Activists handed out toxic bottled water from Bhopal to highlight the plight of locals still suffering 25 years after the world’s largest industrial disaster. The protesters converged on Midland-based Dow Chemical’s offices near London on 14 July 2009. In 2001 Dow purchased Union Carbide, the company that owned the pesticide plant that leaked cyanide gas, immediately killing more than 3,500 people. [Union Carbide sold its Indian subsidiary Union Carbide India Ltd (UCIL), which had operated the Bhopal plant, in 1994. Subsequently UCIL changed its name to Eveready Industries India Ltd].
Dow has refused to accept liability for the clean-up of toxic waste from the plant, which activists contend is still contaminating local groundwater, vegetables, and breast milk.
The action, organisers said, was designed to highlight the contradiction between Dow’s recent water-themed public relations efforts and its refusal to address the water contamination issues at its own property. In March 2009, Dow declared that it was partnering with non-profit organizations and businesses to address drinking water problems in developing countries.
In 27 June 2009, members of the U.S. Congress asked Dow to clean up soil and groundwater contamination around its Bhopal plant and address the needs of people affected by the pollution.
According to the Sambhavna Clinic in Bhopal, 120,000-150,000 people are chronically ill as a result of the accident and ongoing contamination.
The Bhopal Medical Appeal and the Yes Men activist group have launched “B’eau-Pal” water to mark the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal catastrophe. The bottle was designed with the pro-bono help from top London creative firm Kennedy Monk.
Five years ago, the Yes Men impersonated Dow Chemical live on BBC World Television and announced that after 20 years, the company was finally going to clean up its mess in Bhopal. That hoax, which temporarily knocked two billion dollars off Dow’s share price, is featured in the Yes Men’s new movie, The Yes Men Fix The World.
Dow spokesman Scot Wheeler told AFP that the firm had “deep sympathy” for Bhopal victims but that protests against it were “wholly misdirected and are inappropriate”. “Union Carbide Corporation and Union Carbide India Limited settled their liability for the gas release tragedy with the government of India in 1989 and paid 470 million dollars to the government of India,” he said, adding that the plant was now owned by the state government of Madhya Pradesh. [Read Dow's official Bhopal statement, updated 2005]
According to the Bhopal Medical Appeal, Carbide “remains liable for the environmental devastation” as environmental damage was not included in the 1989 settlement, despite ongoing contamination issues.