By Pesticide Action Network North America
Dow Chemical, among the largest pesticide companies in the world,
is facing increasing opposition from grassroots groups in the
U.S., India and elsewhere. Several groups have recently taken
action against the company for its rejection of responsibility
for clean up and restitution related to the 1984 pesticide plant
disaster in Bhopal, India, it's dioxin contamination and other
social and environmental impacts.
The International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB) recently
completed a five-week "survivors tour" of the U.S.,
beginning in San Francisco, California, and culminating at Dow's
2004 annual shareholders meeting, in Midland, Michigan. In 1984,
a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal released 40 tons of
methyl isocyanate into neighboring communities, killing thousands,
injuring more than half a million and leading to thousands of
gas-related deaths since the incident. In 2001, Dow merged with
Union Carbide, legally assuming all of Union Carbide's assets
The tour included public appearances, protests and "a celebration
of solidarity across geography, culture, race, and constituencies,"
according to organizers. Rashida Bee, a survivor of the accident
and community organizer in Bhopal stated, "We are aware that
the day we succeed in holding Dow Chemical liable for the continuing
disaster in Bhopal it will be good news for ordinary people all
over the world." Groups in Bhopal are demanding that Dow
release information to doctors still treating victims of the disaster,
which the company holds as "trade secrets." They also
want Dow to clean up the factory, which continues to contaminate
local ground water, and to produce Union Carbide officials in
In April, Bee and survivor Champa Devi, who also took part in
the tour, won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize. The
award, given annually to six "heroes of the environment"
worldwide, provides a "no strings attached" grant of
On May 13, at Dow's annual shareholders meeting, concerned investors
introduced a resolution asking Dow to report any new initiatives
planned to help Bhopal and to spell out any risks the disaster
may pose to Dow's finances or reputation. As expected, the resolution
failed, but garnered 6% of the vote, twice the level necessary
under Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) rules for shareholders
to resubmit it next year.
At the annual meeting activists from Tittabawassee River Watch,
the Lone Tree Council and the Ecology Center of Michigan, protested
Dow's release of dioxin from its Midland plant, which has contaminated
the surrounding community and the floodplain of the Tittabawassee
River. Citizens in the area have filed a class action lawsuit
against the company. Dioxin has been linked to cancer, diabetes,
endometriosis, developmental problems, birth defects, immune system
damage and other conditions.
The Dow annual meeting followed the April release of a report
by Innovest Strategic Value Advisors saying that Dow is underreporting
to SEC -- and its shareholders -- the full impact of expenses
related to asbestos liability, Agent Orange and a variety of environmental
contamination issues on the company's bottom line. Innovest labeled
Dow's stock a risky investment.
Also this month, Pesticide Action Network North America (PANNA)
released a report, Chemical Trespass: Pesticides in Our Bodies
and Corporate Accountability, that focuses on Dow's responsibility
for exposure of U.S. residents to chlorpyrifos (found in products
such as Dursban). (See PANUPS, "Toxic Pesticides Above Safe
levels in Many U.S. Residents.") The average six to 11year-old
child sampled was exposed to the nerve-damaging organophosphorous
pesticide at four times the level considered acceptable by the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for long-term exposure. Using
a "Pesticide Trespass Index," the PANNA report estimates
that Dow is responsible for at least 80% of the chlorpyrifos breakdown
products found in the bodies of those in the United States. "Chemical
Trespass" is available at http://www.panna.org.
PANNA also recently produced a well-documented corporate profile
of Dow, focusing on the company's pesticides and its political
and social influence. It is available at http://www.panna.org/campaigns/caia/corpProfilesIntro.dv.html.
Many organizations are beginning to work together to address
the full range of Dow's impacts, including ICJB, PANNA (U.S.),
PAN UK (UK), Association for India's Development (U.S.), Bhopal
Action Resource Center (U.S.), Bhopal Gas Peedit Mahila Stationary
(India), Bhopal Group for Information and Action (India), Bhopal
Information Network (Japan), Center for Health and Environment
(U.S.), Ecology Center of Michigan (U.S.), Environmental Health
Fund (U.S.), Environmental Health Watch (U.S.) and groups in Vietnam
and Central America.
Dow is a leading producer of pesticides, plastics, hydrocarbons
and other chemicals. The company is responsible for hazardous
pesticides (such as 2,4-D, Dursban, Telone and DBCP), byproducts
such as dioxin, ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and
Agent Orange and napalm used during the Vietnam War. Recently
Dow has positioned itself as one five corporations dominating
the genetically engineered seed market.
Sources: News stories available at http://www.bhopal.net; PANNA
Corporate Profile: Dow Chemical Company; and Chemical Trespass:
Pesticides in Our Bodies and Corporate Accountability, Kristin
S. Schafer, Margaret Reeves, Skip Spitzer, Susan Kegley, Pesticide
Action Network North America, May, 2004.