Saturday, June 12, 2010

Bhopal - An American tragedy


Lest we forget, on December 2 - 3 1984 a subsidiary of an American company Union Carbide corporation caused 20,000 deaths (to date) and severely affected the health of a further 170,000 in India through a catalogue of cost cutting in order to make more profit.
Factors leading to the gas leak in the chemical plant which manufactured pesticides were:
  • The use of hazardous chemicals (MIC) instead of less dangerous ones
  • Storing these chemicals in large tanks instead of over 200 steel drums.
  • Possible corroding material in pipelines
  • Poor maintenance after the plant ceased production in the early 1980s
  • Failure of several safety systems (due to poor maintenance and regulations).
  • Safety systems being switched off to save money—including the MIC tank refrigeration system which alone would have prevented the disaster.
This month seven ex-employees, including the former chairman of UCIL, were convicted in Bhopal of causing death by negligence and sentenced to two years imprisonment and a fine of about $2,000 each, the maximum punishment allowed by law. They were also granted bail. Ironically, on December 7th 1984, the former Chairman and CEO of Union Carbide Warren Anderson, was arrested, granted bail on $2,100 dollars and later absconded by being flown out of India on an American Government plane. He still remains an absconder to this day. Also noted is that there was no representative from Union Carbide (now owned by Dow Chemicals) at the recent trial, in other words, we don't give a toss mate.
Now, in respect of the recent BP oil leak disaster in America, I have to say I am gutted when I think about the environmental impact on the Florida coastline, to wildlife and the livelihoods of people who live there.
Barack Obama's rhetoric on the issue is currently very forthright and strong, demanding compensation, demanding CEO's to attend a White House hearing, in fact demanding heads to roll.
When I listen to this attack on BP and then reflect on Bhopal I cannot help think that the President of the United States Of America is being a bit hypocritical. It was an American corporation after all which caused the deaths of 20,000 people and it was an American government plane which aided Warren Anderson's escape but where was the American presence at the recent trial which took 25 years to hold. Of course, they were nowhere to be found. Shame on you.
Unfortunately, when the Bhopal plant was abandoned the company still left behind hundreds of tons of hazardous chemicals which are leeching into the water system used by local people and is affecting them to this day.
When it comes to clean ups, who is interested in Bhopal Mr President?


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