Category Archives: Shameless

Posts that highlight the most shameless acts by Dow Chemical and Union Carbide, the Government of India, the United States government, and others

India’s most Secret Incinerator is here

18-July-2011

http://www.tehelka.com/story_main50.asp?filename=Ws180711India.asp#

The Madhya Pradesh high court has ordered that the DRDE dispose off toxic waste from union carbide’s bhopal plant. Why the secrecy?

INDIA MAY have sent rockets into space. But as a nation, we are not yet potty trained. With more than six decades of industrialisation behind us, one would think that India would have a policy to deal with the remediation and restoration of pollution hotspots. But no. Our continued bungling of the Union Carbide contamination in Bhopal is a sorry case in point. In the lead up to the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal gas leak, the Madhya Pradesh government wanted to convey to people that the issue of contamination had been resolved, and that time was such a great healer that even without doing anything, the highly contaminated Bhopal factory site had magically cleaned itself up. How did the government do that? By getting scientists to say that the site is safe and that whatever was toxic is no longer toxic.

One prominent scientist recruited for this job was R Vijayaraghavan, Director of the Defence Research Development Establishment (DRDE), a supposedly high-tech laboratory of the Ministry of Defence. For an R&D agency with such pretences, the director’s statement on the Bhopal toxic waste was frighteningly simplistic. “For a 70kg man, there will not be any death even if he takes 200gm (of toxic wastes stored inside Carbide’s premises) by oral route,” he wrote in an official opinion given to Madhya Pradesh. His conclusion was worse. The government’s plans to open the factory site for public visits, he wrote, would not cause ‘any untoward, adverse or toxic effect to the public’.

Going by his suggestion, recruiting 17.5 lakh men weighing above 70 kg to consume about 200 grams of Carbide wastes each should take care of the 350 tons of toxic wastes without troubling anybody.

Bhopal activists countered this scientific skullduggery in their own comical, cynical way. Exactly a week before the 25th anniversary, they served up a banquet with a difference. On the menu was an assortment of ‘toxic delicacies’ – Semi-processed Pesticide on Watercress; Naphthol Tar Fondue; Sevin Tar Souffle; Reactor Residue Quiche; and Lime Sludge Mousse. All served with a complimentary bottle of B’eau Pal water. “Your appetite will contribute to a cleaner Bhopal,” invitees were told. Vijayaraghavan was named as the chef of the faux banquet.

Bhopalis are totally unimpressed by Vijayaraghavan’s brand of ‘science’. But the Madhya Pradesh High Court has unquestioningly reposed its faith in the Defence Laboratory. The court is hearing a case filed in 2004 seeking directions to make Dow Chemical clean up and compensate the affected people. A number of Bhopal organisations have impleaded in the matter. Time and again, they have underlined that any remediation effort must be informed by science, that the science must be subject to public scrutiny, and that the polluter must pay. On July 12, the court ordered that about 350 tons of toxic and obsolete pesticides currently stored in Union Carbide’s factory should be disposed of at the Defence Research Development Organisation’s (DRDO) facility located in the vicinity of Nagpur.

The said DRDO facility is truly off the radar. Jairam Ramesh is credited with having identified this hidden facility. If national security hinges on keeping the plant’s location secret, then our security is soon to be breached. The plant’s location will not remain secret for long as nosy journalists and apprehensive residents from Nagpur would make a beeline for it. Already, there are murmurs that DRDO’s mysterious operation is in Buti Bori, an industrial area 35 km from Nagpur.This is the third attempt to burn the wastes. The first two were abandoned after residents living near those facilities highlighted the inadequacy of the incinerators in handling Carbide’s wastes. The incinerator in Ankleshwar, Gujarat, caught fire because it had stored several hundred tons of toxic wastes in violation of its own hazardous waste authorisation. The explosion happened in April 2008 when Bhopalis were sitting on dharna in Jantar Mantar demanding, among other things, that the Bhopal wastes should be disposed of without subjecting other communities to another slow- motion Bhopal.

This is the third attempt to burn the wastes. The first two were abandoned after residents living near those facilities highlighted the inadequacy of the incinerators in handling Carbide’s wastes. The incinerator in Ankleshwar, Gujarat, caught fire because it had stored several hundred tons of toxic wastes in violation of its own hazardous waste authorisation. The explosion happened in April 2008 when Bhopalis were sitting on dharna in Jantar Mantar demanding, among other things, that the Bhopal wastes should be disposed of without subjecting other communities to another slow- motion Bhopal.

The second facility was in Pithampur, near Indore. This facility was constructed cheek-by-jowl with a residential area, in violation of setback guidelines. Incidentally, locating the Union Carbide facility in a densely populated part of town was an important contributor to the Bhopal disaster’s massive death and injury toll. The Pithampur facility too had an explosion nearly killing a worker just days before Jairam Ramesh was to visit it.

The Madhya Pradesh High Court’s order is problematic, even illegal, on many counts. Time and again, bureaucrats, politicians and now the court have used the fact that these wastes have lain here so long as a justification for getting rid of it quickly, by any means and for bypassing due process. The very least that needs to happen if the Bhopal wastes are destined to a facility is to verify if that facility has the wherewithal to receive the wastes. Other questions have to be answered too. Is the facility licensed? Does the facility have a good track record? Incineration is not just about burning; does the facility have a suitable mechanism to dispose the highly toxic ash and residue generated by burning the wastes? Are the people living near the facility comfortable with the facility’s operations? Was the facility designed to receive and dispose the kinds of wastes currently stored in Bhopal? Are workers and people in the vicinity informed enough to react suitably in the event of an emergency?

These are not irrelevant questions. Had they been raised before Bhopal, the world’s worst industrial disaster may never have happened. But we are a nation addicted to political and social expediency. Forget what is right, whatever can be pushed through must. The court has directed DRDE director to instruct DRDO to make arrangements to receive, store and dispose the toxic wastes as and when it is brought from Bhopal starting right away. The state government is directed to start packing and transporting the wastes within 10 days.

I made some phone calls, nothing that state pollution control boards or the environment ministry could not have done. It turns out that the DRDO facility is truly secret. People don’t even know where it is. The Maharashtra Pollution Control Board agrees that there is a facility somewhere near Nagpur,and that it does secret things. One person told me an incinerator was commissioned at the facility about 18 months ago to destroy some super-toxic military stuff, something to do with the Brahmos missile project. The regional officer of Maharashtra Pollution Control Board was categorical: “If you’re releasing pollutants to air or water, you have to get our consent. Defence establishments have no exemption as far as I know. The ammunition factory in Nagpur has our license.”

THE DRDO facility has never been inspected by the regulatory body. Till date, nobody has approached the Pollution Control Board seeking its approval. The facility does not have a license to operate. It does not have a hazardous waste authorisation. It has not submitted the mandatory emergency response plan to the district administration. The DRDO has said that its responsibility begins only after it receives the wastes from Madhya Pradesh. But as things stand, if the operator of the DRDO facility were to comply with the Madhya Pradesh High Court order, he or she could land up in jail for up to two years for violating environmental laws and handling hazardous wastes without authorisation. Licensing formalities aside, experts are skeptical whether the incinerator would actually be able to deal with the Bhopal wastes.

The secret DRDO facility is truly off the radar. But its location will not remain secret for long as nosy journalists and apprehensive residents from Nagpur make a beeline for it. There are murmurs already that it is in Buti Bori, 35 km from Nagpur

Thermax is the largest incinerator manufacturer in the country. It has supplied incinerators to the DRDO. Its CEO Unnikrishnan was categorical when asked if Indian incinerators can handle the Bhopal wastes. In a May 2010 letter that has been submitted to the high court, Unnikrishnan said: “To the best of our knowledge, there aren’t any incinerators currently in operation within our country that has the level of sophistication and safety systems in-built to tackle the waste under consideration.” A consultant advising GTZ, the German bilateral technical extension agency, concurs. This is particularly significant because the Germans are known to have perfected the art of destruction by burning.

The Bhopal wastes contain high levels of chlorinated chemicals and heavy metals. Burning chlorinated material in the presence of heavy metals is the best recipe for generating dioxins, a category of carcinogenic, immune system-busting chemicals that are the most toxic substances known to science. The opaque manner in which authorities have attempted to deal with the Bhopal wastes does not bode well for the evolution of a robust policy to deal with contaminated sites. Survivors’ groups say they were taken by surprise by the order as they were never consulted or heard on the matter. An October 2003 order of the Supreme Court is unequivocal in its emphasis on community participation in any matter relating to hazardous wastes. Clearly, the decision to send the Bhopal wastes to a secret DRDO facility in a clandestine manner is not informed by this apex court decision.

It is not just the Bhopal groups that were in the dark. Eminent scientist and Padma Bhushan awardee PM Bhargava is part of a technical committee appointed by the court to advice on disposal plans for the Bhopal wastes. He too had no idea about the current proposal until I spoke with him. “It is pertinent to know what the design specifications of the DRDO incinerator are, and whether it is designed to handle such wastes,” he says.

Bhopal survivors may have been denied an opportunity to comment on the proposal. But, the court records in its order its invitation to Dow Chemical to suggest a cheaper option. The consideration shown to Dow’s financial well-being is curious given that the American company has consistently refused to submit to the writ of Indian courts.

All this makes one wonder whether the rule of law and science-based decision-making are mere rhetoric. India is a country strewn with toxic hotspots. In Kodaikanal, a toxic mercury hotspot caused by Unilever’s thermometer factory has clocked 10 years without clean-up. In Mettur, farmers have registered complaints of groundwater and soil contamination by Chemplast’s chemical factories since the late 1960s. In Roro, Jharkhand, an abandoned hill of asbestos wastes, which has poisoned the air for decades, continues to spew lung-crippling fibres of death. Entire stretches of industrial areas, in Vapi, Ankleshwar, Vellore, Patancheru, Sukhinda valley are industrial disaster zones begging for remediation. In all these cases, agencies of the state are yet to decide whether the environment is contaminated, whether the contamination is caused by the company and whether the company is liable to repair the damages and compensate farmers.

One would imagine that the government and the courts would use the perverse opportunity provided by the Bhopal disaster to better advantage – to develop mechanisms to ensure that factories don’t pollute, and to implement a rigid polluter pays regime to enforce clean-up to world standards in a transparent manner, and to deter polluters.

But left to the agencies of the state, no such policy will emerge. After every disaster like Bhopal, or every time that we discover pollution as with Unilever’s mercury pollution in Kodaikanal, citizens will have to wage a battle against the combined might of the polluter and regulator over decades to get a place cleaned up. Forget rehabilitation of the Bhopal site. Perhaps, it is time we focused on cleaning up the state.

Nityanand Jayaraman is a Volunteer Campaign for Justice, Bhopal.

 

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Sunday, June 3rd, 2007: Protest at Dow-sponsored “Blue Planet Run”

On June 3rd, the non-profit organization “Blue Planet Run” held an event in Boston Common as the participating long-distance runners were arriving in Boston. The blue planet run goes across 16 countries and covers 15200 miles in 95 days. At each stop, the organization holds a media event to promote their message. However, some might wonder what exactly this message is. According to the organization, the event promotes safe drinking water across the globe. However, many activists feel that the honesty of their message is encumbered by the fact that the main sponsor of the run is Dow Chemical, which products and factories are a major source of water contamination across the world.

Boston Common, June 3rd, 2007

An interview with AID Boston volunteer Sudarshan Vasudevan about the “Blue Planet Run” (WMBR MIT Campus Radio, 06/13/07) can be accessed (the entire program) at WMBR’s archive at: http://www.wmbr.org/www/sched-wed under the program titled “What’s Left”.

On June 3rd, the non-profit organization “Blue Planet Run” held an event in Boston Common as the participating long-distance runners were arriving in Boston. The blue planet run goes across 16 countries and covers 15200 miles in 95 days. At each stop, the organization holds a media event to promote their message. However, some might wonder what exactly this message is. According to the organization, the event promotes safe drinking water across the globe. However, many activists feel that the integrity of their message is encumbered by the fact that the main sponsor of the run is Dow Chemical, which products and factories are a major source of water contamination across the world.

Dow Chemical is spending $10 million to sponsor the run, while at the same time it is avoiding to pay for the clean-up of the water sources it has contaminated.

Dow’s involvement in water contamination:

  • Bhopal India
  • Gulf of Mexico
  • Mississippi River
  • Brazos River, Texas
  • Myrtle Grove, Louisiana Acquifer
  • Vietnam
  • Lake Huron & Saginaw Bay, MI
  • Tittabawassee & Saginaw River, MI
  • 3,500 waterways in the United States

Read more about Dow Chemical’s history here.

What is behind Dow’s new PR campaign?

The sponsorship of the Blue Planet run is part of Dow’s new PR offensive, which promotes the company’s commitment to social responsibility and environmental sustainability. However, how are we to interpret this campaign if more money is spent on advertising their commitment than on cleaning up the sites they’ve poisoned?
In 2006, Andrew Liveris, chairman and CEO of The Dow Chemical Company, spoke at the UN to describe Dow’s commitment to sustainable water solutions and announced their partnership the Blue Planet Run Foundation. Read more about Dow’s announcement here.
One could say that all this sounds very promising, however, here a few issues to investigate for those who are sceptical about the corporate good heart:

nterestingly, one of the intial sponsors of the BluePlanetRun was Coca Cola (read more here) – another company with a fantastic record in terms of ensuring safe drinking water: Coca Cola has been widely criticized for causing water shortages in many Indian communties located near the company’s bottling plants. Read more about Coca-Cola here.

Dow Chemical makes money through selling water purification technologies, materials for water piping etc.. So could they possibly have any other interests in promoting their new interest in clean water solutions?

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Bhopal – forgotten?

A number of days ago, on August 20th, the US court for appeals rejected a petition by 15 survivors of the 1984 Union Carbide gas leak in Bhopal, India. The plea asked for the removal of hazardous materials the company had left behind and compensation for the those affected by the accident.

While I found many Indian newspapers reporting about this court decision, I couldn’t find any American media outlet mentioning the court appeal. Has Bhopal become an issue far away and irrelevant for the daily concerns of the American people?

That night, on December 3, 1984 a gas leak at the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal killed thousands of people immediately and seriously affected the health of another 150 000 for years to come. The people there still bear the physical and emotional scars, as do their children, many of whom have been born with birth defects. Dow Chemical purchased Union Carbide in 2001, also acquiring Carbide’s liabilities, but refuses to address its responsibilities in Bhopal.

Although there are many tragedies on people’s minds these days, all of which are cause for great concern – Lebanon, the war in Iraq, new terrorist threats to name but a few, we should not forget those who are still suffering from the effects of a tragedy that happened more than 20 years ago. The fact that the remains of the Union Carbide factory are still killing and poisoning people today should be a reason for outcry, especially here in the US, as Union Carbide was after all an American company.

Our companies and courts need to ensure personal and corporate responsibility. The court’s response to the appeal, “We have already affirmed dismissal of these claims because of impracticality of a court-supervised clean-up project on the land owned by a foreign sovereign.” demonstrates how insufficient the current legal regulations are for Western companies operating abroad. <!– D([“mb”,”

However, one does not even have to look that far afield tonfind examples of corporate irresponsibility. Right here innMassachusetts, there are several cases of people suffering from thenmistakes the industry has made.

For example, in today’s local newspaper, I found two articlesnabout groundwater contamination due to corporate wrongdoing: one wasnabout the W.R. Grace Co. building in Woburn finally being demolished,nafter it had become a symbol for Woburn’s toxic legacy; another one wasnabout a case of contaminated ground water in Ashland, where toxicnvapors from the water pose a health risk to residents 28 years after andye factory had left.n

These stories show that we need to ask for more accountabilitynfrom the chemical industry. Bhopal has been acknowledged as the world’snworst industrial disaster and a symbol for corporate neglect. We neednto learn from what happened in Bhopal and make the legal changesnrequired to protect our environment and our health. However, first ofnall, we need to make sure that the people in Bhopal will finallynreceive the compensation and support they deserve. Dow Chemical is onenof the largest chemical companies in the US. It is up to the peoplenhere to ask them to take responsibility. I hope that Cambridge willntake a first step by passing a city council resolution in support ofnthe survivors in Bhopal (www.cambridge4bhopal.org).

Letnus not forget that those who were on the front pages of the newspapersnacross the world in 1984 are still waiting for justice today – theynwon’t be able to ever forget.n
B. Werner
Cambridge, MAnn”,0] ); //–>

However, one does not even have to look that far afield to find examples of corporate irresponsibility. Right here in Massachusetts, there are several cases of people suffering from the mistakes the industry has made.

For example, in today’s local newspaper, I found two articles about groundwater contamination due to corporate wrongdoing: one was about the W.R. Grace Co. building in Woburn finally being demolished, after it had become a symbol for Woburn’s toxic legacy; another one was about a case of contaminated ground water in Ashland, where toxic vapors from the water pose a health risk to residents 28 years after a dye factory had left.

These stories show that we need to ask for more accountability from the chemical industry. Bhopal has been acknowledged as the world’s worst industrial disaster and a symbol for corporate neglect. We need to learn from what happened in Bhopal and make the legal changes required to protect our environment and our health. However, first of all, we need to make sure that the people in Bhopal will finally receive the compensation and support they deserve. Dow Chemical is one of the largest chemical companies in the US. It is up to the people here to ask them to take responsibility. I hope that Cambridge will take a first step by passing a city council resolution in support of the survivors in Bhopal (www.cambridge4bhopal.org).

Let us not forget that those who were on the front pages of the newspapers across the world in 1984 are still waiting for justice today – they won’t be able to ever forget.

B. Werner
Cambridge, MA

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Corporate accountability groups nationwide expose the “Future We Create” conference as fraudulent greenwashing

June 7, 2011

GREENWASHING: false expressions of environmental concern especially as a cover for environmentally-unsound products, policies, or activities (adapted from Merriam Webster).

“Join 60 leading thinkers as they explore the future of water for our world today. Covering global systems and specific “megatrends,” featuring personal stories from the frontlines as well as reflections on the human dimension of water, The Future of Water will examine how different fields, sectors, and stakeholders can meet the challenge of supplying a growing global population with clean and sustainable water.” http://www.futurewecreate.com/

Sounds benign, even commendable, right?  The so-called leaders asked to join the conference were in fact perpetrators of drinking water contamination and unjust privatization of water worldwide.  Involved parties in the conference included Coke, BottledWaterWeb.com, and the infamous Dow Chemical.  Surprisingly, Dow Chemical had contacted Anna Lappe, world-renowned author, public speaker and activist, with a request for a 60-second video for the virtual conference.  Her response was more honest then the company would have hoped for, and obviously was rejected:

Read the full press release here.

Their attempts at greenwashing were met with opposition from individuals and organizations like Lappe’s  Small Planet Institute, Corporate Accountability International and the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (us!).

Where does the Bhopal Gas Disaster fit into this story? Dow acquired Union Carbide in 2002 and thereby acquired its assets and liabilities.  You can read more on the legal background of Dow’s liability. By refusing to clean up in Bhopal, and allowing water and soil contamination to seep deeper into an aquifer, Dow is committing crimes against humanity.

As for the Future We Create conference, the “personal stories from the frontlines” it advertises should sound more like young Bhopali Amir’s story.  “The Human dimension of water” in reality looks more like these picture I took at the eerie Union Carbide pesticide factory in Bhopal this past February, where it continues to leak its water toxins:

Water outside of the factoryUnion Carbide Pesticide FactoryBhopali kids on the factory wall

Don’t let these greenwashing attempts go unnoticed. To take action, tweet something clever @Futureswecreate or post something on its Facebook page. Check out Justice4Bhopal’s twitter account for ideas.

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Peer Review Committee is helping Dow Chemical!

Press Statement 25-May-2011

Leaders of five organizations of the survivors of the 1984 Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal today condemned the recommendations of the government appointed Peer Review Committee on remediation of toxic contamination in and around the abandoned Union Carbide factory.

In a letter submitted to the Chairman of the Oversight Committee on Bhopal Environmental Rehabilitation, Mr. Jairam Ramesh, the organizations charged that the recommendations of the Peer Review Committee (PRC) were unscientific, unilaterally decided and were designed to help Dow Chemical get away from its Bhopal liabilities by paying a pittance for environmental remediation.

Goldman Environmental prize winner Rashida Bee of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Stationery Karmchari Sangh who took part in the meeting organized by the Oversight Committee today, said that two of the members of the PRC have direct links with Dow Chemical Company, USA that, as 100 % owner of Union Carbide, USA is legally liable for the toxic contamination in and around the Union Carbide factory in Bhopal.

She pointed out that the Mumbai based Institute of Chemical Technology, whose director Prof. G D Yadav is a PRC member, has jointly instituted an award with Dow Chemical since 2009. Similarly, another member of the PRC, Dr. Rama Rao is a member of the advisory board of InnoCentive Corporation of which Dow Chemical is a member. A third member of the PRC, Dr Arbinda Mitra works with the NGO, India US Science & Technology Forum, that was set up with 7 million USD from the US government, Rashida Bee said.

Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action said that majority of the seven-member PRC have long association with the National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) and the Council for Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR). She said that the bias of the PRC is evident by its deliberate disregard and out of hand dismissal of adverse comments by experts from the Indian Institutes of Technology in Mumbai, Chennai, Kharagpur,  Delhi and Kanpur on the environmental assessment report by NEERI and other CSIR agencies.

According to Balkrishna Namdeo, President of the Bhopal Gas Pedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha seven Bhopal survivors organizations had presented a scientific review of the NEERI report by waste management experts from The Netherlands, Australia and UK but the comments of these experts have been dismissed out of hand by the PRC. He said that the PRC has run roughshod over critical opinions of the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, Hazards Centre, New Delhi, Greenpeace International and other non governmental agencies.

Calling for the immediate scrapping of the PRC’s recommendations and reconstitution of the Committee to ensure that there were no members with conflict of interest, Nawab Khan of the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha stated that the survivors of the Bhopal disaster will not allow the implementation of the recommendations of the PRC at any cost.

He said that thousands of victims of Union Carbide will physically stop the transportation of hazardous waste till they are satisfied that they will be safely disposed off. He warned that any move to dismantle the factory structure will face the wrath of the victims who insist that the structure is conserved as a memorial to the world’s worst industrial disaster.

 

Rashida Bi,Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmchari Sangh

94256 88215

Nawab Khan,Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha

 

 

Balkrishna Namdeo,Bhopal Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha

98263 45423

Satinath Sarangi, Rachna Dhingra,Bhopal Group for Information and Action

98261 67369

Safreen KhanChildren Against Dow Carbide

9303831487

 

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