Bhopal.Net, finding itself unable to be as diplomatic as its colleagues in the ICJB, declines to make further comment.
Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr.
Extension of Remarks about his “Bhopal Resolution”
September 29, 2004
Mr. Speaker, I introduced a resolution today in recognition of the 20th anniversary of the Union Carbide Corporation gas leak that took place in Bhopal, India in December 2004. This 1984 Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster is widely regarded as the worst peacetime environmental catastrophe in world history, and this important resolution expresses the commitment of the United States Congress to work with the Government of India and others to ensure that Union Carbide provides environmental and medical rehabilitation in Bhopal and is held responsible for its actions.
On the night of December 2, 1984, 27 tons of poisonous gas including methyl isocyanate leaked from a storage tank at the Union Carbide Corporation’s pesticide plant in Bhopal and quickly spread to the surrounding residential areas. Official estimates indicate a death toll of 3,000 lives in the aftermath of the disaster, with unofficial estimates putting the toll much higher at 8,000. To date, the death toll has climbed to more than 20,000 lives.
Although it is now 20 years since the disaster, approximately 10-30 people continue to die every month in Bhopal from toxic exposure and 150,000 people continue to suffer long-term health consequences from the disaster. The effects of the toxic gases also appear to be harming the next generation, as more overwhelming evidence is surfacing that points to higher incidence of health effects and birth-defects among children born to gas-affected people.
A host of international organizations and independent investigators have concluded that Union Carbide’s inadequate technology, double standards in safety and emergency-preparedness compounded by a reckless cost-cutting drive at the plant were the principal causes of the disaster.
Based on these investigations and other evidence, the authorities in India brought criminal charges against Union Carbide, its Indian subsidiary as well as local managers in 1987 for criminal negligence and reckless indifference leading to death.
In 1989, Union Carbide negotiated a settlement of $470 million with the Indian government that was based on inaccurate statistics about the scale and magnitude of the disaster in addition to being widely condemned by the media and responsible jurists in India as insufficient, even when compared to compensation awards provided for under Indian law. The Supreme Court of India in its judicial review of the settlement in October 1991 held that the criminal charges could not be overturned or dismissed based on the civil settlement and directed that the criminal prosecution against Union Carbide and the Indian accused must proceed in the courts of India.
When Union Carbide was served with a summons in the criminal case by the Bhopal District Court in 1992, and a notice to appear for trial was published in the Washington Post, Union Carbide’s spokesmen responded with a public statement that the company was not subject to the jurisdiction of India’s courts in disregard of universally accepted international law regarding criminal jurisdiction acknowledged by both the United States and India. Based on its refusal to appear to face criminal charges against it, the Bhopal District Court issued non-bailable arrest warrants for Union Carbide, ordered that its remaining properties in India be attached to secure its appearance and declared that the company was a “proclaimed absconder” or fugitive from justice.
Union Carbide has recently become a wholly-owned subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Corporation, which made the decision to acquire the company with full knowledge, according to its own public statements, of the criminal charges pending against it and Union Carbide’s status as an absconder or fugitive from justice. Despite repeated public requests and protests around the world, Dow Chemical has refused to make its new subsidiary appear before the Bhopal District Court to face the criminal charges pending against it for the disaster.
Like Union Carbide before it, Dow Chemical has, to date, continued to refuse to release all scientific research on the leaked gas, claiming that this information constitutes a commercial “trade secret”.
Like Union Carbide before it, Dow Chemical has also continued to refuse to release all of its own medical research on the toxicology of the leaked chemicals and gases to date. The lack of information on the gas has not only hindered the study of the long-term health and medical effects of exposure, but has left doctors with few options besides symptomatic treatment of the hundreds of thousands of gas-affected individuals and children.
The devastating health effects of the gas, the birth defects of their children and inability to work because of illness have forced many Bhopali families in desperate need of medical help into insurmountable debt.
Since 1999, at least three independent environmental surveys, including one conducted by state authorities in India, have shown that the former Union Carbide plant has badly polluted the soil and groundwater aquifer beneath it resulting in severe contamination of the drinking water supply of as many as 20,000 people living in residential colonies near the plant. One study found the presence of a large number of highly toxic pollutants in drinking water samples tested by the University of Exeter in the U.K. that were matched with chemicals found in soil samples from the Bhopal plant, including one carcinogenic chemical whose presence in the drinking water exceeded by 1,705 times the maximum limit allowed by the World Health Organization.
Another environmental survey was able to trace chemicals from the former Union Carbide plant in the breast milk of mothers living in the residential areas in the vicinity of the badly polluted site, which continues to leach pollutants into the groundwater aquifer to date. The land for the plant was leased from the State of Madhya Pradesh in India which stipulated that, upon termination, the land would be returned to the State in the condition that it was first leased and suitable for the use prescribed by the zoning regulations. The state discovered that clean-up of the site until 1998 had been insufficient leaving thousands of metric tons of toxic wastes, chemical by-products, effluents, and other hazardous materials both above-ground on the premises of the factory and below ground in burial pits and landfills, all of which posed a grave threat to the surrounding population.
At least 10 residential areas in the vicinity of the former Union Carbide plant were found to have severely polluted drinking water according to these environmental studies and no substantive effort has been undertaken for environmental remediation of the area leaving water that has high levels of mercury, dichlorobenzenes, chloroform, carbon tetrachloride, and other pollutants, toxins, and heavy metals. Soil samples from the area have found abnormal amounts of lead, nickel, copper, chromium, hexachlorocyclohexane, and chlorobenzenes. Tainted water and the generally toxic living environments have lead to premature cancer, deformities, chromosomal aberrations, and other disorders for Bhopali children.
There is a “polluter pays” principle enshrined in the domestic laws of both India and the United States as well as both domestic and international law which states that the polluter rather than the public agencies or taxpayers should be held responsible for its environmental pollution in its entirety.
International trade and ethical practices compel Dow Chemical to treat this matter very seriously and ensure that equitable treatment be afforded to the victims and their progeny.
Mr. Speaker, India is the largest democratic country in the world and enjoys a close and mutual friendship with the United States based on common values and common interests, and as a result, our countries should come together to recognize the gravity of the Bhopal disaster and the ongoing environmental problems in Bhopal caused by Union Carbide’s policies and practices.
I encourage my colleagues in the U.S. Congress to support this resolution and commit to working together with the Indian government, Dow Chemical Corporation, and the victims to ensure that Union Carbide provides complete medical, social, and economic rehabilitation to the victims of the disaster. In addition, we should work together to ensure that Union Carbide undertakes a complete environmental remediation that restores the badly polluted plant site affected by this disaster to a habitable condition and fully remediates the drinking water supply of affected residential communities. Lastly, we need to ensure that Union Carbide appears before the Bhopal District Court for prosecution on the criminal charges pending against it there, in accordance with principles of international law regarding criminal jurisdiction accepted by the world community including India and the United States.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
Midland Daily News Editorial
October 15 , 2004
Our view: Congress not the right venue for discussion on Bhopal incident
While we don’t dispute that the environmental contamination stemming
from an industrial accident in Bhopal, India in 1984 was the responsibility
of Union Carbide at the time it occurred, and that there still are arguments
between the company, the Indian courts, the Indian government and some of those injured by the accident, we don’t think the U.S. Congress should be an additional venue for deciding who is right and who is wrong.
U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), who founded the Congressional
Caucus on India and Indian Americans, has gone a step too far, we believe. He has introduced legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives that asks Union Carbide to clean the contaminated site, remediate the drinking water supply and appear before the Bhopal District Court for prosecution in pending criminal charges in relation to the incident that killed an estimated 20,000 people since Dec. 2, 1984.
This would be all nice and well, we suppose, if there hadn’t already been an agreement between Union Carbide and the Indian government in 1989
that absolved the company of all existing and future claims in exchange for $470 million.
And all nice and well, too, if the Indian government hadn’t bought the site in Madhya Pradesh — the state government where Bhopal is located — and taken responsibility for the property in 1998, saying it would clean it up.
Since the leak, accidents and victims have been pressing whoever will
listen that their cause is just. Apparently Pallone has been swayed.
This is not justice sought, but a political manuever. We have heard
persuasive arguments from both sides of the debate. While we sympathize with the victims, we believe the court system is the place for the debate, with its appreciation for the application of law. As Pallone himself states: We’re both democratic countries. As such, we both should appreciate that application.
THE ICJB’S REPLY TO THE MIDLAND DAILY NEWS
On behalf of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, we would like to submit an explanation of why we cannot share the opinion
expressed in your editorial of October 15, 2004. That opinion expressed a number of factual and legal inaccuracies that need to be corrected.
Your editorial describes the present environmental contamination which is the subject of litigation in the courts of the United States as “stemming
from an industrial accident in Bhopal, India in 1984.” That is simply incorrect. In fact, there is an overwhelming consensus that this environmental contamination bears no relation whatsoever to the catastrophe that occurred in 1984. The U.S. court of appeals has expressly concluded so twice, as have the U.S. District Court, the Indian government and even Union Carbide which has never argued to dismiss claims for this environmental contamination on those grounds. We urge the editors of your newspaper to join this overwhelming consensus.
Your editorial suggests that Congressman Pallone “has gone a step too far” in introducing a resolution on Bhopal in the U.S. Congress which
should not become “an additional venue for deciding who is right and who is wrong.” Unfortunately, that opinion might be more persuasive if
Union Carbide and Dow Chemical shared your view that “the court system is the place for the debate, with its appreciation for the application of
law.” Instead, both Union Carbide and Dow Chemical have flagrantly refused to comply with the orders of the courts in this matter, refusing to even appear before the Bhopal District Court to face trial on criminal charges despite repeated summons since 1992.
This intransigent posture is based on little more than hypocrisy because, as you may recall, it was Union Carbide who strenuously and very publicly argued that all matters relating to Bhopal must be resolved by the courts of India. In light of these undisputed facts, it seems that intervention by Congressman Pallone and members of the U.S. Congress is fully warranted precisely in order to ensure that this matter is resolved by the courts in accordance with law.
Your editorial erroneously refers to the settlement between the Indian government and Union Carbide as “absolving” the company of “all existing and future claims.” The fact is that the only claims that can possibly be “absolved” by that settlement are civil claims arising from the 1984 gas disaster itself. The settlement has no relevance to the environmental contamination now being addressed by the US courts or to the criminal charges pending against Union Carbide in India. If Union Carbide truly believed otherwise, it would have argued so before the courts of the United States or India. The fact that it has consistently refused to do so speaks volumes about the merits of this assertion.
Finally, the editorial argues that the Indian government has “bought the site in Madhya Pradesh” and “taken responsibility for the property in 1998, saying it would clean it up.” Neither of these statements are factually correct. The Indian government has never bought the site for the simple reason that Union Carbide never owned it. The land was leased from the State of Madhya Pradesh and one of the conditions of that lease was to return the property in the same environmental condition in which it was leased. Union Carbide arranged for the lease to be relinquished to authorities in 1998 but has admitted that it failed to comply with the environmental requirements of that lease.
The Indian government has, in fact, taken responsibility for the property and its clean-up. It has done so by making a submission on June 23, 2004 in the U.S. courts arguing that, in accordance with the “polluter pays” principle enshrined in Indian and American law, Union Carbide must be made to undertake and pay for the comprehensive environmental clean-up that is needed to resolve this problem.
Given those realities, it is unfair to simply dismiss Mr. Pallone’s efforts to address these issues in the U.S. Congress as a “political maneuver.” In the face of blatant disregard for the law as is shown by Dow-Carbide, it is essential for conscientious politicians like Mr. Frank Pallone to weigh in. You may dismiss Mr. Pallone’s move as a “political maneuver.” But maneuvers, such as this advance the public interest, are what all politicians should be doing.
ICJB (International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal)