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Press release: Members of Congress tell Dow to clean up Bhopal

For immediate release: June 17, 2009
CONTACT: Shana Ortman, ICJB Coordinator, (415)-746-0306, shana@panna.org
Tony Millard, ICJB Spokesperson, (708)-606-8142, aj.millard@gmail.com
Nearly 30 House members support Bhopal survivors’ demands of U.S. chemical maker
Download the entire signed letter here (large pdf file).

Survivors of the ongoing chemical disaster in Bhopal, India, secured a major victory Tuesday, as 27 members of Congress wrote to Dow Chemical Company CEO Andrew Liveris and Dow’s Board of Directors, urging the company to face their criminal and civil liabilities for the tragedy that occurred at a Union Carbide pesticide plant in December 1984. The letter endorsed the survivors’ demands for remediation—as put forth by the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB)—chiefly that Dow provide medical and economic rehabilitation and clean up the factory and groundwater contamination.

Congressman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) led the effort to support the ICJB demands. A coalition of Bhopal survivors and their supporters worldwide, ICJB is working to force Dow to face trial in India and to pay for the disaster cleanup. Nearly a quarter-century after the initial disaster, the factory sits in ruins, with toxic chemicals strewn about the grounds, just yards from the homes of thousands of Bhopali families.

“After 25 years, the human and environmental tragedy of the Bhopal chemical disaster remains with us,” Pallone said. “While thousands continue to suffer, Union Carbide and its successor, Dow Chemical, have yet to be brought to justice. I appreciate the efforts of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal to raise awareness of the plight of the people of Bhopal. Members of Congress will continue to fight against companies that evade civil and criminal liability by exploiting international borders and legal jurisdictions.”

ICJB advocates say broad support from across the United States is a reflection of the enthusiasm generated by the recent national tour led by two Bhopal second-generation survivors, Safreen Khan and Sarita Malviya, both 16, who live with their families in one of the water-contaminated communities. The survivors met with Pallone and other members of Congress in Washington D.C. on their tour.
“The water contamination left by Union Carbide has poisoned two generations in Bhopal, and Union Carbide’s owner, the Dow Chemical Company, is responsible for cleaning up the contamination, “ ICJB’s U.S. Coordinator Shana Ortman said. “25 years is too long to wait for justice or for clean water. We are pleased to stand alongside 27 members of the U.S. House of Representatives in calling on Dow to follow the rule of law in India, and face their liabilities for this tragedy—the world’s worst industrial disaster.”

The following members of Congress signed onto the letter: Ackerman (NY), Baldwin (WI), Blumenauer (OR), Brady (PA), Capuano (MA), Clarke (NY), Faleomavaega (AS), Fattah (PA), Grijalva (AZ), Higgins (NY), Hinchey (NY), Honda (CA), Jackson Lee (TX), Kucinich (OH), Langevin (RI), Lee (CA), Markey (MA), McDermott (WA), McGovern (MA), Nadler (NY), Oberstar (MN), Pallone (NJ), Payne (NJ), Schakowsky (IL), Schiff (CA), Stark (CA), Tonko (NY).

Nearly half a million people were exposed to poisonous methyl isocyanate during a runaway chemical reaction at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal on December 3, 1984. Since then, more than 22,000 people have died and 150,000 survivors continue to be chronically ill, as the Indian government and Dow have repeatedly failed to address their role in the atrocities of this ongoing disaster in Bhopal.

∙ www.studentsforbhopal.org ∙ www.thetruthaboutdow.org

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Urgent: call your Representative in Congress and ask them to sign a letter to Dow

If you are living in the U.S., or are a U.S. citizen, please take a few minutes to take this action:

While in Washington D.C. for the Survivors’ Tour, we met with Congressman Pallone of New Jersey, who has been a strong supporter of the Bhopal Campaign for many years. This year, he has circulated another sign on letter to his colleagues in the House of Representatives, which is addressed to the CEO and Board of The Dow Chemical Company.

We need your help to make sure that the letter has as many members of Congress signed on to it as possible. We’re in the process of setting up a fax action, but in the meantime, we need people to start making calls!

Please take a moment to call your member of the House of Representatives today. You can find their name and number here.

If you can call today or during a work day, great. Otherwise, it’s great to leave messages as well!

Some sample talking points:

1. I am a volunteer/member of the Campaign for Justice in Bhopal.
-> If you get someone on the phone, you could ask to deal with the person Foreign or Environmental issues

2. I’m calling about the Congressional Sign on letter that Congressman Pallone has circulated. It’s addressed to Dow Chemical Company’s CEO and Board and it urges Dow to clean up the site of the world’s worst industrial disaster in Bhopal, India and to face the rule of law in India.

3. I want to make sure the Congress member knows how strongly his/her constituents, like myself, feel about the Bhopal Issue. I sincerely hope that Congress member XX will sign on to the letter.
-> If you’re actually talking to an environmental or foreign affairs aide, you could ask them if they think that the Congress member will sign it or if they want you to send a copy if they haven’t seen it.

Please email shana@panna.org and let us know how your calling went and if the representative signed on. Don’t be shy about following up!

Some more background info:
In 2003, Congressman Pallone sponsored a Congressional letter to Dow that had 16 members signed on. In 2006 and 2008, he sent a letter to the Prime Minister of India, each carrying the signatures of 16 members.

We need to make sure that the letter this year has more signatures than ever before!

The letter Pallone has written is very strong and urges Dow to take responsibility for cleaning up Bhopal and to show up in court.
The letter says:

“There is a “polluter pays” principle in the domestic laws of both India and the United States, as well as both domestic and international law. It states that the polluter, rather than the public agencies or taxpayers, should be held responsible for its environmental pollution in its entirety…. At the time of your company’s acquisition of Union Carbide, Bhopal survivors, supporters, and Dow shareholders warned Dow against acquiring the company because of its pending liabilities. As the parent company of Union Carbide, Dow bears the responsibility for Union Carbide’s liabilities.”

Congress letter:
Linked here is the full letter, in case you are asked for a copy.

Please make sure that Dow hears from your Congress Representative!

Many thanks!
Shana Ortman, Rachna Dhingra, Sarita Malviya, Safreen Khan

International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal and Children Against Dow Carbide

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Congressman Frank Pallone’s bill on Bhopal passes to House International Relations Committee

Congressman Frank Pallone’s bill calls for Congress to recognise the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster and express commitment to work with the Government of India and others to ensure that Union Carbide provides environmental and medical rehabilitation of the affected area and is held responsible for its actions. The full text can be found here. and Frank Pallone’s remarks to the House are here.

We urge our readers in the US to contact their representatives in the House and ask for their support on Congressman Pallone’s Res. 503. You can write to your representative here.

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Pallone slams Dow in Congress

Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr.
Extension of Remarks
“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.

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US Congresspeople file amicus in Bhopal suit

“It is unacceptable to allow an American company not only the opportunity to exploit international borders and legal jurisdictions but also the ability to evade civil and criminal liability for environmental pollution and abuses committed overseas.” – Leading Congressman Frank Pallone, Times of India, 18th Oct.

This unequivocal statement announced the Amicus brief that has been filed with the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit by Congressman Pallone and eight other US lawmakers on behalf of the Bhopal survivors’ Class Action.

That’s the rotten news for Carbide. Now the unspeakable news for Daddy Dow: the brief urges the Court of Appeals to hold Dow responsible for Bhopal and exposes Dow’s refusal to accept liability for ongoing contamination as legally indefensible: “That [polluter pays] principle, has been affirmed by both international law and American common law and the appropriate means for addressing pollution or environmental harm regardless of where it occurs. That principle cannot be ignored simply because the polluter has abandoned its facility, sold its shares in a subsidy or otherwise effected change of ownership.”

Times of India
Congressman Pallone fights for Bhopal gas victims
IANS[ Saturday, October 18, 2003 12:43:59 PM ]

WASHINGTON: Leading Congressman Frank Pallone and eight other US
lawmakers, have filed an amicus brief on behalf of about 20,000 victims of the 1984 Union Carbide chemical disaster in Bhopal.

Pallone, co-founder of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian
Americans, and his colleagues have sent the 23-page brief to the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. It urges the court to hold Dow Chemical, which acquired Union Carbide in 2001, responsible for the world’s biggest environmental disaster.

The brief, initiated by Pallone, comes in response to a March decision by a US District Judge in New York dismissing all claims against Dow Chemical. Victims then appealed to the Second Circuit, said a press release from Pallone’s office.

“There is strong support in Congress for holding those responsible for this horrific tragedy accountable for their actions,” he said. “It is unacceptable to allow an American company not only the opportunity to exploit international borders and legal jurisdictions but also the ability to evade civil and criminal liability for environmental pollution and abuses committed overseas.”

For the whole article click here.

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