Dow Action Diary: The Fast Ends, But the Work Continues

Early Monday morning, Aug. 26, on the eve of the Earth Summit in Johannesburg, around 5:45am, Diane Wilson, a fourth-generation fisherwoman turned environmentalist, threw a blanket over a 5-foot barbed-wire fence, climbed over and scaled a 70-feet tower, and chained herself in the ethylene oxide unit of the Dow Chemical factory on TX 185 in her hometown of Seadrift, a fishing village with a population of 1,092, just off the Gulf Coast on the San Antonio Bay in Texas.

Before chaining herself to the tower, 52-year-old Diane hung a 12-foot banner from the top of the tower that read: "DOW: RESPONSIBLE FOR BHOPAL."

What follows is the text of the statement Diane made from her mobile phone from the top of the tower:


"The Government of India, in a bid to protect Dow's money and reputation and also not to set a "bad example" for potential foreign investment in India, has offered to clean up soil and groundwater contaminated with toxins that have been leaking from Carbide's abandoned pesticide factory (Union Carbide is now wholly owned by Dow Chemical) in Bhopal, using the $280 million remaining in the Bhopal Gas Affected survivors' compensation funds.

"By allowing this, and not paying for clean-up themselves, Dow is in effect robbing survivors of their compensation money. If a similar thing happened in the U.S., it would have been a public outrage. Not only would the site be declared a Superfund, but also Dow would have been forced to pay billions of dollars for clean up and damages. So Dirty Dow is not only a robber of the poor and sick but also an operator of double standards. Where is the conscience of this company? Does it even exist?

"Even after 18 years, almost 30 people still die every month as a result of long-term effects of the exposure in 1984. Dow has a moral, legal responsibility to fully rehabilitate the Bhopal survivors. Instead of settling its liabilities, the company has sent its president, William Stavropoulos, to Johannesburg to talk sustainable development. Utter hogwash!

"The company must think we’re stupid enough to forgive and forget the world’s worst corporate crime, and let Dow-Carbide off the hook."

Justice Not Yet Done

When Diane ended her fast after 30 days, on Aug. 15, the 55th anniversary of India’s Independence Day, more than 700 people had already joined the worldwide hunger strike. That number is now well over 1,000 (details on www.bhopal.net). Despite more than two months of continuous international protest, Dow Chemical has refused to relent. To add insult to injury, a Dow-Carbide spokesperson Kathy Hunt declares that "$500 is plenty good for an Indian," referring to the meager compensation amount that survivors of the disaster got.

Diane has also made public the results of the first ever citizen initiative to test air samples near Seadrift. "According to Bucket Brigade officials who helped us obtain air buckets to collect samples which we then sent off for analyses, there were 18 different partially formed chemicals. It’s a toxic soup out here. For most of these chemicals, there are no safe level figures available. They haven't even been studied....which means we are all guinea pigs here."

When asked why she felt so passionately driven to join the Bhopal people’s struggle for justice, Diane said, "The pain of up to l50,000 Bhopalis who continue to bear Dow/Union Carbide's toxic legacy in their bodies, is the world's pain and justice's unfinished business. The pain of a mother in Bhopal, whose breast milk is poisoned with Dow’s toxins, is my pain. The pain of 18-year-old Shabnam* who has never had a period in her life, is my pain. The pain of 27-year-old childless Mira* who has already reached menopause, is my pain. These toxins once released into the environment, travel thousands of miles killing everything in their way. They know no boundaries, species, age, race or religion. So why should I?"

Incidentally, the ethylene oxide tower to which Diane was chained, was implemented in a l991 explosion that killed one worker, injured 34 others, including six citizens after the plant had been declared the safest one in the state by the Texas Chemical Council. Shrapnel the size of cars flew into the countryside.

OSHA, the federal agency that monitors federal workers’ safety, leaked a document to Diane revealing that for 20 years Carbide/Dow’s own audits warned the company that this tower had the potential for serious worker injury and death. The company ignored these warnings just as it ignored its own safety inspectors in a May 1982 report about the Bhopal facility that stated, "a total of 61 hazards, 30 of them major and 11 in the dangerous Phosgene/Methyl Isocyanate units."

And just as the MIC tank in Bhopal was filled with 42 tons of MIC (methyl isocyanate), more than twice the safe level and therefore a virtual time bomb, this ethylene oxide unit is equivalent to 56 tons of TNT.

Explaining Union Carbide Corporation’s knowledge and direct role in causing the Bhopal disaster, Diane said, "In violation of Carbide’s own safety regulations, to save less than $50 a day, CEO Warren Anderson and his officials not only stored lethal amounts of MIC on one site but also shut down the crucial refrigeration unit that is mandatory for storing the deadly gas at zero degree Celsius. In all, five basic safety systems were either shut down, malfunctioning or under repair, and trained maintenance staff were first cut in half and then replaced by untrained personnel. As compensation, Union Carbide paid on an average around $500 for lifelong injury and about $1,250 to families of the dead. That is only 37.5 percent of what the Indian government itself pays its citizens in similar situations.

"Compare that to the U.S. $10,000,000 settlement paid in an out of court settlement to an American child injured by Dursban, a pesticide manufactured by Dow."

When asked how long she planned to continue her action, Diane said, "I refuse to go away until justice is done. Dow bought Union Carbide, lock, stock and all its stinking barrels. So it cannot choose to take Carbide’s assets and its products and its profits while refusing to take its criminal liabilities.

"Thousands of Indian lives have been sacrificed to feed Dow/Union Carbide's insatiable ‘bottom line.’ As an American, I refuse to let an American multinational corporation get away with such grossly irresponsible, racist and criminal behavior," said Diane as she awaited her imminent arrest by the County Sheriff.

* Names changed to protect identities.

For latest updates on Diane's direct action, more information on the Bhopal Gas Disaster and its aftermath, scientific reports and footage of contamination in Bhopal and India, visit www.bhopal.net.

<< Previous entry

#story_page_post_article

Understand the importance of honest news ?

So do we.

The past year has been the most arduous of our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be catastrophic not only to our health - mental and physical - but also to the stability of millions of people. For all of us independent news organizations, it’s no exception.

We’ve covered everything thrown at us this past year and will continue to do so with your support. We’ve always understood the importance of calling out corruption, regardless of political affiliation.

We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, no matter the amount, makes a difference in allowing our newsroom to bring you the stories that matter, at a time when being informed is more important than ever. Invest with us.

Make a one-time contribution to Alternet All Access, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.

Click to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card
Donate by Paypal
{{ post.roar_specific_data.api_data.analytics }}

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.