Dissatisfied with the cleanup of a chemical disaster in Bhopal, India that occurred 18 years ago, University students and Greenpeace activists protested with a candlelight vigil in front of the home of Dow Chemical Co. President and chief executive officer Mike Parker in Midland. The Tuesday protest occurred midway through a week of action to remember the Bhopal disaster and ended last night with a video documentary that showed the continuing effects of the contamination.
“The victims of Bhopal have been waiting for 18 years,” said Ryan Bodanyi, a co-facilitator for Justice for Bhopal, a student group that co-organized the week’s events. “We should bring this issue home to Mike Parker because the contamination is causing hundreds of thousands of people to suffer.”
The gas disaster at the Union Carbide India Limited Plant on Dec. 2 and 3, 1984 occurred when methyl isocyanate poured out of a tank and spread into the nearby area by wind, killing 4,000 people and affecting 400,000 others, by some estimates. The disaster was legally resolved by Union Carbide in a $470 million settlement that was placed in a trust fund for the Bhopal victims.
“We don’t think that anybody should certainly forget the tragedy,” Dow spokesman John Musser said. “But legally the matter was settled … absolutely.”
Musser added that the protestors’ actions were “pushing the limits” and were with obvious intent to intimidate Parker.
The documentary presentation by Indian filmmaker Nadeem Uddin focused on the remaining chemical tanks that are infecting the drinking water and the lack of action taken on the part of Union Carbide. The presentation’s footage also showed the prolonged depression common to the population and the physical deformities resulting from the contaminated soil and water.
One point of contention between Dow and the protestors is the settlement’s compensation for only the victims and not the environment – namely, the decontamination of the drinking water. Suits are still pending concerning the compensation of Bhopal’s environment.
“It’s self-suiting for Dow to decide when the liability ends even though the court cases are ongoing,” Bodanyi said. He added that Justice for Bhopal aims for Dow to clean up the contaminated site, provide access to clean water and research the medical and health impacts of the survivors.
Dow Chemical Co. merged with Union Carbide in February 2001 when Dow purchased the company’s stock.
“The settlement is peanuts compared to the full sum,” said Rob Fish, toxics campaigner with Greenpeace. “The settlement is a small fraction of what was necessary, and the amount was not negotiated with the survivors. … The Bhopal tragedy will not end until the U.S. multinational Union Carbide, now Dow Chemical, accepts its liabilities in Bhopal.”
The Greenpeace and student protestors at Parker’s residence offered to pay for Parker’s airplane ticket to Bhopal so that he might correct the environmental damages, but he declined.