The West Virginia Chemical Spill:
Solidarity from the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal
The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, North America (ICJB-NA) expresses solidarity with the communities of West Virginia that are facing a toxic nightmare. The Freedom Industries chemical spill and the Union Carbide Corporation’s (UCC) chemical leak in Bhopal, India share many similarities, namely: (1) Unsafe design; (2) Unsafe location; (3) Failure to report to official bodies; (4) Denial of the leak by the Corporation immediately after the incident; (5) Inadequate information available on the leaked chemical and on an appropriate response, and; (6) Government’s negligence in regulation.
It will soon be thirty years since the people of Bhopal, India were exposed to 40 tons of the highly toxic, methyl isocyanate (MIC) due to the hazardous design/cost-cutting decisions of UCC, now owned by the Dow Chemical Company. As we approach the 30th anniversary of the Bhopal gas disaster, we wish to express solidarity with your struggle and reiterate our vision –“No More Bhopals”. We demand an end to chemical leaks and spills that pose threats to the safety of our environment and health, including the health of future generations.
The contamination of our water – the most precious resource for human life – is a heinous crime. Like you, Bhopalis have faced widespread groundwater contamination since 1981, even predating the gas disaster of 1984. Additionally, the site of the disaster has yet to be cleaned up, resulting in further soil and groundwater contamination. Most of the affected communities have been forced to rely on this water containing dangerously high levels of mercury, heavy metals and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs). This has led to a host of health problems, including headaches, dizziness, rashes, skin discoloration, abdominal pain, as well as reproductive health problems, including the suppression of lactation, birth defects and developmental disabilities. This is in addition to the chronic health problems already experienced by survivors of the Bhopal gas disaster, which include sickness in the respiratory, ocular, neurological, neuromuscular, and gynecological systems. Survivor groups led a relentless campaign for years and in 2012, the state government of Madhya Pradesh constructed pipelines to supply clean water to the affected communities.
Toxic facilities are routinely situated in areas populated by the poor, working-class and/or racial minorities and, left to self-regulate, chemical industries will continue to pose a threat to the lives and environments of such communities. UCC’s Bhopal plant was situated alarmingly close to several slum communities, populated by some of the most marginalized sections of Indian society. The same rings true in North America. The Navajo nation faces the depletion of their water resources and pollution at the hands of the Peabody Western Coal Company. This has led to an increase in respiratory health issues, which first became apparent in the late 1960s, but like Bhopal, the struggle continues decades later. In Canada, the Anishinaabe nation lives on the Aamjiwnaang reservation in “Chemical Valley,” an area that is home to 40% of Canada’s chemical industry. A 2005 community-based study found that of 132 women surveyed, 39% had at least one stillbirth or miscarriage. These are a few cases in a wider problem of toxic facilities being routinely situated in areas populated by indigenous communities, African-American communities, working-class white communities and other marginalized communities.
Governments must enact regulation that will ensure the safety of communities near and workers within toxic facilities, and ensure that polluting facilities are held responsible. In effect, we demand that the precautionary principle, the community’s right to know, and the polluter pays principle guide all regulation related to chemical facilities.
The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, North America
Reena Shadaan (firstname.lastname@example.org) / Renu Pariyadath (email@example.com)
International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, North America (ICJB-NA)