We'll just fart in your general direction
December 3, 2009 3:11 AM   Subscribe

25 years on, the industrial disaster at Bhopal's Union Carbide insecticide plant is still poisoning, maiming and killing people [YT].

The ground water is still saturated with insecticides and other poisons released during the day-to-day operations of Union Carbide's plant or abandoned here when the plant was closed. Children are born with birth defects from teratogenic chemicals in the water.

Union Carbide, now Dow Chemicals, settled out of court with the indian government for $470M (insurance plus interests) after a five years long legal battle but is still in court for the normal business practice of dumping hazardous chemicals in an open pit near the factory.
posted by vivelame (18 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I once did a presentation to the board of dow chemical and I will never forget how they all saw themselves as the engineers of a better future. it was a very strange "but we're the good guys, why don't people understand that" situation. someone in our group suggested we'd brush our teeth with bottled water while in town and I was creeped out to do it.
posted by krautland at 4:19 AM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

Christ, it never ends.

When will big business learn?
posted by bwg at 4:23 AM on December 3, 2009

krautland, that sounds like two details from a very compelling story, are you at liberty to talk about it any more than that?
posted by voronoi at 4:46 AM on December 3, 2009

A long term solution is for companies to simply be charged with the same crimes as individuals for the same acts, like thousands of counts of felony manslaughter in this case. Courts could initially charge far higher fines in lieu of jail time but eventually the corporate charter should be revoked and the charges should be levied against the executives and stock holders.
posted by jeffburdges at 4:57 AM on December 3, 2009 [8 favorites]

they all saw themselves as the engineers of a better future

The bad guys almost never see themselves as bad guys. People find the notion of Dick Cheney as Darth Vader amusing but it's highly unlikely that he sees himself that way. I think it's an important thing to realize -- evil isn't like in the comic books with the villain going mwah ha ha I'm evil.

The villain is more likely saying to himself, why don't people realize I'm doing this for good?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:06 AM on December 3, 2009 [5 favorites]

are you at liberty to talk about it any more than that?
eh, we pitched for some business and lost. not much to say unless you're in advertising.
posted by krautland at 5:10 AM on December 3, 2009

The high rate of birth defects is utterly heartbreaking. Terrible, terrible story. And no one's been punished, and the site hasn't been cleaned up. God damn it. Shame on Union Carbide/Dow Chemicals, and the Indian government.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:59 AM on December 3, 2009

The U.S. has blocked the extradition of Union Carbide CEO Warren Anderson for years. I've heard that's a major reason why some Indians are less than responsive when told of the urgency of catching Osama bin Laden.
posted by jonp72 at 6:23 AM on December 3, 2009 [3 favorites]

My college roommate had a mug emblazoned with "Safety protects people, quality protects jobs." It was from Union Carbide. I hope it was printed before the Bhopal disaster, but this was in the early 90s, so no one could be sure.
posted by mollweide at 9:44 AM on December 3, 2009

krautland - Were you in Midland, MI? I'm right in the middle of Dow country here (I live on the Tittabawassee River, specifically), where our parks have warning signs not to leave the trails because of the cancer risk. If they aren't willing to clean up their own backyard it's hard to be shocked over Bhopal, as much as it all breaks my heart. They have a habit of denying there's a problem. When force to admit there is a problem they will explain why it's not THEIR problem.
posted by MaritaCov at 10:01 AM on December 3, 2009

The villain is more likely saying to himself, why don't people realize I'm doing this for good?

That, or various rationalizations about how other people's concerns aren't important or valid, and thus can be dismissed.
posted by davejay at 10:45 AM on December 3, 2009

which is how we are all villains here and there throughout our lives, in mostly smaller ways
posted by davejay at 10:46 AM on December 3, 2009

inoculatedcities already posted the link I was thinking of, but here's more about the Yes Men on their website:

"The Yes Men decided, in November 2002, to help [Dow face the truth] by explaining exactly why Dow can't do anything for the Bhopalis: they aren't shareholders. Dow responded in a masterfully clumsy way, resulting in a flurry of press. "
posted by desjardins at 11:40 AM on December 3, 2009

When will big business learn?

Never. They'll never be held accountable in a way that cripples them. Dow is also responsible for Napalm and Saran Wrap.

When the prosaic and the lethal are that intertwined in your lifestyle and defense system, I think it's fair to assume they're not going to be held accountable in any serious way.

Bhopal? Horrific. Saran Wrap? Half the US currently has stuffing wrapped in it.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:30 PM on December 3, 2009 [1 favorite]

I had a moment with a longtime Intarweb friend today. She was shocked; she holds a postgraduate degree and today was the first time she'd ever heard about Bhopal. I had that realization in college, just reading my morning internet and having my tea -- shocked that I'd never been taught about this nightmare that was still happening. I spent half the day reading stories of survivors and denials from Dow and looking at the heartrending pictures.

The memory of Bhopal must be kept alive, and the knowledge that it isn't over, and it may never be over.

posted by fiercecupcake at 1:12 PM on December 3, 2009

Five Past Midnight in Bhopal was going to be the name of my post on this topic. It's a great book for those who are interested in learning more about the topic, and it is being made into a movie.

The Bhopal disaster--I'm tempted to call it a massacre--and I share a near-birthday and I've felt very connected to Bhopal since learning that fact. I'm glad that the 25th anniversary will shed light on the work that remains to be done and in fact really remains to be started. Dow has so much to answer for, and this is certainly high on the list.
posted by librarylis at 3:59 PM on December 3, 2009

Were you in Midland, MI? I'm right in the middle of Dow country here
yes, I was. it was odd. everyone seemed to work for dow or be related to someone that did and everyone was mighty proud of them. or at least they wanted us to understand they that. it felt like a parallel universe. I realize that I, with my questionable morals and suspicious ethics, am far from being a saint - in my professional life alone I have done ad campaigns for a cigarette company, multiple hard liquor brands and a certain shoe maker we all know likes to have children sow their product - but damn, these guys were a different breed entirely. even the cigarette maker was aware of what they were making, they were just clinging to the believe that it wasn't as atrocious as others said it was.
posted by krautland at 11:48 PM on December 3, 2009

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