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Lethal Bhopal toxic leak happened 25 years ago

March 12, 2009 - INDIA

On 3 Dec 1984, a gas tank exploded at the Union Carbide pesticides plant in Bhopal. The lethal methyl isocyanate gas killed nearly 3000 people and at least 15,000 died later from related causes. The leak remains the world's worst industrial disaster, and has become a cause for national and international NGOs, such as Greenpeace.

The 25th anniversary will see survivors and their supporters protesting in Delhi and other cities, and the plant will open for 15 days from Nov 25 to mark the anniversary.

There are calls for the plant to be made a UNESCO Industrial Heritage Site. Dow Chemicals, which bought Union Carbide in 2001, denies it purchased any liability for the disaster when it bought the company. Dow insists it is not responsible for the cleanup of the plant and site, which still contains thousands of tons of toxic chemicals and sits on land owned by the Madhya Pradesh state government. For the 20th anniversary, Greenpeace activists protested outside the World Economic Forum in Davos about Dow Chemical's refusal to pay compensation to victims. Protesters dressed up as skeletons and lay on the streets outside the forum to make their point. For other demonstrations, survivors and their supporters have walked the 500 miles from Bhopal to Delhi to protest the lack of help. Union Carbide paid US $470 million in compensation to victims in 1989, but activists regard the figure as inadequate. They say the proximity of densely-populated Bhopal to the toxic plant causes ongoing health problems, that some 100,000 are chronically ill from their exposure to the toxic gas, and a further 30,000 are still drinking and washing in contaminated groundwater. Researchers reported in 2003 in the Journal of the American Medical Association that women who were pregnant at the time of the explosion suffered a high proportion of spontaneous abortions and stillbirths. And many children born after in-utero exposure - or conceived after the incident but whose parents were exposed - have health problems and retarded growth and development. The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB) is a worldwide coalition of some 20 organizations, non-profit groups and individuals who have joined forces to campaign for justice — legal and economic — for the survivors of the toxic leak. ICJB members continue to pressure Dow and the United States and Indian governments to clean up the abandoned chemicals left at the site and ensure adequate health care, a safe environment and proper rehabilitation for the survivors of the disaster and their children. Greenpeace reports that Dow is going to court soon in India. Not as the defendants in the Bhopal case, but as the plaintiffs. They're suing the survivors of the disaster for protesting at a Dow plant. The company is also pressing for US $10,000 in compensation from the survivors for previous peaceful protests. Dow wants the courts to order the survivors to physically stay away from Dow plants and Dow employees. In protest, activists have staged a virtual sit-in at Dow's website, http://www.bhopal.com. A virtual sit-in is an automated way of sending traffic to a website. Activists around the world park their browsers on a page which does nothing more than automatically load the bhopal.com site several times a minute. Groups representing the survivors and victims of the tragedy recently appealed to UNESCO for the Union Carbide plant to be preserved as an Industrial Heritage Site of international importance, so that the building would stand as a memorial to the disaster and educate future generations. Survivors say that they will "physically block" any attempts to dismantle the remaining structure. May/09

Bhopal's health effects probed (BBC 26 Mar 2009)

Dow gets what it deserves (Greenpeace 2 Dec 2002)

Bhopal protests move on line (Greenpeace 10 Mar 2003)

Bhopal gas tragedy survivors ask Unesco to preserve 'killer' factory (IANS/AOL 4 Mar 2009)

Date written/update: 2009-03-12