Tag Archives: California

Investigative Report: Flavoring agent destroys lungs

CHRIS BOWMAN, SACRAMENTO BEE, JULY 30, 2006
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By the time Irma Ortiz discovered she had been breathing toxic fumes on her job as a mixer at Carmi Flavors near Los Angeles, she had lost at least 70 percent of her lung capacity. Ortiz, 44, a nonsmoker who used to lift 50-pound bags routinely, now finds walking so difficult she spends most of her time indoors. Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua
LOS ANGELES — Hacking and gasping, Irma Ortiz could cart her groceries only so far before she’d catch other shoppers glaring at her.
Mortified, she’d abandon her cart on the spot and bolt for the door.
Frank Herrera could gun his dirt bike only so far before choking on the rush of air. Go. Stop. Go. Stop. Exasperated, he gave up riding.
Ortiz, 44, and Herrera, 34, are odd candidates for lung transplants, being nonsmokers and having considerable youth on their side.
How they lost 70 to 80 percent of their breathing capacity is no less astonishing. They acquired the same rare, lung-ravaging disease from breathing the same chemicals on the same type of job.
The two weren’t working in a chemical or pesticide plant. Nor in a weapons plant. They didn’t metal-plate, fumigate, degrease, demolish, smelt or weld.

Continue reading Investigative Report: Flavoring agent destroys lungs

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Students call for University of California to sever links with Dow

In another manifestation of what has become the largest students campaign against Dow since the Vietnam War, students at the University of California called for the university to divest from Dow and refuse further donations. Among the reasons given were the unresolved Bhopal liabilities of Dow’s 100%-owned subsidiary Union Carbide, which is officially “an absconder from justice” in India, having failed since 1992 to attend court hearings in the city where it is accused of the criminal homicide of more than 20,000 people.

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Echoes of Bhopal in California

Rashida Bee, Margie Richards from Norco, Louisiana, Hilton Kelley from Port Arthur, Texas — all residents of toxic hotspots — today went on a toxic tour of one of the Bay Area Bhopals, guided by Denny Larson of Bucket Brigade fame and Henry Clark of the local NGO West Country Toxic Coalition.

Richmond, California is one of USA’s own slow-motion Bhopal, where communities are gassed on a daily basis and subjected to the threat of an impending disaster on the scale of Bhopal. The similarities with Bhopal are startling — powerful corporations, historically oppressed communities, toxic pollution, cover-ups by polluters and regulators, and widespread ill-health among the residents. The drive up there is spectacular, a medley of thickly vegetated landscapes and the ever present Bay with its numerous bridges.

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Rashida surveys the West Coast’s largest oil refinery, owned by Chevron Texaco

Tucked away within the affluence of the San Francisco Bay Area is the little toxic neighborhood of North Richmond, a predominantly african american and latino area — a third world in a first world setting.

“It is amazing to see places like Richmond in America. If this is the way they treat their own people, it is little wonder that Union Carbide treats the Bhopalis so badly,” said Rashida Bee after her tour of the Chevron legacy.

Home to the West Coast’s largest oil refinery run by Chevron Texaco, Richmond has been the site of numerous protests in recent years given Chevron’s interests in keeping the war in Iraq going. Condoleeza Rice, an ex-director of the Chevron board, is currently one of the leading spindoctors on the Gulf war.

The word “Bhopal” finds tremendous resonance among the environmental justice activists here. Not only did the aftermath of the disaster trigger a busy phase of community organising against the disaster potential and ongoing pollution in Richmond, it also inspired local communities to fight for better toxics monitoring and disaster warning systems. But as Henry Clark put it, “We didn’t get anything without a fight. Without organisation and an organised fight, we couldn’t have won a thing.”

In the 21 years of its existence, West County Toxics Coalition has made environmental justice an accepted phrase in the vocabulary of the locals and in the policy books of the city and the State.

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Chevron Texaco’s contribution ot the environment of North Richmond, California

Despite the organised and growing resistance, incidents of pollution and spills are routine. In our 90 minute tour of the industrial estate, we saw inadequately remediated superfund sites, billowing clouds of black smoke from one of the numerous facilities dotting Chevron’s 3000 acre complex, stacks of empty chemical containers, the site of an old incinerator that used to tower over the school grounds in town, the seemingly dilapidated factory of General Chemicals from where a leak of sulphuric acid in 1993 sent 20,000 people to the hospital.

Much like in the Bhopal case, where the Government of India offered to withdraw criminal charges against the Union Carbide as part of a negotiated settlement, in Richmond too, the state prosecutors withdrew criminal charges against General Chemical in return for a $5.1 million settlement. In Bhopal, though, public pressure forced the Government to reinstate criminal charges against Carbide.

Just as in Bhopal, where people are fighting GOvernment efforts to siphon off compensation funds, the Richmong community had to fight a pitched battle to ensure that the $5.1 million obtained in settlement did not disapear into state funds, but was actually spent on setting up a health clinic for the community.

The Richmond community has been able to win for itself basic health services, an emission monitoring and warning system and an Environmental Justice law that calls for fair treatment of all peoples when it comes to enforcement of environmental law, they are yet to get the companies to submit an evacuation plan in the event of a disaster. However, Clark feels more optimistic about the future: “Now we have a Community Advisory Council as part of the Municipal agency. All development plans have to be approved by the council. Only companies that are clean, green and provide local jobs will be allowed to set up.”

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Rashida et al at the Health Centre fought for by the local community

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San Francisco asks Dow to produce Carbide for trial

The City of San Francisco has become 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 revictimized by the inaction of Union Carbide and its new owner Dow Chemical,” said City of San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin today.

The historic resolution was announced during a reception at which the San Francisco City Board of Supervisors handed Rashida Bee and Champa Devi, newly arrived in the US, a “Certificate of Honor” on behalf of the City. “We urge Dow Chemical to do the right thing by addressing its pending liabilities in India”, said Supervisor Peskin. “More importantly, Dow Chemical should demonstrate its respect for the law by producing its subsidiary Union Carbide to face trial in the criminal proceedings against it in India.” The City resolution observed that “Union Carbide Corporation is currently an offender in the eyes of the Indian Government after the Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court in Bhopal proclaimed the company an absconder from justice for its failure to honor the process of law.”

Also present at the reception was relentless scourge of Dow Diane Wilson – on appeal from a 120 day jail sentence for making the same point – for an emotional first meeting with Rashida and Champa.

“After 20 years of disappointment and rejection by the companies and the Indian and US authorities, it is actions such as these that give us the strength to keep fighting till justice is done,” Rashida said. Sadly, Dow were unavailable for comment.

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Rashida, Champa and Diane together for the first time!

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Press Release

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