For World Water Day, ICJB Asks UNEP to Take Action on Ongoing Soil & Ground Water Contamination


ICJB photo
ICJB photo

Achim Steiner, Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Michel Jarraud, Chair of United Nations Water (UN-Water)
Georg Kell, Executive Director, Global Compact
Robert Skinner, Associate Director, The United Nations Foundation, New York 

cc: Gavin Power, Deputy Director/Issue Management – CEO Water mandate, Global Compact
Lila Karbassi, Issue Management – Environment, Global Compact
Alex Stein, Managing Director, Foundation for the Global compact
Anita Househam, Issue Management – Supply chain sustainability, Global Compact
Blanca Jiménez Cisneros, Vice-Chair of United Nations Water (UN-Water)
Ndey Isatou Njie, Secretary of United Nations Water (UN-Water)

March 22, 2014

On the occasion of World Water Day, the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB) commends UN Water’s efforts to draw attention to the limited supply of freshwater in developing and emerging economies and its focus on “the bottom billion”. In this regard, we wish to bring to your notice the double standards of the Dow Chemical Company, which claims to be involved in global water sustainability, but refuses to clean-up the environmental pollution – and subsequent groundwater contamination – in Bhopal, India caused by the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC), a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Bhopal gas disaster, which took the lives of approximately 7,000 people within the first week. This disaster has resulted in 25,000 deaths to date, and chronic health problems amongst almost 150,000 people. Widespread soil and groundwater contamination, which stems from recklessly dumped hazardous waste, endangers the health of 50,000 residents in 22 communities up to three kilometers away from the now-abandoned factory site. It is UCCs hazardous design of their Bhopal-plant, including its waste-disposal system, that led to this tragedy and the subsequent soil and groundwater contamination. Despite a 1989 private investigation by UCC-affiliated scientists that found 100% fish mortality, UCC and now, Dow Chemical, continues to deny their involvement in groundwater contamination in Bhopal.

Decades of consuming contaminated groundwater has led to a number of health issues in the affected communities, including headaches, diarrhoea, stomach cramps, and skin rashes, as well as a rise in birth deformities. This is in addition to the health problems present amongst those that were exposed to methyl isocyanate (MIC) in the Bhopal gas disaster, which include sickness in respiratory, ocular, neurological, neuromuscular, gynecological, reproductive and endocrine systems.

Now, as a result of a directive from the Indian Supreme Court and a lengthy struggle by survivor groups, the state government of Madhya Pradesh has started supplying clean piped water to residents of the 22 water-affected communities. However, these measures only provide temporary relief. Approximately 10,000 metric tonnes of hazardous waste from UCC’s abandoned factory continues to pollute the soil/groundwater, and is spreading beyond these 22 communities. These toxins will continue to impact more and more communities in Bhopal, until the site is remediated.

Despite claims on its website, of “promoting sustainable water use policies and practices … [and] calling for greater collaboration between government, the private sector, civil society and other stakeholders to help solve the global water crisis”, Dow Chemical has refused to address environmental pollution and subsequent groundwater contamination in Bhopal, India. In fact, Dow Chemical has a lengthy history of denying and refusing to remediate sites of environmental pollution that they have caused. This includes dioxin contamination of the Tittabawase in Midland MI, as well as Agent Orange use in the Vietnam War, which has led to soil/groundwater contamination, in addition to cancers, reproductive health problems and a host of other medical issues amongst those exposed. 

In effect, we reiterate the demand made in our previous letter that Dow Chemical’s membership in the United Nations Foundation be terminated, and that a commitment to the Precautionary Principle, the Polluter Pays Principle and Communities’ Right to Know be a requirement for membership in the United Nations Foundation. We also ask that UNEP, with support from the Government of India and UN Water, undertake a comprehensive scientific assessment of the depth and spread of the contaminants in and around the factory in order to develop a site remediation plan.

On behalf of The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, North America (ICJB-NA),

Reena Shadaan
Community Relations Officer,
International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, North America
reena.shadaan (at)

Renu Pariyadath
Member – Community Relations Working Group,
International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, North America
renu.pariyadath (at)

Photo Credit: Jack Laurenson

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