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Bayer finally gives up toxic MIC production in Institute, WV

Saturday, Mar 19, 2011

Associated Press
INSTITUTE, W.VA.: For the first time in 26 years, Barbara Oden can let go of the image that has haunted her — poisonous gas leaking from a Union Carbide tank and killing thousands of people in Bhopal, India, in the world’s deadliest industrial disaster.

Continue reading Bayer finally gives up toxic MIC production in Institute, WV

Unproven Technology

Union Carbide documents showing that “unproven technology” was used in Bhopal.

Secret Union Carbide documents obtained by “discovery” during a class action suit brought by survivors against the company in New York, reveal for the first time that the technology used at the fatal Bhopal factory – including the crucial units manufacturing carbon monoxide and methyl isocyanate (MIC) – was unproven, and that the company knew it would pose unknown risks.

For 18 years since the disaster, Carbide has consistently lied by claiming that the technology in its fatal Bhopal factory was identical to that used in its plant at Institute, West Virginia. The corporation’s lawyers and PR gurus even referred to Institute as Bhopal’s “sister plant”. But Bhopal was the ugly sister, always underfunded, always second-best.

The corporation knew the danger, but regarded it as an acceptable “business risk”.

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The proposal’s 50 pages demonstrate a blithe disregard for human safety. Nowhere is there any mention of risks to surrounding communities – the city’s railway station was less than a mile away and downwind of the plant. Instead they reveal that the company was obsessed to keep control of its Indian subsidiary at all costs – an obsession which led directly to underfunding of the MIC-Sevin unit, and which explodes another of Carbide’s long-standing lies: that it had no control over its Bhopal plant.

Speaking at a press conference in Bhopal today, Satinath Sarangi of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, one of the plaintiffs in the New York case, observed that “Union Carbide built the MIC unit in order to retain control, they used untried technology to keep control, they under-funded it to keep control. When it turned Bhopal into a gas chamber, they said they’d had no control.”

Pressure mounts for Anderson’s extradition

Carbide’s ex-CEO Warren Anderson, who since 1992 has been refusing to appear before a criminal court in Bhopal, was one of the select Management Committee who approved the Bhopal MIC project.

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“We now know for sure that senior Carbide officials, including Warren Anderson, not only knew about design defects and potential safety issues with the Bhopal factory, they actually authorised them,” Sarangi said.

“This is the documentary proof, the ‘high standard of evidence’ that the Indian Attorney General Soli Sorabjee claimed he didn’t have to be able to press for Warren Anderson and Union Carbide’s extradition. What we’ve found shows both prior knowledge and intent on the part of the accused: it is so significant that it demands the revision of the pending criminal charges in the Bhopal court.”

In this opening report, timed to coincide with a press conference being held today in India by the survivors’ groups involved in the New York litigation, Bhopal.Net brings you the original documents.

We will be following with detailed analyses of the documents in the light of the mountain of evidence that exists about the plant’s defective siting, construction, production processes, storage, waste disposal, maintenance, training and safety systems.

For what sum did Carbide find it worth risking the life of a whole city?

One old mystery can be cleared up right away.

Union Carbide stored liquid MIC in Bhopal in huge tanks, far in excess of what ever would have been permitted in the US. MIC is a dangerously volatile chemical and these tanks were supposed to be kept cooled to 0æC. It is known that for some months prior to the huge and fatal gas leak of December 1984, the refrigeration system had been switched off to save the cost of freon gas.

For the last 18 years, survivors have wondered just how much the company must have been saving, to make it worth risking the lives of an entire Indian city.

Now we know. The figure was $37.68 per day.

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Blueprints for disaster

On 2 December 1973 three documents were presented to the Management Committe of Union Carbide Eastern Inc, a subsidiary of Union Carbide Corporation: a two-page internal memorandum relating to the company’s plan to begin manufacturing methyl-isocyanate at its Bhopal factory; supported by a four-page capital budget plan and a forty-four page project proposal.

There was a dark prophecy hidden in the date of these documents.

Exactly eleven years later – on the night of December 2nd 1984 – Carbide’s unproven technology, functioning badly in a by then run-down and loss-making factory – combined with non-existent staff training, a savage programme of cost-cutting and almost total absence of maintenance – released 27 tonnes of deadly methyl-isocyanate into the night air of Bhopal.

The documents

Internal memorandum page 1
Internal memorandum page 2

Capital Budget Plan cover sheet
Capital Budget Plan page 1
Capital Budget Plan page 2
Capital Budget Plan page 3

Project Proposal cover
Project Proposal index
Project Proposal index of schedules
Project Proposal page 1
Project Proposal page 2
Project Proposal page 3
Project Proposal page 4
Project Proposal page 5
Project Proposal page 6
Project Proposal page 7
Project Proposal page 8
Project Proposal page 9
Project Proposal page 10
Project Proposal page 11
Project Proposal page 12
Project Proposal page 13
Project Proposal page 14
Project Proposal page 15
Project Proposal page 16
Project Proposal page 17
Project Proposal page 18
Project Proposal page 19
Project Proposal page 20
Project Proposal page 21
Project Proposal page 21a
Project Proposal page 22
Project Proposal page 23
Project Proposal page 24
Project Proposal page 25
Project Proposal page 26
Project Proposal page 27
Project Proposal page 28
Project Proposal page 29
Project Proposal page 30
Project Proposal page 31
Project Proposal page 32
Project Proposal page 33
Project Proposal page 34
Project Proposal page 35
Project Proposal page 36
Project Proposal page 37
Project Proposal page 38
Project Proposal page 39
Project Proposal page 40
Project Proposal page 41
Project Proposal page 42
Project Proposal page 43

NOTES FOR JOURNALISTS

Discovery of the new documents comes from a Class action suit ongoing in the Federal Southern District Court of New York. The suit mainly alleges that:

A. Union Carbide demonstrated reckless or depraved indifference to human safety and life in the design, operation and maintenance of its MIC facilities in Bhopal as well as its safety mechanisms.

B. UCC pursued a systematic policy of racial discrimination in the design, construction and operation of the Bhopal factory.

C. Union Carbide demonstrated reckless or depraved indifference to human life in the manufacturing, storage, treatment and disposal practices at the UCIL plant, resulting in severe contamination of the soil and water in and around the UCIL plant.

D. Union Carbide and Anderson were and are fugitives from the lawful jurisdiction of the Bhopal District Court where criminal charges remain pending against them.

The suit is based on the legal provisions under US law ff Alien Torts Claims Act [ATCA]. ATCA provides for civil remedies for ‘crimes against humanity’ [atrocities and offences, including but not limited to murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, imprisonment, torture, rape, or other inhumane acts committed against a civilian population,] committed by a US agency in a US court. The suit seeks the federal court’s decree directing UCC and Anderson to pay exemplary punitive damages in amounts to be proven in trial.

The plaintiffs and co-plaintiffs

Seven individual victims and five organizations (Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Udyog Sangathan (BGPMUS), Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha (GPNPBSM), Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationery Karmachari Sangh (BGPMSKS), Bhopal Gas Peedit Sangharsh Sahayog Samiti (BGPSSS), and Bhopal Group For Information and Action (BGIA). See www.earthrights.org/bhopal

The suit has been filed on behalf of:

a. All persons who suffered personal injuries as a result of exposure to the MIC gas

b. All persons who are entitled to recover damages for losses caused by death of their relatives

c. All persons who were exposed to MIC as set forth above but whose injuries have not yet manifested themselves

d. All persons not yet born whose injuries will manifest themselves as congenital birth defects resulting from exposure to MIC

e. All persons who continue to be exposed to toxic effluents, chemical by-products and other hazardous agents as a result of ongoing environmental pollution at Union Carbide’s facility in Bhopal

Important events with dates

Nov. 15, 1999 – Class action complaint is filed

Nov. 18, 1999 – Effective service of process on Carbide is accomplished at their Danbury offices.

Nov. 21, 1999 – Process servers inform plaintiffs’ counsel at GLRS that Anderson’s Long Island address is a vacant lot.

Nov. 25, 1999 – Process servers inform plaintiffs’ counsel at GLRS that service on the New York condo is not effective service since its only a mailing address.

March 8, 2000 – Mr. Krohley indicates to GLRS that they would, now, be willing to accept service on behalf of Warren Anderson and tried to suggest that he had not been evading service but has had “some heart trouble” lately.

August 28, 2000: Mr. John F. Keenan dismissed the class action suit mainly on the ground that the Bhopal Act [Bhopal Gas Leak Disaster (Processing of Claims) Act, 1985] prevented individuals or organizations outside the Government of India from bringing an action against Union Carbide or its official.

October 2000: Appeal against Judge Keenan’s decision filed before the Second Circuit Court of Appeal of the US Federal Court. Futile requests to the Indian government, over several months, to file an amicus curae before the Court of Appeal to clarify the role and scope of the Bhopal Act in support of the appeal.

November 15, 2001: The Second Circuit Court of Appeal part affirmed and part dismissed the decision of Judge Keenan’s court. Claims under seven counts regarding contamination of ground water and soil in and around the factory and consequent health damages are directed to Keenan for re-consideration. Plaintiffs file motion to discovery.

April, 2002: In the ongoing discovery proceedings before Judge Keenan Union Carbide submitted over 4000 pages of company documents.

June 2002: in response to a petition moved under Rule 56 [f] by plaintiff’s attorney on June 20, 2002 Judge Keenan has directed Union Carbide to provide additional documentation related to the case. Union Carbide obeyed this order.

September 20, 2002: plaintiffs and their attorney Mr. Raj Sharma filed affidavits on the basis of about 100 “smoking gun” documents before Keenan.

FERA

The Foreign Equity Regulation Act brought into Indian statute in the 1970’s required foreign holdings to be reduced to a maximum of 40%. At the time, Union Carbide’s stake in UCIL stood at 60%. Union Carbide’s corporate policy manual states that “it is the general policy of the Corporation to secure and maintain effective control of an Affiliate.” A specific statutory exemption to FERA enabled Carbide to retain majority control since it would be engaging in MIC production that required high-technology inputs not available in India. MIC production finally started in Bhopal in 1978/9.

US Congressmen tell Dow to clean up Bhopal

Ranjit Devraj, IPS, June 18, 2009
A campaign in the United States led by two girl victims from Bhopal, highlighting lingering toxicity left behind by the 1984 gas disaster in their city, has paid off with a group of 27 members of the U.S. Congress asking Dow Chemicals to clean up the site.

Sarita and Sareen, both in their teens, were taken on a 42-day tour of the U.S., starting Apr. 21, by the Bhopal Group for Information and Action (BGIA) so they could meet and interact with officials, academics and politicians in New York, Washington D.C., San Francisco and other cities.

Rachna Dhingra, a member of the BGIA team, described the intervention of 27 Congressmen as a “big step” in getting Dow Chemicals to accept responsibility for cleaning up the disaster site in Bhopal, which it acquired from Union Carbide in 2001.

“In the U.S. we had meetings with the State and Justice Department officials, who took keen interest in the issue of extradition of Warren Anderson, chairman of Union Carbide at the time of the world’s worst industrial disaster,” Dhingra told IPS over telephone from Bhopal.

A runaway reaction at the Union Carbide plant – said to have been caused by gross negligence – resulted in cyanide gas spewing into the streets of Bhopal city on the night of Dec. 3, 1984, killing more than 3,500 people instantly and at least 8,000 people in the first week. Further chemical damage affected more than 200,000.

Anderson managed to slip out of Bhopal and fly back to the U.S. – refusing to return to India to face criminal liability.

But the main agenda of the BGIA tour was to bring pressure to bear on Dow Chemicals to clean up the site where the pesticides factory stood – that remains saturated with toxic matter, forcing poor communities around it to drink contaminated water 25 years later, Dhingra said.
Satish Sarangi, who led the delegation, told IPS that the changed attitude was possibly the result of a more responsive administration under President Barack Obama. “Among those we met was Henry Waxman, Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, who had in 1984 chaired the congressional sub-committee on the Bhopal Gas Disaster and had promised a fresh hearing where Dow officials could be summoned.”

In a letter to Dow Chemicals, the senators have demanded that the company take responsibility for meeting the medical needs of the survivors and their economic rehabilitation, besides cleaning up the soil and water of the area around the site.

“We request that Dow ensures a representative appear in the ongoing legal cases in India regarding Bhopal, that Dow meets the demands of the survivors for medical and economic rehabilitation, and cleans up the soil and groundwater contamination in and around the factory site,” the lawmakers said in a letter to Dow chairman and CEO, Andrew Liveris.
“Despite repeated public requests and protests around the world, Union Carbide has refused to appear before the Bhopal District Court to face the criminal charges pending against it for the disaster,” the letter said. When served with a summons by a Bhopal district court in 1992, Union Carbide publicly refused to comply.

In 1999 Bhopal survivors filed a class action suit in U.S. courts against Union Carbide, asking that the company be held responsible for violations of international human rights law and for cleanup of environmental contamination in Bhopal. The case is one of a handful of international corporate liability cases that test the limits of corporations’ ability to use the laws of one nation to escape responsibility in another.
Congressman Frank Pallone was quoted as saying that, “after 25 years, the human and environmental tragedy of the Bhopal chemical disaster remains with us, while Union Carbide and Dow Chemical are yet to be brought to justice.”

Sarangi thought what may have helped draw support from such a large group of Congressmen was the fact that both India and the U.S. uphold the “polluter pays” principle in which the polluter – rather than public agencies – is made responsible for environmental pollution.

Indicating the double standards followed by Dow Chemicals, Sarangi said that while the company saw fit to set aside 2.2 billion dollars in 2002 against Union Carbide’s asbestos-related liabilities in the U.S., it has continued to evade liabilities in Bhopal.

Dow Chemicals had taken the stand that all liabilities were settled in 1989 when Union Carbide paid 470 million dollars to the Indian government, to be distributed to the survivors.

But NGOs based in Bhopal say the amount was paltry compared to the three billion dollars originally demanded by the government, and also did not take into account the after-effects of the gas leak on the city’s inhabitants – some 15,000 of whom are estimated to have died subsequently of various complications.

It has been estimated that victims ended up receiving less than 350 dollars for injuries, some of them lifelong. Also Union Carbide may have gotten away with costs amounting to 48 cents per share.

In 1991, the Supreme Court ordered Union Carbide to set up a super- speciality 500-bed hospital in Bhopal to look after the long-term needs of the survivors. But the bulk of the funds actually came from the sale of Union Carbide’s Indian shares – confiscated by a district court as penalty after the company ignored summons to appear in the criminal liability case.

According to Dhingra, what became the Bhopal Memorial Hospital Trust facility was quickly ridden with corruption and mismanagement so that the real victims could never actually access any of its facilities.

Syed M. Irfan, who heads the Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Purush Sangharsh Morcha (Movement For the Rights of Men and Women Affected by the Bhopal Gas Tragedy), told IPS the state government of Madhya Pradesh was as much to blame for the uncaring attitude towards the victims of the disaster and to residual toxicity.

“If Dow Chemicals does undertake to pay for reparations then it is important to involve the NGOs rather than leave it solely to the government,” Syed told IPS. “The fact is that even the creation of a separate ministry to deal with the gas tragedy has not helped the interests of the victims.”

According to Dhingra a priority for the survivors now is to hold the central government down to a solemn promise it made in August last year to set up an ‘empowered commission’ to look into all aspects of rehabilitation – including medical care of the survivors, income generation, social support and clean-up efforts.

That promise came after a dramatic month-long, 500-mile walk by a group of 50 people from Bhopal to the national capital where they set up camp for 130 days.

Nuclear mess has Tri-Cities cleaning up financially

Blaine Harden, The Washington Post, November 2, 2006
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RICHLAND, Wash. – Out on the Hanford nuclear reservation, a fantastically poisoned plateau where the federal government brewed up most of the plutonium for its nuclear arsenal, the cleanup is going rather badly.
Now in its 17th year, the nation’s largest and most complex environmental remediation project is costing many billions of dollars more than expected and will continue far longer than experts once predicted.
That dismal forecast is music to the ears of local residents.
“The silver lining is all local, where there are no consequences for failure and no misdeed goes unrewarded,” said Robert Alvarez, a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington and a former Energy Department official who monitored the cleanup during the Clinton era.
By almost every measure, except the radiation and chemical illnesses suffered by some Hanford workers, five decades of making bombs were a blessing to Pasco, Kennewick and Richland – neighboring towns along the Columbia River that call themselves the Tri-Cities.
The area was transformed from a poor, mostly empty rural backwater to a highly educated, solidly middle-class center for nuclear technology, albeit one that bordered North America’s most dangerous radioactive dump.
When plutonium production halted in 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was widespread local fear that the Tri-Cities would themselves fall into penury. But cleaning up Hanford’s colossal nuclear mess is proving more lucrative – for the locals – than making it in the first place.
What’s more, said Michele Gerber, a Cold War historian who has written a critical history of Hanford and now works for one of the private contractors cleaning up the 586-square-mile site, the effort is a more stable engine for job creation, housing construction and business investment than making plutonium, which tended to wax and wane with foreign security threats and international nuclear treaties.
“I think the cleanup will last a hundred years,” she says.
With taxpayers footing the bill, the failure to make progress in sanitizing the Hanford site means that more and more federal spending will be showered on the sagebrush semi-desert in eastern Washington, and that residents can look forward to more decades of growth, prosperity, rising real estate values and better restaurants.
At Hanford, the bungled big-ticket project of the moment is a gargantuan factory that would, if it ever works, transform high-level waste into glass logs suitable for long-term storage elsewhere. The plant has already cost $3.4 billion but has yet to process a single gallon of the 53 million gallons of deadly waste stored in 177 underground tanks.
Construction stalled this year when the Energy Department discovered that factory designers had underestimated the risk of earthquakes. Now, department officials say the earliest the plant can start up is 2019, by which time it will have cost $12.2 billion, more than double the estimate of three years ago.
During a recent tour of the site, Gerber spoke in chilling detail about “the long waiting game” before contamination can be cleaned up. She said that if there were a teacup of Hanford’s high-level waste on the bus, it would kill or grievously sicken everyone on board within an hour.
Candor, in the cleanup context, is good politics. The more dangerous the site’s waste is perceived to be, the more likely the federal government is to continue pumping in money to take care of it.
That spending, Gerber said, has been about $2 billion a year for the past 11 years and is likely to continue for a decade. The cleanup, assuming that the new processing plant starts operating by 2019, will then take at least 20 to 25 more years, an official said.

Addition of vitrification plant stacks changes Hanford’s skyline

Annette Cary, Tri-City Herald, October 28th, 2006

Hanford vitrification plant workers secure 130-foot stack
The skyline at Hanford’s vitrification plant changed Friday.
Bechtel National spent about four hours slowing lifting 125 tons of emission stacks 70 feet into the air to place them on top of the plant’s Low Activity Waste Facility.
“This is the first time we’ll see LAW looking like it will always look,” said Mike Lewis, manager of construction for Department of Energy contractor Bechtel National.
The building stands 70 feet tall and the 130-foot emission stacks bring the structure to 200 feet tall, about the height of a 17-story building.
The $12.2 billion vitrification plant is being built to immobilize Hanford’s worst radioactive waste inside glass logs for permanent disposal. The Low Activity Waste Facility will be the third-largest of the four large buildings at the plant, which will be surrounded by 25 support buildings.
The plant is planned to treat much of the 53 million gallons of radioactive and hazardous chemical waste now stored in underground tanks. It’s left from separating plutonium from irradiated fuel rods to produce plutonium for the nation’s nuclear weapons program from World War II through the Cold War.
Wastes will be separated at the Pretreatment Facility into low-activity radiation and high-level radiation components. The low-activity radiation waste will contain mostly hazardous chemicals with as much of the radioactive constituents removed as possible.
High-level radiation wastes can emit up to 5,000 rems of radiation an hour as measured on contact with the outside of a stainless steel container. The low-activity waste can have 0.4 rems per hour. That’s roughly the amount of natural background radiation a person would receive annually just by living in Washington state.
Silica and other glass-forming materials will be added to the waste and then the mixture will be melted to form glass.
That’s part of the need for the stacks raised Friday.
Gas from the two melters in the Low Activity Waste Facility will be cleaned and then released from the stacks, along with other air from the building’s ventilation system.
There’s no comparison to what was released from Hanford’s stacks during the plutonium production years, said Roy Schepens, manager of DOE’s Hanford Office of River Protection.
Emissions from the Low Activity Waste Facility will be filtered to remove small particles and sent through a scrubber that will use steam to settle out heavier particles before the air is released from the stacks.
The air emissions will have to meet standards of the Washington State Department of Ecology, the State Department of Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Regulatory permits have been approved for the design of the stacks, but they still must receive operating permits.
The stacks will handle more than 110,000 cubic feet of air per minute that will be monitored and sampled before leaving the facility once operations begin.
The stack assembly that was lifted Friday includes three individual emission stacks, each between 4 and 5 feet in diameter, encased in an open steel framework.
Bechtel National used two cranes to lift the stack assembly to a standing position. The smaller crane slowly crawled toward the larger one holding the bottom end of the stacks as the larger crane lifted from the top of the stacks until the assembly was suspended.
“Slow and easy,” Lewis said as work began.
Then the 270-foot-tall crane lifted the stack assembly high enough to clear the building and swung it into place on the roof.
Bechtel National chose Friday for the lift because workers build at the site on 10-day shifts from Monday through Thursday. That cleared the area of all but 50 of the approximately 700 people usually at the construction site.
The contractor also carefully planned the lift with detailed drawings, computer calculations of the weight on both cranes, load tests of the components in the slings and a check of the credentials of those working on the project.
This week workers also finished the roofing and siding on the building. It’s “dried in,” as they say.
Now they’ll continue work inside where it’s warm and dry on electrical, heating and other systems, working toward a construction finish date for that building in 2012.
“If you go inside, it’s starting to look like a plant,” Schepens said.
Every day the look of the vitrification plant seems to change, said Dave Smith, president of the Central Washington Building and Construction Trades Council.
But “major milestones like today’s add emphasis to the accomplishments,” he said.