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Dow Chemical Buys Silence in Michigan

Documentary on Dow’s Dioxin Scandal Ignored by Four Local PBS Stations
by BRIAN MCKENNA
Three “Justice for Bhopal” terrorists were shot dead at a Dow Chemical
facility in Piscataway, New Jersey on December 14, 2003. Bhopal
activists — seeking redress for Dow’s failure to compensate victims of
the worst industrial accident of all time — stormed the Dow facility,
took eight Dow workers hostage killing one. Later a SWAT team took out
the three terrorists.
For the record, it was Piscataway police dressed as the Bhopal
“terrorists” in a mock drill. The slur had no basis in fact. But it
gives a portal into the chemical giant’s consciousness where
democratic inquiry is linked to terrorism.
On December 3rd 1984, just after midnight, 40 tons of poisonous
substances leaked from Union Carbide’s (now Dow’s) pesticide plant in
Bhopal, central India. A huge yellow cloud exposed a half million
people to the gases, which hung over the city for hours. It remains
the worst industrial accident of all time, with an estimated 7,000
deaths and 190,000 injuries the first few days and over 15,000 claims
of deaths to date.
Guns and Guards
Dow has not learned its lesson. It is successfully fighting U.S.
Homeland Security initiatives that would require them to use safer
chemicals and processes where available, to better protect the 8
million residents surrounding their plants across the country. But
they are reluctant to consider risk reduction alternatives beyond guns
and guards. And guns and guards are having a field day.
Midland, Michigan is Dow’s international headquarters. In Spring 2003,
filmmaker Steve Meador was taking digital video footage of the Dow
chemical facility there while sitting in the back of his pick-up truck
as his girlfriend drove on a public road. They were soon pulled over
and detained by Midland police, Dow security, and a deputy from the
Midland County sheriff’s office. “It was pretty scary until they
figured out we weren’t terrorists casing the place.” Meador was making
a documentary on dioxin pollution in Midland and downstream. Police
took his picture and let him go.
“Dow security said that if we had been pulled over on their property
that they could have confiscated the video,” said Meador.
Meador made his 90-minute documentary “The Long Shadow” — a critical
investigation of Dow’s dioxin dealings with Michigan state government.
The film was part of Maeder’s Master’s Project at Michigan State
University’s Center for Environmental Journalism. It shows how Dow and
state agencies collaborated to weaken regulatory enforcement, delayed
public notification of possible health hazards associated with dioxin,
and dragged their feet with an investigation.
Secret Deals
In 2001 the Engler administration learned that dioxin levels in the
Tittabwassee River floodplain, downstream from Midland’s Dow Chemical
were found at over 7,000 parts per trillion near parks and residential
areas (80 times Michigan’s cleanup standards). But they didn’t bother
to tell anyone. Finally the Lone Tree Council and the Michigan
Environmental Council filed a Freedom of Information Act request to
get the data, alerted by conscientious DEQ insiders. In January 2002
the FOIA revealed that MDEQ Director Russ Harding had blocked further
soil testing and was suppressing a state health assessment that called
for aggressive state action. Later the Engler administration secretly
tried to work out a “sweetheart deal” with Dow to raise the clean-up
level of dioxin to 831 parts per trillion, thus circumventing clean-up
of the dioxin in most areas. A judge later threw this out.
“I never even knew what dioxin was,” said Kathy Henry, one of the
floodplain residents interviewed in the film. “My first reaction to
hearing the news was fear, then denial. I didn’t want to know.” The
MDEQ recommends that Henry remove her clothing the moment she enters
the house after mowing her lawn. She looks out at her property as a
wasteland.
All the above and more is detailed in the film, along with an
interview with Harding. (Click extended entry to read more.)

Continue reading Dow Chemical Buys Silence in Michigan

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For 10th Year, Amnesty International Students “Get On The Bus” to New York City to Expose Human Rights Abuses Worldwide

From Maine to Pennsylvania, Students Convene in New York to Condemn Human Rights Abuses in India, Jamaica, China, and Mexico
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
CONTACT: Birgit Werner, e-mail: gotb2005@yahoo.com, phone: 617-230-2712
ATTENTION TELEVISION PRODUCERS: B-Roll of Bhopal is available upon request.
Friday, April 15th, 2005
(Friday, April 15, 2005) — For the tenth year in a row, more than one thousand high school and college students from ten states are traveling to New York to protest human rights abuses across the world as part of “Get On the Bus,” Amnesty International USA’s largest entirely volunteer-run event.
“Get on the Bus” is organized by Amnesty Group 133 from Somerville, Massachusetts and started ten years ago after the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other peaceful environmental activists in Nigeria. Upset about this horrific human rights violation, several members of the group traveled to New York and protested in front of the Nigerian consulate, shouting “Ken Saro-Wiwa…We will not forget!” Each year since 1996, the group has been coming back in memory of Saro-Wiwa’s heroic activism to protest human rights abuses around the world. However, what started out as a small trip of 30 people has grown to include approximately 1500 activists, mostly high school and college students.
A major goal of “Get On the Bus” is the introduction of young people to human rights activism. Rick Roth, activist and father to eight children said: “The great thing about Get on the Bus is not only the actions we take that day for human rights themselves, but that 1,000 students return to their communities and spread the word that ordinary citizens can play a part in changing the world, and also they have some specific plans on how to do it.”
This year, demonstrations are taking place at the Indian, the Jamaican, the Chinese, and the Mexican consulates. At the Indian consulate, students demand that the victims of the 1984 Union Carbide (UCC) disaster in Bhopal, India (the world’s greatest human rights disaster arising from corporate negligence) receive just treatment and compensation and that the Indian government hold UCC/Dow Chemical accountable. “We need the Indian government to bring Dow Chemical and Union Carbide to justice,” said panel speaker Gary Cohen, a board member of the Sambhavana Trust, a free clinic for the survivors of the disaster. “Dow/Carbide has not cleaned up the abandoned pesticide factory even after 20 years, and the company has been declared a fugitive in the pending criminal case in Bhopal. The world can not tolerate companies getting away with murder.”
At the Jamaican consulate, activists are demonstrating for the repeal of sodomy laws and against a political climate that tolerates homophobic violence. Amnesty International has documented a serious pattern of homophobic violence in Jamaica ranging from vigilante attacks to torture and ill-treatment by police. Gay men and women have been beaten, cut, burned, raped and shot on account of their sexuality, and there appears to be little or no accountability. “The situation in Jamaica brings into sharp relief the brutal abuse suffered by lesbians, gay men, bisexuals and transgender people around the world,” said Michael Heflin, Director of AIUSA’s OUTfront program for LGBT rights. “All too often, authorities turn a blind eye to such abuse or, even worse, are active participants – and Jamaica is no exception. In ignoring or advocating violence, they are ignoring their commitment to uphold national and international laws and standards that dictate the equal protection of all human beings.”
At the Chinese consulate, protesters are calling for the release of political prisoners such as Buddhist monk Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche. Many Tibetan political prisoners are tortured and ill-treated during their detainment and go without a fair trial or adequate legal support. Geshe Lobsang Tenpa, a former student of Tenzin Deleg Rinpoche, who himself had been detained and tortured in a Chinese prison, is speaking from first-hand experience about human rights abuses in Tibet.
In addition to the three major demonstrations, a smaller side protest is taking place during the lunch break, where activists will gather in front of the Mexican Consulate to call on the government to dedicate energy and resources to end twelve years of abductions and killings of women in the border cities of Ciudad Juárez and Chihuahua. Demonstrators carry pink crosses to remember the over 400 women who have been brutally murdered or disappeared since 1993. The group is also delivering petitions addressed to President Fox, calling on his government to conduct thorough, impartial, and independent investigations into the murders and bring to justice those responsible for the crimes.
Besides being the tenth anniversary, this year’s “Get On the Bus” is also special because, in coordination with the demonstrations in New York, several events will take place in other cities of the US and in India. Today, Students for Bhopal supporters are organizing delegations to visit the Indian consulate in Houston and Washington, DC and call in/fax actions in San Francisco and New Delhi, India. In Chicago and Chennai, India, supporters will hold parallel events in the following days. Members of OUTfront, Amnesty International USA’s campaign for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Human Rights, held vigils in Washington, DC outside the Jamaican Embassy and in Hattiesburg, Mississippi on April 14th.

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French Attaque rocks Bhopal

Jeudi 15 Avril, Bhopal
For the citizens of Bhopal, it was an amazing night when the famous French rock band Louise Attaque rocked the city.

Though most of the songs put forth by the band were French, the band for whom this was their fourth concert in India after Bangalore, Kolkata and Mumbai, language it seemed, was not a problem, as the audience lapped up every bit of what the band put up at the show.
Listen to a sample, a song called Du Nord au Sud (From North to South).
The fast rhythm and music mesmerised them.
“We feel very nice. We are enjoying a lot. The rock band that has come in Bhopal has made us feel very nice. This is a good way of spreading French culture here. Such concerts should be organised more in Bhopal. We are enjoying a lot. This is a new beginning here,” said Shweta, a spectator.
“This programme is very good. The music brought alive the whole concert. Such concerts should be held more. We felt very nice today. We enjoyed it a lot,” said Sahil, another spectator.
For the band members who performed at the concert following arrangements made by the Alliance Alliance Francaise de Bhopal, it was a unique experience.
Though it has won the musical group of the year award way back in 1999 and put up performances in many countries and sold around
2. 5 crore albums till date, for the four band members, Gaton Roosan (vocalist), Robin Fax (guitarist), Alexander Manrek (Drummer) and Arno Samuel (violinist), performing in India was unique in itself.
“It is a French band called Louise Attaque. It is a rock band. It is very special because it speaks of different styles of music but it is our style now. We like to travel very much and every place here is very different. We went to Mumbai, Kolkata and today we are in Bhopal and each time we meet different people in a different place, sometimes very noisy and sometimes very crowded and sometimes not so noisy and not so crowded as here,” said Arno Samuel, the violinist of the band.
“As regards the Indian audience, I would agree with what Robin said. People here are very generous and they keep smiling. They are interesting and they are curious and we try to give them what we are and its cool,” said Gaton Roosan, the band’s vocalist.
Visit the band’s website.

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Rashida Bee appeals to the Irish people

Survivors’ leader and Goldman Award winner Rashida was in Britain for meetings with Amnesty International, and took the opportunity to visit supporters in Switzerland and Ireland.
In Dublin she called on the Irish people to support the struggle for justice of the Bhopal survivors.

Around 7,000 Bhopalis died in the first days after Union Carbide’s pesticide plant exploded in 1984. 15,000 people have died since and another 100,000 people still suffer chronic and debilitating illnesses.
Rashida told the meeting she was visiting Ireland to gather support for the campaign to secure adequate compensation for the victims.
“The Irish people have to be part of the campaign and they have to write to the Indian government and to the American government to get them to take responsibility for the clean up,” she said.
A $470m (€359.6m) settlement was agreed between the Indian government and Union Carbide in 1989 but this was based on the incorrect estimate – that only 3,000 people died.
The company was taken over by Dow Chemical Company in 1999.
Ms Bee, leafing through a photo album which showed babies with deformities, said there had been long-lasting consequences from the gas explosion.
“Women are suffering from kidney failure and breast cancer and men are suffering from tuberculosis. Mothers, who were young girls at the time, now can’t breast feed their babies and the water is not clean – it’s poisonous,” she said.
Rashida, with her friend and fellow Goldman Award winner Champa Devi Shukla, has led protests outside Dow Chemical offices around the world but the company has argued that it acquired no liabilities for the Bhopal disaster when it bought Union Carbide.
“The clean up of the mess hasn’t been done yet and people are not able to pay their medical bills.
“It’s Dow’s responsibility to clean up the mess and help the victims,” said Mrs Bee.
The company has a fully-owned subsidiary, Dow Corning Corporation in Midleton, Co Cork, which employs 60 people in research and development.
(This entry has been extensively cobbled from a report in the Irish News, to whom vast thanks and a Bhopali hug.)

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Enough is enough: a report from Delhi

FROM VINUTA GOPAL
We had a great rally in Delhi on the 22nd of March which was lead by the activists from Bhopal. What began with 200 odd people (including school students and children from bastis in delhi), soon grew to a really massive rally with Vandana Shiva and the Delhi groups against privatisation of water joining in.

“Bahut Ho Gaya!” rent the air in hindi, tamil, malayalam and oriya! it seemed like parliament street was besieged with protesters that day. The other rallyists caught on to our chant and they were also soon saying Bahut Ho Gaya!
Here is the detailed report on what happened that day (visit www.greenpeaceindia.org for pictures):
The rally took on as many colours as the contaminated water – students in school uniform marched along with the women from Bhopal, Orissa fish-workers tried out slogans in Malayalam and oft-repeated slogans from each community seamlessly merged with impromptu street performances by children from Kutumb Foundation and Prabhaat – groups that joined the rally today to express their solidarity with these communities. The entire gamut of emotions was expressed – from pent-up
rage at apathetic authorities to gusty exhortations and calls to action – all finding expression in the single phrase “Bahut Ho Gaya, Bahut Ho Gaya!”
The words soon became a resounding chant, echoing after slogans in six different languages, as each community marched to the beat of their own oft-repeated battle-cries. These are the communities who have fought long and hard, in groups and as individuals, against the contamination of their community’s resources.
Collective campaigning by these communities has resulted in clear-cut directives from the Honorable Supreme court, adding weight to the communities’ long-standing demands. Nonetheless, there has still been no action from the government to ensure that the Supreme Court directives are implemented and that the pollution of our water, land and air is stopped.
At the end of the rally, a Memorandum was submitted to the President and Prime Minister of India. Endorsed by each of the communities participating in today’s rally, the memorandum summed up the present status eloquently, in the hope that it would elicit a favourable response:
Our fields lie fallow, there are no fish in the river; the water we drink, the food we eat, the air we breathe are all poisoned, there are chemicals racing through our blood, in mother’s breast milk, in the umbilical cord that sustains life.
On this World Water day for us is not about river-linking or water-harvesting or lip-service to Saving Water, but about its life-giving quality, purity and abundance. Both of which are threatened irreversibly, in clear violations of our constitutional rights as Indian Citizens.
We are demanding that the Government should take immediate action and
* Provide piped clean drinking water to the communities whose water resources have been polluted.
Shut down Polluting Factories violating Supreme Court’s directives on Hazardous Waste management (Order and Judgement dated 14 October 2003 in writ petition 687 of 1995)
* Rehabilitate Pollution impacted Workers, Communities and remediate their Environment and ensure that the guilty corporations take full responsibility and bear liability for the costs of the same.
* Revamp the Pollution Control Boards both at the Center and the State level to ensure transparency, rigor and honesty.

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