Worldwide the Olympics is a haven for sports. In 1988, a similar international multi-sport event for athletes with physical disabilities was officially conducted in Seoul as the Paralympics. The 2012 Olympics and Paralympics Games will be in London bringing together athletes and sports enthusiasts from all around the world for celebration. Each country when it gets the chance to host the Games assures to make it as festive, supportive, and spectacular for the sport world as they can. However, there is an irony in them accepting to do so with Dow Chemicals as one of their sponsors this year.
On the night of December 2nd, 1984, a Union Carbide plant [a subsidiary of Dow Chemicals] in Bhopal, India, began leaking 27 tons of the deadly gas methyl isocyanate. None of the six safety systems designed to contain such a leak were operational, allowing the gas to spread throughout the city of Bhopal. No one will ever know exactly how many thousands died that night. Carbide says 3,800. Municipal workers who picked up bodies with their own hands, loading them onto trucks for burial in mass graves or to be burned on mass pyres, reckon they shifted at least 15,000 bodies. Survivors, basing their estimates on the number of shrouds sold in the city, conservatively claim about 8000 died in the first week. Such body counts become meaningless when you know that the dying has never stopped. More than 120,000 people still suffer from ailments caused by the accident and the subsequent pollution at the plant site. The gas-affected people of Bhopal continue to succumb to injuries sustained during the disaster, dying at the rate of one each day (2010). Treatment protocols are hampered by the company’s continuing refusal to share information it holds on the toxic effects of MIC. Both Union Carbide and its owner Dow Chemical claim the data is a ‘trade secret,’ frustrating the efforts of doctors to treat gas-affected victims. The site itself has never been cleaned up, and a new generation is being poisoned by the chemicals that Union Carbide left behind.
In 1961, as part of America’s escalating war of counter-insurgency in Vietnam, President Kennedy approved military plans to use toxic herbicides in Vietnam. Planes and helicopters from the U.S. military, under the code name “Operation Ranch Hand,” sprayed toxic chemicals throughout southern Vietnam. The spraying was intended to kill foliage to deny cover to the guerillas and to destroy crops that could be used to supply the insurgency. The spraying was also intended to make whole areas unlivable so that villagers would be driven into “pacified” areas and “strategic hamlets.” The most commonly used spray was dubbed “Agent Orange” because it was shipped in barrels with an Orange stripe. The chemicals used during the Vietnam War were produced by Dow, Monsanto, Diamond Shamrock, Hercules, Uniroyal, Thomson Chemicals…. Between 1962 and 1971 the United States sprayed an estimated twenty million gallons of herbicide (of which thirteen million gallons were Agent Orange) over a tenth of the total land area of southern Vietnam. An estimated 50,000 deformed children have been born to parents who were directly sprayed or were exposed through the consumption of food and/or water. Exposure to Agent Orange/dioxin is also associated with disorders of the endocrine system (e.g., decreased sexual desire, gynecomastia), cardio-vascular system (e.g. increased blood pressure, blood deficiency), gastrointestinal system (e.g., nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, gastric ulcer, constipation, yellowing of eyes, abdominal pain), metabolic system (e.g. fatigue, rapid weight loss, spontaneous fever, chills), neurological system (e.g. numbness, dizziness, headaches, tingling), respiratory system (e.g. shortness of breath), and skin disorders (such as rash, loss of hair, brittle nails, altered skin color).
Dow Chemicals has a bright history of corporate negligence in Bhopal where they haven’t yet cleaned-up the site of the 1984 industrial disaster and in Vietnam, for not compensating the victims of Agent Orange. Dow and Carbide have refused to submit themselves to the jurisdiction of Indian courts on various matters relating to the disaster and other environmental fallouts. The latter has even been declared a fugitive from justice in Indian courts. After long persuasion, the dioxin affected Vietnam Veterans in South Korea have one lawsuit against Dow and Monsanto.
The head of the organising committee of the London Olympics, Lord Sebastian Coe, has said they will not expel Dow as a sponsor. Protesters have burned effigies of Coe, an Olympic legend with four medals (including two iconic 1500m golds), who has said: “Dow’s links with Union Carbide came 17 years after the Bhopal gas leak and it could not be held responsible; nor was it the operator or owner when the final settlement was agreed in 1989. Dow became the major shareholders in that company only in 2001, and the final settlement was upheld on two separate occasions by the Indian Supreme Court. I feel comfortable after analysing the history of this case.”
On 9th of January 2012, campaigners in London, Bhopal, Vietnam and Chennai demanded that the London 2012 Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) drop Dow Chemical as a sponsor. Campaigners have also challenged Sebastian Coe, Chairman of LOCOG, to come to Bhopal and drink the water if he is really confident that Dow Chemical are responsibly fulfilling their duty for the clean up.
Children of gas affected parents, and those of parents consuming contaminated water have severe and debilitating birth defects. The Olympic organisers could not have chosen a worse partner than Dow. The partnership goes against the spirit of the Olympic games, and violates its commitment to justice, peace and environmental sustainability.
We see the terrible irony Rajiv Ranjan highlighted at the gathering in Chennai in LOCOG and especially the Paralympics Association accepting Dow Chemicals, the cause for people becoming disabled all around the world, as a sponsor.
Read more at www.bhopal.net. Read and please endorse the petition addressed to the LOCOG Chairman, Sebastian Coe, a campaign started on Change.org by British nurse Lorraine Close.