Two survivors of the 1984 chemical disaster in Bhopal, India spoke to about 30 University students in the Michigan League on May 6.
Organized to demand proper cleanup of one of the worst industrial disasters of this century, the meeting was sponsored by the University student group Justice for Bhopal, and attended by about 30 students.
“By showing the survivors, and what they have gone through, we hoped to put a human face on this issue,” Justice for Bhopal organizer and recent graduate Shivani Patel said.
Estimates vary, but it is believed that between 3,000-3,800 people died from exposure to this gas in the 24-hour period immediately following the leak in the Union Carbide chemical company’s plant in 1984.
“As a result of a gas leak from a tank of methyl isocynate in 1984, one of the survivors lost her husband and many other relatives,” Patel said. “Also, her son was so traumatized by the incident that he committed suicide.”
“Although this disaster occurred over 18-years-ago, our group is focused on bringing the situation back into people’s minds so that the area can be properly cleaned up,” Justice for Bhopal campus organizer Ryan Bodanyi said.
In addition to this, the group staged a demonstration outside of Dow Chemical’s corporate headquarters in Midland, Michigan.
Because Dow acquired Union Carbide’s stock in 2001, Justice for Bhopal, Greenpeace and the worldwide activist organization International Justice for Bhopal said they feel Dow should be held directly responsible for cleaning up the Bhopal disaster site.
Dow spokesperson Jon Musser said the transaction was not a merger where one company would disappear.
“Union Carbide remains as a subsidiary of Dow, with its own board of directors, and its own assets and liabilities,” he said. “Stock ownership does not equal responsibility for those who acquired the stock. … For example, if you own stock in Ford, and someone rolls over in a Ford and sues Ford, you cannot be sued because you hold stock in Ford, regardless of whether or not negligence occurred.”
Also, Musser contends that the issue of responsibility ended in 1989 when Union Carbide agreed to a settlement with the Indian government for $470 million to compensate some of the victims of the disaster.
But Patel said she feels this gesture was inadequate.
“The settlement in 1989 was a huge failure on the part of the Indian government,” Patel said. “Union Carbide violated their lease with the Indian government that stated the land that Union Carbide used for their chemical facility must be left exactly as it was obtained.”
Justice for Bhopal has requests for the University as well.
“The University of Michigan has divested from South African apartheid and tobacco producers before, so we are petitioning the University to also stop accepting contributions from Dow Chemical company until they take responsibility for Bhopal,” said Bodanyi.
Gary Krenz, special counsel to the President, said in those two cases where the University divested, it took a “particularly egregious offense that undermined the University’s name” along with widespread campus support for divestment to occur.
“[The faculty] has talked about the Bhopal incident, but we are not taking any action with it,” Krenz said. “This particular case itself is in question, and Dow’s relationship with it has not been properly established.”
When asked what the consequences to Dow would be if it were to meet the demands of opposition groups, Musser said “I wouldn’t speculate on that because it won’t ever happen.”