministry of Environment held an official inquiry into dioxin contamination after 300kg of vapour accidentally leaked from the plant. Yet, interestingly, company bosses admitted that over 250kg of vapour was normally discharged as a result of the normal process anyway.

The enquiry team concluded that there was no evidence of major contamination in New Plymouth or of any major health risk Yet residents say that part of the information used in that research was based on American studies which have since found to be fraudulent. This is where the issue becomes more complicated. In 1949 an explosion at the Monsanto chemical plant in Nitro, West Virginia, exposed many workers to effects of 2,4,5-T. Thirty years later Monsanto scientists and an independent researcher, Dr Raymond Sunkind, compared death rates amongst workers exposed to 2,4,5-T to those who hadn’t been exposed. When no differences between the two groups were found, Monsanto claimed that dioxin did not cause cancer. Evidence of inaccuracies were only exposed in the late 1980s when a group of Missouri citizens sued Monsanto for alleged injuries suffered during a chemical spill caused by a train derailment in 1979. While reviewing documents obtained from Monsanto, it was held in court that during the early studies, scientists omitted five deaths from the dioxin-exposed and put them in the unexposed group. Given that, and the leaked report to the Washington Post, it’s small wonder that the residents are now calling for a new inquiry.

It’s easy in stories like this to get bogged down with statistics and hearsay. But it’s only when confronted with the truth about health problems in New Plymouth that people start listening.

Take, for example, the case of Ross Lawrence, 43, who lived within a stone’s throw of the plant and worked there as a storeman between 1980 and 1985. He contracted non-hodgkins lymphona and Hepatitis C in 1998 – one year after his wife, Patricia, 41, was diagnosed with breast cancer. To add salt into the wounds, the 17-year-old family dog, Ena, died of cancer last year and both Ross’s children suffer from a mixture of skin complaints and bleeding noses.

It’s only when you hear stories like Lawrence’s that the word “coincidence” becomes a little bit too stretched.

“I came home from Pakistan where I was working on an oil rig in 1997 to look after my wife,” said Ross. “Shortly after I went to the doctor after complaining about flu-type symptoms only to be told that I had cancer and Hepatitis C. Isn’t it strange how three of us could get cancer in one household?”

An extensive course of chemotherapy seems to have thankfully cleared the cancer, and after having her glands removed, his wife managed to keep both breasts. But the trauma also brought its psychological toll. The stress and strain of illness coupled with the loss of his $100,000-a-year job effectively ended their marriage.

“This could have cost my life,” says Lawrence, “and it probably will in the end because Hep. C never goes away. They should be made accountable. How many other people have died of cancer without knowing the cause? How many other people are going to die?”

Ross Lawrence, like other employees, had few concerns at the time of working at the Ivon Watkins Plant. “We knew about the dangers of 2,4,5-T, but it was such a safety orientated company. They held regular safety meetings and did everything by the book.

“We were told that the waste was incinerated at temperatures which were so high that there would be no residue because everything would be dissolved. It was only when dumps containing the waste were found that I really started to worry,” he adds.

“There is still a cover-up going on. If you walk the streets of New Plymouth people wouldn’t know. Most didn’t know what the factory made. The local paper, the Daily News prints little on the subject. And the local MP doesn’t want to know.”

Now Lawrence is actively working on the local rigs but campaigns with others to lift what they say is a veil of secrecy over this health scandal.

Another leading the campaign is Andrew Gibbs, who helped set up the Dioxin Investigation Network. Recently Gibbs sent one sample of blood and a sample of breast milk to America to check for traces of dioxin, the particular type of which is called 2378 TCDD which is the most toxic type known to man. Gibbs claims previous blood tests have been worthless because 2,4,5-T passes through the system so quickly it leaves no trace. The difference here is that they would also be testing for its residual, 2378 TCCD.

When they sent the samples to the US, taken from his partner, Iris, and her sister, Lesley, they went missing for four days. Despite being clearly marked for an Atlanta laboratory, they ended up in Los Angeles. More than 160 days later, they are still waiting for the results.

“In Vietnam they have found levels of 30 to 108 parts per trillion in blood,” he said. “Levels in Maori women around the Bay of Plenty, where the herbicide was extensively sprayed, have already been found to be up around 26.7ppt. As of yet we still don’t know what the blood levels are in New Plymouth.”

Gibbs says even burning the waste didn’t destroy it. Instead waste streams left residue in the soil, on washing hanging out to dry and on barbecues. “We ate it, breathed it and wore it. When the Yanks burnt it off after Vietnam they burnt it off 80-90 miles down wind from Johnson Island.

“We burnt ours downwind on the whole town of New Plymouth. In the 1987 enquiry they said they found no evidence of dioxin in people or soil. But what they had was a 1,500 ppt safe level. The highest recorded in Vietnam was 808 ppt. In New Plymouth we’ve already levels up to 310 ppt.” His views may be ignored by health officials in New Zealand, but they have found credence in America. George Lucier, director of the National Toxicology Programme, and author of the Environmental Protection Agency report, says there is no avoiding dioxin.

“Even penguins in Antarctica have dioxin in them. No-one sets out purposely to make dioxin. It is an unwanted side-product that you get from burning. Anytime you combine heat, chlorine and organic material, there is the possibility of making dioxins.”

Lucier says scientists did not quite understand how dioxin damaged the body, but did know it acted on a universal mechanism controlling cell functions.

Dioxin attaches, or binds tightly, to the AII receptor – a kind of cellular doorway found in virtually all cells in the body. Once there, it changes the function of hundreds of genes. It will either stimulate gene expression of suppress it.

Dioxin exposure has been linked to many different tumours, especially non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, respiratory cancers, soft tissue sarcoma and prostate cancer. One Italian study of dioxin in children found hormonal changes.

“When they have children, most or all their kids are girls, not boys,” says Lucier. “Dioxin affects pathways that are involved in normal growth and differentiation, so it can cause birth defects,” he adds. “It can effect sperm counts.”

Regional comparisons for cases of multiple sclerosis and non-hodgkins lymphoma are hard to find, if not impossible to get. The Ministry of Health says there are too few cases nationwide to offer a meaningful regional breakdown. The only figures are available are from the Cancer Mortality Atlas published as far back as 1982 which says that lymphosarcoma is ‘particularly severe’ in New Plymouth, while the number of male deaths from Hodgkin’s disease was ‘particularly high’.

Yet, there are regional disparities in other areas too. While New Plymouth is almost three times the national average for Hodgkins Disease, Waipawa is five times. While New Plymouth has three times the national average for lymphosarcoma, Strathallan in South Canterbury has seven times.

There are 14 known cases of multiple sclerosis in New Plymouth suburb of Paritutu, where the plant is based. The figure may sound small, but compare that to Australia where the rate is 40 per 100,000. That should give Paritutu just 2.4 cases.

During the 1986 governmental enquiry, Ministry of Health principal toxicologist Michael Bates defended the higher rates.

“It’s normal to get quite a variation everywhere for all cancers. One area might have a predominantly old group of people for example. But in many cases no-one is exactly sure why.” Yet since 1980 the birth defects rate in Taranaki has been about 50 per cent higher than the average for the rest of the country. While it’s fair to say regional disparities also occur in other areas for different types of diseases and abnormalities, Taranaki usually falls victim to all of them.

TESTIMONY OF A VICTIM

50-year-old Roy Drake also lives close to the plant. In 1988 he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He now finds it almost impossible to walk and is close to blind.

Being homebound has meant that Drake has spent a lot of his time studying the effects of Dioxin, looking at international studies from around the world.

“If you look at any major chemical plant anywhere in the world you will find massive rates of the same sorts of diseases. Here in New Plymouth, Down’s Syndrome and Spina Bifida are going through the roof.

“Our local school has 1200 kids and in 1999 they advertised for ten special needs teachers. I’ve found out in one Kindergarten alone there are four kids with cancer.

“People of New Plymouth are very illiterate to it all. That’s because there has been a huge cover up. Imagine the legal implications of this. The damages would run into billions.

“Half of my friends are dead or have brain tumours. Not many people live to a ripe old age round here. They all die five or ten years short of their time. I am very angry and cannot understand why this has been ignored for such a long time.”

Drake says even his caregivers are riddled with disease. “I’ve had one who had sugar diabetes, two with strokes. The girl currently looking after me has cervical cancer.

“For years we have been wearing clothes with dioxin on them. When we put a plate in the cupboard it is there, although you can’t see it. There’s no getting away from it around here.”

Drake thought the new Labour government, with its Green allies, would order a fresh enquiry following new American evidence on the damaging effects of dioxin. Instead, he says, they are happy to sweep the issue under the carpet. In June of this year Health Minister Annette King refused calls for a new enquiry, relying on conclusions found in 1986 – interestingly a report delivered under the previous Labour Government.

“While I appreciate the ongoing concerns about the health of people living around New Plymouth, from the advice I have received from Ministry officials, I am satisfied that the monitoring and investigation carried out around IWD previously were adequate to show that significant exposure of the local population did not occur.”

King went on to say that a study of targeted groups who believe they have been exposed would be too expensive and difficult.

“The residents present prior to that time may have moved and would need to be traced for testing to be meaningful,” she said.

“A detailed analysis of the health data relating to the Taranaki region would be needed before any conclusions relating to the relative rates of cancer, birth defects, or other diseases such as MS, could be meaningfully compared. I understand such a process could be carried out but it is difficult to see what would be gained by doing so now.”

Not surprisingly, Andrew Gibbs disagrees. He says they are looking for recognition and help. He points that areas like Gisborne, where 2,4,5T was sprayed has almost identical ratios of motor neurone disease as Vietnam – isn’t it time we were at least prepared to look at the situation again?

Yet it seems the government is blinded by issues on the grounds of cost. The residents of New Plymouth say they have already paid a high enough price for dioxin contamination, including many lives. Their search for truth and a sympathetic ear goes on – but so far, few people are willing to listen.

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News Clippings – 1997-2004: The Medical Crisis Continues

News Clippings – 1997-2004: The Medical Crisis Continues

1997

BHOPAL STILL BREATHES UNEASY

from National Mail

2/2/97. Researchers report that the people are still suffering from the aftermath of the gas disaster a decade later. Respiratory problems and lung function is reduced among people who were exposed to the gas. The team said their findings suggested that further studies were needed, as well as controlled trials of effective treatments.

FIFTY THOUSAND BHOPALITES LEFT PERMANENTLY DAMAGED

from National Mail

19/7/97. About 50,000 people affected by the gas disaster have been “permanently damaged” according to a team of physicians. The people were still going to hospital emergency rooms with various types of serious complaints and local doctors were seeing as many as 1500 patients a day. Doctors did not have continuity of medical records and they also did not have records about which medicines the victims had taken and which of them were effective and which ineffective.

AUTONOMOUS BODY TO MONITOR MEDICAL-REHABILITATION FOR GAS HIT

from National Mail

29/9/97. The problems of the lack of medicines, corruption and irregularities in the gas hospitals, and their mismanagement, have been agitating the victims who had demanded a separate medical commission for monitoring the health of the victims. The Chief Minister agreed to the persistent demand of the gas victim’s voluntary organizations to set up an autonomous body to take care of the medical rehabilitation.

GAS RELIEF DEPT. SPREADING MISINFORMATION: SANGATHAN

from National Mail

30/11/97. The Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udhyog Sangathan says that the state government is creating atmosphere for the closure of the Gas Relief Department. Instead of making arrangements for the shortage of medicines and other drugs in the gas relief hospitals the department authorities were busy issuing misleading statements.

1998

STRESS ON AWARENESS ABOUT RATIONAL DRUG USE

from National Mail

7/10/98. A workshop on rational drug use was held by a voluntary health organization. A study showed that out of 3582 prescriptions assessed from clinics of private and government doctors, 19% had irrational, 47% had unnecessary, and 11% hazardous drugs. In 24% of cases there was no need of injections. It was stated that it was important for consumers to be made aware of the drug scenario.

GYNAE DISORDERS SHOW IN BHOPAL VICTIMS

from the Tribune

2/12/98. Doctors in the city are reporting a high and continuing incidence of gynecological disorders in women who survived the gas disaster, a trend which is having disturbing social consequences. Families are finding it difficult to marry off their daughters because of fears of long-term illness and sterility. The situation is also having serious repercussion on the mental health of the women.

BHOPAL GAS VICTIMS STAGE DEMONSTRATION

from The Hindu

4/12/98. Survivors of the Bhopal disaster held a demonstration in Delhi to mark the 14th year of the tragedy. The protesters demanded among other things, a comprehensive health care plan to ensure proper treatment through suitable infrastructure. They said the situation was no better, if not worse, than it was the day after the disaster.

GAS VICTIMS PROTEST MISMANAGEMENT IN GAS RELEIF HOSPITALS

from National Mail

16/5/98. A number of gas victims took out a rally protesting against mismanagement in gas relief hospitals. They also alleged round the year shortage of life saving drugs, late coming of doctors and paralyzed pathology and other departments.

1999

GAS VICTIMS RUNNING FROM PILLAR TO POST FOR TREATMENT

from National Mail

18/5/99. The Bhopal Gas Pidit Mahila Udyog Sangathan charged that the government hospitals and clinics, particularly those meant for the gas victims were not only neglecting the victims but also harassing them.

LONG-TERM EFFECT OF GAS TRAGEDY HIGHLIGHTED

from National Mail

2/12/99. Fifteen years after the disaster several speakers participate in a symposium about the long-term grave consequences of the gas tragedy. The speakers stressed the need for objective assessment with the view that victims are still suffering from miseries. One doctor said that the gas leaked caused maximum damage to lungs of the gas victim. He regretted that sodium thiosulphate injections were not allowed to be used on the patients as a part of sinister conspiracy. Another doctor said even the next generation is going to suffer the miseries of the tragedy.

HEALTH PROBLEMS CONTINUE TO PLAGUE GAS LEAK VICTIMS

from The Hindu

4/12/99. Respiratory and neurological disorders continue to plague survivors of the Bhopal gas tragedy, mainly due to lack of medical facilities and inadequate attention. Survivors still suffer from breathlessness, persistent cough, menstrual irregularities, blurred vision, neurological disorder, fatigue, weakness, anxiety and depression. The results of clinical studies show that many patients will require specialized medicare for years and some for their entire lifetime.

2000

HIGH USE OF ADDCTIVE, DOUBTFUL DRUGS AT UNION CARBIDE HOSPITAL

from the Chronicle

5/3/00. A report from the International Medical Commission expressed concern over the prescription of Corex, an opium derivative, over a prolonged period. In some cases at Union Carbide funded dispensaries it was prescribed for up to ten months which is long enough for addiction to develop. Also, basic medical examinations for respiratory diseases common in survivors like asthma and tuberculosis were very frequently neglected, leading to the possibility of the prescription of the this opium derivative as an expectorant for a long period.

HARD TIMES AHEAD FOR BHOPAL GAS VICTIMS

from The Hindu

1/10/00. A doctor at Gandhi Medical College projected that an abnormal increase in cases of malignancy and mutogenic disorders by the year 2001 and after could be one the long-term effects of MIC as it takes approximately 17 years for malignancy to develop. Victim’s body tissues do not receive adequate oxygen; this damage is irreversible and leads to mutogenic changes and changes in the DNA structure.

MISERIES OF GAS SURVIVORS CONTINUE

from the Chronicle

2/12/00. An ICMR report found that almost one-fourth of the exposed population experiences chronic illnesses connected to the diseases of the respiratory, gastro-intestinal, reproductive, musculo-skeletal, neurological and other systems, as well as an increased vulnerability to secondary infections. Although doctors involved with exposed persons note an increase in tuberculosis, cancers and infertility almost no data exists as work on almost all recommended research was stopped in 1994.

2001

GAS VICTIMS STAGE DEMO AGAINST HOSPITAL STAFF

from the Hindustan Times

10/7/01. Disaster survivors, mainly widows, held a demonstration in front of Bhopal Memorial Hospital to protest the lack of services for them. The problems they referred to included difficulty getting the card which entitles them to treatment at the hospital, poor quality of construction, and massive corruption.

BHOPAL MEMORIAL HOSPITAL FAILED GAS VICTIMS

from the Hindustan Times

14/9/01. A survivors group addressing a press conference after staging a demonstration to press for their demands said that Bhopal Memorial Hospital had provided services to patients other than gas victims, and often demanded advanced payment for treatment even though a Supreme Court verdict compelled the hospital to provide treatment to gas victims for free. Also, specialty treatments planned have not yet started.

BHOPAL GAS TRAGEDY VICTIMS CONTINUE TO SUFFER IN SILENCE

from the Times of India

27/11/01. On the 17th anniversary of the disaster none of the three super-specialty hospitals planned to be completed by 1995 were ready, resulting in the refusal of funds for the next phase of the rehabilitation program. 30,000 people have died from various disorders, and many are disabled otherwise and continue to suffer.

THE CONTINUING MEDICAL DISASTER IN BHOPAL

from the Hindu

3/12/01. On the 17th anniversary of the disaster volunteers associated with different action groups including Greenpeace organized a protest demonstration near the Carbide plant urging Dow Chemical and the Indian government to stop the medical disaster in Bhopal. Activists were annoyed at the corruption in the government’s medical relief initiative.

2002

THE TRAGEDY CONTINUES

from the Tribune

17/2/02. A Fact Finding Mission on Bhopal released a report on the human and environmental chemical contamination of the toxic gas leak. The study revealed that continuous contamination of groundwater, soil and breast milk presented a serious health threat not only to those currently exposed but also to future generations. These chemicals could alter the normal physiological processes in the human body and have a long-term impact on the reproductive, immune and nervous systems.

BHOPAL GAS VICTIMS: NO END TO WOES

from Free Press

10/7/02. Nearly 18 years after the gas disaster one person still dies daily of exposure related illnesses say experts. The toxic legacy of the disaster continues as persistent poisons in are the soil, water and breast milk with the alarming rise of cancers and congenital problems among children born to exposed people. According to official figures there are over three times more sick people in the exposed population today than there were after the gas leak, and the number of the sick is likely to increase in the coming years as people are still drinking water laced with heavy metals and toxic chemicals.

2003

GROWTH RETARDATION IN MALE CHILD, REPORTS STUDY

from Free Press

11/10/03. The male offspring of parents exposed to the toxic gases are shorter, lighter, thinner, and have smaller heads than sons born to unexposed parents according to a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association. The study showed growth retardation among children conceived by parents exposed to the toxic gas.

MAKE PUBLIC ICMR STUDIES ON GAS VICTIMS, DEMAND DOCS

from the Hindustan Times

31/1/03. A group of leading medical practitioners today demanded a comprehensive research about the effect of MIC on the victims of the gas disaster. At a press conference the doctors also demanded that the studies carried out by ICMR would be made public. All the doctors seemed to agree that eye ailment, respiratory problems, cancer, diabetes and thyroid disorders are far more prevalent among the gas victims. They also apprised about genetic disorders probably caused by the killer gas.

CONTINUING HEALTH PROBLEMS OF GAS VICTIMS A MATTER OF CONCERN

from the Free Press

31/1/03. Top medical specialists of Bhopal have expressed concern over the continuing health problem of the people who were affected by the gas leak. According to the specialists the gas had affected nearly all the systems in a human body. They said the health status of the survivors should be studied so that appropriate preventive and curative measures could be undertaken. A doctor who has been treating patients since the disaster said that people affected by the gas continue to suffer from various respiratory diseases. They blamed the central and state government for failing to study the effects of MIC on the people.

2004

GOVT FAILED ON MEDICAL REHAB OF GAS VICTIMS

from the Hindustan Times

10/1/04. Gas victims staged a symbolic demonstration at the Indira Gandhi Gas Relief Hospital to protest against the continued apathy of the State Government towards providing adequate medical facilities. They said the Government had failed its obligation in ensuring adequate medical facilities for gas victims. They referred to non-availability of doctors, supply of poor quality of medicines, out of order equipment and routine problems encountered by the gas victims and said that the situation had not improved despite all the protests, requests and even legal action.

GAS-HIT WOMEN STAGE PROTEST OVER GROSS NEGLIGENCE

from Central Chronicle

9/3/04. Over 120 women victims of the gas tragedy held a demonstration to protest the deliberate neglect in research monitoring and treatment of gas-affected women in front of the Indira Gandhi Hospital for gas-affected. The demonstrators voiced their protest over the lack of facilities at the hospital. They pointed out the high incidence of menstrual disorders among gas-affected women and even those born to people who were exposed, however the government hospitals have neither gynecologists nor effective treatment for the range of menstrual problems. Also, there are no facilities for proper screening, diagnosis and treatment of cervical cancer despite scores of women dying as a result of this disease.

GAS-HIT WOMEN DEMAND SAFE WATER

from Central Chronicle

17/04/04. About 200 women from the water contaminated areas demonstrated to demand safe water. A toxic tour had been organized in the water contaminated areas to show different health problems that people are suffering from due to consumption of poisoned water. These health problems include stomach ache, skin rashes, cancer, breathlessness, anaemia, and irregular menstrual problems.

AMNESTY WANTS BHOPAL STUDIES MADE PUBLIC

from Indian Express

30/11/04. Amnesty has called upon the government to release the results of 20-odd research projects by ICMR on the aftermath of the gas disaster. It said the projects, including studies on epidemiology, lung disease, mental health and pulmonary, psychiatric and other effects on children, were discontinued abruptly in 1994 without explanation. Over 20,000 have died and one lakh people are living with chronic illnesses following the gas leak, the Amnesty report said and faults the government of India for failing to fight for the rights of the survivors.

MEDICAL REPORT IS OUT 20 YEARS AFTER BHOPAL

from Times of India

4/12/04. A medical report that took ICMR close to twenty years to finalize, on the health effects of the toxic gas leak, is being released. The report reveals some disturbing figures. Death rates in the exposed areas were higher than those in the control areas and deaths were mainly due to respiratory disorders. Also, the abortion rate was much higher. All of which confirms what activists have been saying: that the tragedy continues to cast its shadow over Bhopal.

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Dow is dragged into Union Carbide criminal proceedings in Bhopal

Judge requires Dow Chemical to show cause why it should not be named as an accused in the on-going criminal case in Bhopal in place of its absconding 100% owned subsidiary Union Carbide

By Neil Hodge, writing for World Socialist

By the end of the month, the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court in Bhopal, India, will decide whether it will force Dow Chemical to send former Union Carbide officials to India to stand trial for the 1984 gas leak that has killed and injured over 60,000 people.

Dow has denied that it has any further liability for the disaster, and considers the matter closed, arguing that a settlement for claims was reached in accordance with Indian law 15 years ago. However, since 1992, Union Carbide has been lambasted as an absconder from justice because India’s criminal proceedings into the tragedy have effectively been crippled by the continued non-attendance of the key accused – Union Carbide Corporation, Union Carbide Eastern and Warren Anderson, the parent company’s chairman. Please click the link below for the full story

In May, three small religious shareholder groups successfully gained the support of six percent of the company’s shareholders, representing over 40 million shares, to urge Dow to take legal, moral and financial responsibility for the Bhopal disaster. The shareholders are also demanding that the company publish a report outlining the scale of its potential liabilities as a result of the catastrophe.

The resolution, voted on at the company’s annual

Bhopali women celebrating outside the court in August 2002 as judge upholds criminal charges against Warren Anderson, ex-Chairman of Union Carbide

general meeting on May 13, asks (but cannot force) the company to prepare a report describing new initiatives Dow has put in place to respond to problems facing survivors of the Bhopal disaster. The resolution’s supporting statement also asks the company to detail the financial and reputational risks associated with the Bhopal tragedy – the worst chemical accident in history – that killed at least 14,400 people and caused permanent disabilities for at least 50,000 others.

The shareholder resolution, which Dow’s board unanimously asked shareholders to vote against, was filed by Boston Common Asset Management (BCAM) on behalf of the Brethren Benefit Trust, Sisters of Mercy of Detroit and the Sisters of the Holy Cross of Notre Dame. Collectively, they own just 5,821 shares of Dow stock, a relatively tiny amount compared to the 81 million held by the company’s largest single shareholder – Capital Research Management – which represent nearly eight percent of the company.

This was the first time that shareholders had filed a resolution with Dow Chemical concerning the Bhopal tragedy. Union Carbide, which caused the disaster and which was bought by Dow in 2001, received shareholder resolutions concerning the Bhopal settlement and relief for Bhopal victims that came to votes in 1989 and 1990, receiving 6.2 percent and 3.9 percent support, respectively.

Dow Chemical, based in Midland, Michigan, is the largest US producer of chemicals and plastics, with total sales of $33 billion in 2003.

According to rules laid down by the US financial regulator the Securities and Exchange Commission, a first-time shareholder resolution must receive at least three percent of total shareholder support to automatically ensure that the resolution is included in the company’s annual general meeting the following year.

US shareholder activist group “As You Sow” approached Dow’s top 125 investors and emailed 5,000 more to try to persuade them to back the resolution. Major institutional investors California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CALPERS) and New York City Employees’ Retirement System (NYCERS), which together own around 7.5 million shares, and corporate governance body Proxy Voting Service recommended a “yes” vote at the annual general meeting. Other major investors also backed the resolution, such as California State Teachers Retirement Systems (CalSTERS), the 34th biggest investor in Dow with 3.24 million shares, as well as the Connecticut State Comptrollers Office (880,000 shares) and several religious institutional investors.

Lauren Compere, chief administrative officer at BCAM, which filed the resolution, said that “Dow continues to deny liability for Bhopal survivors and the remediation of the Bhopal site but asserts that there are significant legal risks – so far unspecified – associated with assisting survivors further. To say that Dow has no responsibility when it is facing court action in both the US and India because of its acquisition of Union Carbide is just plain wrong.”

But while investors may have supported the resolution’s demand for further disclosure, it does not mean that they want the company to accept liability for the disaster or to offer financial redress to victims or the community still at risk through contaminated groundwater. According to a CALPERS spokesperson: “We have not come to any position as to whether we believe that the company has any legal, financial or moral obligation to the victims of Bhopal. We merely want fuller disclosure about potential liabilities and their likely effect on shareholder returns.”

In 1989 Union Carbide, which owned the Bhopal plant, settled a civil suit brought by the Indian government and agreed to pay $470 million in damages for the 500,000 people exposed to the gas. The company maintained that the payment was made out of a sense of “moral”, rather than “legal” responsibility since the plant was operated by a separate Indian subsidiary, Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL). The settlement, which has so far provided an average of less than $500 to each victim, failed to cover criminal or punitive damages that are the subject of a 15-year-old trial in which Union Carbide and Dow have refused to take part.

Presently, Union Carbide is charged with culpable homicide and India is trying to extradite former Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson to stand trial. The company, which owned 50.9 percent of UCIL, severed its relationship with UCIL in 1994 and has argued that it has no legal obligation to conduct or finance the clean-up. However, under Indian law Dow not only bought the assets, but also the liabilities, of Union Carbide and can therefore be held to account.

Dow is currently under pressure to set aside assets to settle potentially crippling liabilities from risks associated with its production and use of asbestos, Agent Orange, and dioxin contamination in rivers in Michigan. In December 2002, Dow disclosed that the long-term costs associated with Union Carbide’s asbestos liability could be $2.2 billion, and it took an immediate charge of $828 million to its accounts. At the end of 2003, Dow had accrued obligations of $381 million for environmental remediation and restoration costs.

A federal appeals court in New York in March this year reversed a lower court decision that absolved Dow of responsibility for cleaning up the site in Bhopal. The Indian government has a deadline of June 30 to submit a letter to the court expressing its support for Dow to clean up the Bhopal site.

On April 15 San Francisco became the first US city to pass a resolution urging Dow to address its liabilities in Bhopal. “It is unforgivable that survivors of the disaster are being revictimised by the inaction of Union Carbide and its new owner Dow Chemical,” said City of San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin.

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"Bhopal: Was the Drama Necessary?"

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh personally intervened to make sure the Bhopalis got their chance for justice

Reprinted from The Hindu – Kalpana Sharma

A two-page press release, issued on June 23 by the Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, marked the end of a week of high drama. It stated that the Government of India had no objection to a U.S. Federal Court asking Union Carbide to clean up the mess it had left behind 20 years ago. It was also the culmination of three months of intensive campaigning by the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB) and Greenpeace. The March 17 U.S. Federal Court ruling was in response to a suit filed by some of the victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, when methylisocyanate leaked from a plant run by Union Carbide India Limited (UCIL) killing thousands in its wake. The court ruled that the parent company, Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), should clean up the abandoned and heavily contaminated site of the now closed plant. For this to happen, the Madhya Pradesh Government and the Centre had to state that they had no objection. What seemed on the surface to be a straightforward affair, particularly as it did not involve any costs to be borne by either Government, became a protracted affair with three people going on a fast unto death. Was all this necessary? Given the tame manner in which the drama finally ended, it would seem not.

The ICJB and Greenpeace launched their campaign first in Madhya Pradesh, urging the State Government to issue a letter of no objection. They were given the run around and told it was outside the jurisdiction of the State Government. On March 25, a delegation from Bhopal met the President and he expressed concern and support. After that nothing moved forward, partly because the country was by then in the election mode.<br
Launch of campaign

Finally, on May 8, a campaign to petition the Government was launched. By early June, the Prime Minister, who had only recently assumed office, was inundated with over 4,000 such petitions. On June 7, after months of lobbying, the Madhya Pradesh Government finally sent a letter to the Secretary of the Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilizers, saying it had no objection if the U.S. Court ordered Union Carbide to clean up the site and that this would be “in larger public interest.”<br
With this letter in hand, the activists then met the Union Chemicals Minister, Ram Vilas Paswan, and he promised to take action. They waited for a week and on June 16 met the Union Law Minister, H.R. Bhardwaj. The latter apparently raised the non-issue of conflict with the Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985. This law had allowed the Centre to represent the claims of the Bhopal victims and finally led to an out-of-court settlement with Union Carbide amounting to $470 million.<br
Despite the activists pointing out that this matter concerned pollution caused after the accident, the Law Ministry was unresponsive. In the meantime, several legal luminaries expressed the opinion that there was nothing in the law that need hold the Government back from issuing the letter.<br
By June 17, despite more reassurances from Mr. Paswan, the activists were beginning to despair. This is when three of them decided to go on a fast. Their decision caught the attention of the media, several members of the Government and leading trade unionists.

PMO’s intervention

None of this made a difference, however, until the Prime Minister’s Office intervened. On its advice, the Bhopal activists again met the Law Minister on June 21 and found, to their surprise, a complete turnabout. He said he had no problem but that the Ministry of Environment and Forests had to deal with this. The latter threw the ball back at the Law Ministry. Representatives from the campaigning groups sat in all the different Ministries — Law, Environment, Chemicals — and the PMO on June 22, waiting for some definite word. This finally came late June 23 in the form of the press release. The three broke their fast and everyone heaved a sigh of relief. But the story does not end here and there are many important lessons to be drawn.<br
First, the Bhopal campaigners succeeded because they had the ability to launch a campaign at different levels. There are many civil society groups without such support or such a high level of organisation. Their representatives sit on dharna at various locations in State capitals and in New Delhi and often neither the Government nor the media pays any heed to them.<br
Secondly, the Bhopal activists were lucky that they conducted their campaign at a time when there was a responsive Prime Minister who intervened. It is evident that without a word from his office, the matter would not have moved.<br
Third, the issue did not involve either the Madhya Pradesh Government or the Centre incurring any costs. They will be borne by Union Carbide according to the U.S. court’s ruling. This also made the issue somewhat simpler. Yet despite this last point, it is surprising that the Bhopal campaigners had to resort to all the tricks in their bag to finally get the Government to agree. The matter should never have reached this stage and could have been settled through dialogue. The fact that the campaigners had to push things to such an extreme illustrates yet again the gap in understanding between governments and activists. The former will not respond until the latter pushes the issue to an extreme. As a result, the latter become convinced that reasonable dialogue cannot work and only extreme pressure will.

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UN Urged To Help Rehabilitate Bhopal

The Bhopal delegation visited the United Nations today to urge the organisation to end its “20-year long discriminatory stand” by intervening in Bhopal’s continuing humanitarian disaster. “UN agencies such as WHO, ILO and UNICEF remain silent as people continue to die at the rate of one a day, and babies are born with birth defects. The only reason for this is that Bhopal was not a natural disaster but a disaster caused by the deliberate negligence of a powerful corporation,” said Rashida today. “Is this an indication of the UN’s willingness to sacrifice its mandate in the face of corporate might?”

Champa and Rashida met with Jose Antonio Ocampo, undersecretary general of Economic & Social Affairs, to remind him of “the total absence of initiatives by any of the UN agencies towards rehabilitation of health, economic status, environment or child welfare for the more than 500,000 survivors suffering as a result of exposure”. They also pointed out that Dow’s actions in Bhopal violate some of the basic rights enshrined in the U.N. Charter and that agencies such as the U.N. Commission on Human Rights have done nothing to bring the fugitives to justice. Five areas that UN agencies can make a critical contribution in Bhopal were outlined:

1. UN HCHR to present a report on the ongoing human rights violations in Bhopal;
2. UNICEF to research and monitor children of exposed parents, and initiate rehabilitation efforts;
3. ILO to assess loss of work capacity among survivors, and initiate schemes for economic rehabilitation;
4. WHO to initiate epidemiological and clinical studies, and help develop suitable treatment protocol;
5. UN Sub commission on Promotion and Protection of Human Rights to use Dow Chemical and Union Carbide in the context of Bhopal as a case to develop recommendations for legally binding mechanisms for holding corporations accountable for their impacts on human rights and the environment.

20 YEARS LATER: SURVIVORS OF BHOPAL GAS LEAK URGE UNITED NATIONS AGENCIES TO PROVIDE HUMANITARIAN SUPPORT TO ADDRESS ONGOING IMPACT OF WORLD’S WORST INDUSTRIAL DISASTER

New York, April 29th, 2004 — Today two survivors of the December 1984 Union Carbide gas disaster in Bhopal, India, will meet Mr. Jose Antonio Ocampo, undersecretary general of Economic & Social Affairs, to urge him to end the 20-year long discriminatory stand taken by the UN against the Bhopal victims, and initiate a program of relief and rehabilitation for the survivors. The survivors, Rashida Bee and Champa Devi Shukla, currently in US to receive the prestigious Goldman Prize, will remind Mr. Ocampo of the total absence of initiatives by any of the UN agencies towards rehabilitation of health, economic status, environment or child welfare for the more than 500,000 survivors suffering as a result of exposure to toxic chemicals.

According to the two women leaders, the UN’s failure to address the ongoing humanitarian crisis at the site of the world’s worst industrial disaster stands in sharp contrast to their response to the plight of natural disasters victims. “UN agencies such as WHO, ILO and UNICEF remain silent as people continue to die at the rate of one a day, and babies are born with birth defects. The only reason for this is that Bhopal was not a natural disaster but a disaster caused by the deliberate negligence of a powerful corporation,” said Rashida Bee. “Is this an indication of the UN’s willingness to sacrifice its mandate in the face of corporate might?”

The 1984 disaster, which has killed more than 20,000 people to date, has left a trail of health and economic problems in its wake. A 2003 study published in the Journal of American Medical Association found that male children born to gas-exposed parents were lighter, thinner, and shorter and had smaller head circumference compared to other children, confirming the impact of the toxic gases on the second generation. Toxic wastes abandoned by Union Carbide in and around its factory site remain strewn in Bhopal. Poisons from these wastes have leached into the groundwater used by more than 20,000 people living adjacent to the factory, and a recent study by Sambhavna Trust found that people consuming contaminated water suffer from lower hemoglobin levels in blood, an indication of the effects of Trichlorobenzene, a Carbide chemical found in the water.

Union Carbide, and its new owner Dow Chemical, have refused to assist in clean-up and other rehabilitation, even while they continue to evade summons to appear for trial in the ongoing criminal case in the Bhopal court. Subsequent to the disaster, Union Carbide Corporation was charged with manslaughter. Union Carbide was declared “fugitive from justice” in 1992 by the Indian court, and is an offender in the eyes of the Indian Government. “Union Carbide and Dow’s actions violate some of the most basic rights enshrined in the UN charter even while agencies such as the United Nations Commission on Human Rights remain silent,” said Champa Devi Shukla.

“That the perpetrators of the world’s worst industrial disaster have evaded criminal and civil liabilities, and escaped the jurisdiction of Indian courts by taking refuge in the United States re-enforces the need for a legally binding mechanism on transnational corporations,” said Kenny Bruno, Campaign Coordinator for EarthRights International. Bruno also coordinates the Alliance for a Corporate Free UN, which highlights increasing collusion between the UN and TNCs. “It is high time for the UN to learn the lessons of Bhopal.”

The visiting Bhopal delegation will present the UN with a memorandum seeking action on the following points:

1. UN HCHR to present a report on the ongoing human rights violations in Bhopal;
2. UNICEF to research and monitor children of exposed parents, and initiate rehabilitation efforts;
3. ILO to assess loss of work capacity among survivors, and initiate schemes for economic rehabilitation
4. WHO to initiate epidemiological and clinical studies, and help develop suitable treatment protocol;
5. UN Sub commission on Promotion and Protection of Human Rights to use Dow Chemical and Union Carbide in the context of Bhopal as a case to develop recommendations for legally binding mechanisms for holding corporations accountable for their impacts on human rights and the environment.

CONTACT: Riptide Communications (212) 260-5000

———————–
Inter Press News Agency
POLITICS:
Bhopal Survivors Urge U.N. to Help

Haider Rizvi

UNITED NATIONS, Apr 30 (IPS) – Disappointed after 20 years of appeals to courts and governments, survivors of the Union Carbide gas disaster in India are urging United Nations agencies to start relief and rehabilitation work in their hometown Bhopal, where hundreds of thousands of people still suffer from exposure to toxic material.

“The conditions are so bad that people think it would have been better to die on that night,” Rushed Bee, one of the survivors told reporters Thursday before meeting U.N. officials. “People continue to die at the rate of one a day. Yet the U.N. agencies, such as UNICEF, WHO and ILO remain silent.”

Bee, 48, lost six of her family members as a result of the Bhopal tragedy, when 40 tons of lethal methyl isocyante (MIC) gas leaked from the Union Carbide pesticide plant. She and another survivor, Champa Dev Sukla, 52, said the United Nations has failed to act in Bhopal because the incident was not a natural disaster.

“Is this an indication of the U.N.’s willingness to sacrifice its mandate in the face of corporate might?” she asked.

Earlier this month, both Bee and Sukla won the 2004 Goldman Award for their activism. They are now touring the United States to bring the Bhopal case to the attention of U.S. lawmakers and citizens.

More than 12,000 people died as a direct result of the 1984 gas leak. The incident has left a trail of health problems, as thousands of tons of toxic waste abandoned by Union Carbide in and around its factory site remain in the city.

Health activists say poisons from the wastes have leached into the groundwater used by more than 20,000 people living close to the abandoned factory, and another 100,000 people are seriously ill.

“People are forced to drink this contaminated water,” said Dr Sathinath Sarangi, who works at a clinic in the disaster-ridden area. “There are many health problems. Lack of blood is very common. Children are born with missing fingers, missing pallets and other deformities.”

Last year, the ‘Journal of the American Medical Association’ published a study that found male children born to gas-exposed parents in Bhopal were lighter, thinner, shorter and had on average smaller head circumferences than other children, confirming the impact of the toxic gas on the second generation.

“Children are born with cancer because their mothers’ milk is poisoned,” said Bee, her voice choking with emotion. “These children know when they are going to die and we don’t know what to tell them.”

Bee and other survivors say they want the World Health Organisation (WHO) to start epidemiological and clinical studies of the residents and to help develop sustainable treatment methods. They are also asking the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to research and monitor children of exposed parents and to start rehabilitation work.

Union Carbide and its new owner Dow Chemical have refused to help clean up and rehabilitation efforts at Bhopal. Dow continues to evade summons to appear in the on-going criminal case in a city court, maintaining it has no moral or legal obligation for the incident.

Subsequent to the disaster, Union Carbide was charged with manslaughter, and its former chairman Warren Anderson still faces criminal charges in India for “culpable homicide not amounting to murder”.

In 1989, the Indian Supreme Court ordered Union Carbide to pay 470 million dollars to the Indian government. Activists say the amount is insufficient to meet the basic needs of survivors, including acute medical care, lost wages and compensation for long-term disability and clean up of the site. Most survivors received less than 500 dollars from that judgement.

Unhappy with the Indian government’s performance, Bee and other survivors took their legal fights to U.S. courtrooms. With the support of advocacy groups, they filed a class-action lawsuit in New York in 1999 against Union Carbide and Anderson, seeking damages to cover medical costs and clean up of the site.

Last month, an appeals court held that U.S. courts could hear the suit and consider requests from Bhopal survivors for redemption of contaminated soil and groundwater. Activists say it is a small legal victory against Dow, but feel frustrated that the legal process has taken so many years.

“Twenty years is a long time. I don’t understand why they (Dow) are not being punished,” said Bee. “Why are we being punished? Why do our children have to wait for so long for justice?”

Activists say Dow’s actions violate some of the basic rights enshrined in the U.N. Charter, and charge that agencies like the U.N. Commission on Human Rights have done nothing to bring them to justice. They are urging the commission to make an example of the Bhopal case and take steps to hold the corporation legally accountable for its impact on human rights and the environment.

“Large corporations continue to manipulate the justice system. Like Carbide they do not want not be held liable in the home countries (for human rights violations, nor (they say) should they be held liable in their host countries,” said Kenny Bruno of the U.S.-based Earth Rights International, an advocacy group.

“Yet they can sign up to the U.N. Global Compact.”

U.N. officials defend the Compact, a project established in 2000 to encourage corporate social responsibility, but do not hesitate to admit that some companies that have pledged to follow the Compact’s nine principles have also been accused of violating labour, environmental or human rights.

“It’s a voluntary participation,” says Georg Kell, who leads the Compact. “It’s a long, long process.”

Aware of growing criticism against the U.N. institution, Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called a meeting of the Compact in June.

Whether U.N. agencies decide to take action in Bhopal, survivors-turned-activists from the disaster area say they will continue their international campaign until justice is done for the city’s people.

“If Union Carbide is not punished, if justice is not done,” said Bee, “then I fear there will be more Bhopals in this world”.

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