New Internationalist

Olympic countdown: ‘200 days left to dump Dow!’

The Bhopal Medical Appeal were joined in London last week by supporters of the 200 days Left to Dump Dow! campaign.

Barry Gardiner (below right), Labour MP for Brent North and Chair of the Labour Friends of India organization, also issued a direct challenge to Lord Coe to either drop Dow Chemical from its position as an Olympic sponsor, or sample some of Bhopal’s water that Dow claims is perfectly clean.

In reality, of course, soil and water sources in many areas of Bhopal have been highly contaminated ever since Dow’s subsidiary Union Carbide negligently disposed of highly toxic chemical waste in the area. Greenpeace calls Bhopal a global ‘toxic hot-spot’. Thousands of people in Bhopal have no other source of drinking water other than this highly contaminated water from pumps. But the Dow Chemical Company not only refuses to accept responsibility for Union Carbide’s mess, it even refuses, despite a huge body of scientific evidence, to accept that the water and soil is actually contaminated.

The protest, which also involved briefly occupying Trafalgar Square and wrapping a banner around the London 2012 countdown clock, was also joined by Bhopal gas-disaster survivor and activist Farah Edwards. Campaigners such as Farah continue to criticize the Dow Chemical Company for what they claim is an incredibly irresponsible disinformation campaign regarding the validity of evidence stating that Bhopal’s water is poisoned. Despite huge amounts of research by Greenpeace, the Indian Centre for Science and Environment (ICSE), the Bhopal Medical Appeal and the BBC finding that water is definitely contaminated to deadly levels, Dow continues to claim no evidence has been found.

Dow states on its website that ‘according to media reports, various groups have made assessments of the groundwater quality at the Bhopal site through the years. In a report to the State of Madhya Pradesh dated June 2010, India’s National Environmental Engineering Research Institute concluded that the “groundwater in general is not contaminated due to seepage of contaminants from the UCIL” plant site.’

Although this NEERI report, referred to by Dow, states that the groundwater is not contaminated due to ‘seepage from the Union Carbide site’ it does state that the groundwater is contaminated. However, it rather bizarrely suggests that this is a result of surface run-off  and NEERI’s assessment and evidence has been described as ‘deeply flawed’. An expert critique written on behalf of the Bhopal Survivors’ Organization had this to say:

‘Both the NEERI and the NGRI report provide useful information, however, a number of key deficiencies have been identified in the site investigations and methodologies used. Critical results are misinterpreted or missing and a number of the conclusions reached within the reports are not supported by the evidence presented… The scarcity of groundwater sampling, the absence of detailed investigation of the Solar Evaporation Ponds, false assumptions regarding groundwater flow direction, and the identified permeable nature of the black cotton soil all suggest that NEERI’s conclusion that groundwater has not been contaminated from UCIL sources cannot be supported.’

Dow, for its part, clearly misrepresents NEERI’s findings, with extremely selective usage of text from the report in order to make a case; unfortunately Lord Coe – head of the London Organizing Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) – and Mayor Boris Johnson, have chosen to accept all of Dow Chemical’s PR statements at face value and are not accepting any independent advice. They continue to back Dow as a ‘sustainable and ethical sponsor’ for the games.

MP Barry Gardiner has been campaigning with the Bhopal Medical Appeal not only for justice for Bhopal victims, but for a transparent investigation into how and why Dow Chemicals was selected by LOCOG as a sponsor, despite the company’s seemingly awful record. At the protest in Trafalgar Square on 9 January he stated that ‘we have just 200 days to kick Dow Chemicals out of these Olympics…Union Carbide, who are wholly owned by Dow, are responsible for the world’s worst industrial disaster which killed thousands and still affects more than 120,000.’ He then, via TV cameras, issued a passionate challenge to Lord Coe to drink with him a glass of Bhopal’s contaminated water so he could better understand the toxic legacy of Union Carbide and Dow Chemicals.

‘If he doesn’t dare do this, then he should kick Dow out of the Olympics. They have no place in what has been billed as the greenest and most sustainable Olympics ever; it can’t have Dow Chemicals associated with it.’

Recently, Dow agreed to drop all branding rights to the plastic wrap it is sponsoring for the Olympic stadium, in the apparent hope it could slip into the shadows and avoid further criticism. However, with Bhopal campaigners launching the new 200 days to drop Dow campaign and Agent Orange survivors and activists becoming increasingly vocal and critical about London 2012, Dow seems to have a rocky 2012 ahead of it.

Reproduced, with permission, from the Bhopal Medical Appeal website.

Photo © Jack Laurenson / BMA


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