Will Lord Coe & Mayor Johnson accept the Bhopal water challenge?

Will Lord Coe & Mayor Boris Johnson accept the Bhopal water challenge?

The Bhopal Medical Appeal were joined in London yesterday by supporters of the ‘200 days Left to Dump Dow!” campaign.

Barry Gardiner, Labour MP for Brent North and Chairman of the Labour Friends of India organisation, also issued a direct challenge to Lord Coe to either drop Dow Chemical’s from their position as an Olympic sponsor, or sample some of Bhopal’s water that Dow claims is perfectly clean.

MP Barry Gardiner issues a direct challenge to Lord Coe & Boris Johnson. "Sample the water from Bhopal, or drop Dow Chemicals as a sponsor of London 2012." © Jack Laurenson / BMA

In reality of course, soil and water sources in many areas of Bhopal have been highly contaminated ever since Dow’s subsidiary Union Carbide negligently disposed of highly toxic chemical waste in the area. Greenpeace calls Bhopal a global ‘toxic hot-spot.’ Thousands of people in Bhopal have no other source of drinking water other than this highly contaminated water from pumps. But, the Dow Chemical Company not only refuse to accept responsibility for Union Carbide’s mess it even refuses, despite a huge body of scientific evidence, to accept that the water and soil is actually contaminated.

The protest, which also involved briefly occupying Trafalgar Square and wrapping a banner around the London 2012 count-down clock, was also joined by Bhopal gas-disaster survivor and activist Farah Edwards. Campaigners such as Farah continue to criticise the Dow Chemical Company for what they claim is an incredibly irresponsible disinformation campaign regarding the validity of evidence stating that Bhopal’s water is poisoned. Despite huge amounts of research by Greenpeace, ICSE (Indian Centre for Science and Environment), The Bhopal Medical Appeal and the BBC finding that water is definitely contaminated to deadly levels Dow continue to claim no evidence has been found.

Dow state on their website that “According to media reports, various groups have made assessments of the groundwater quality at the Bhopal site through the years. In a report to the State of Madhya Pradesh dated June 2010, India’s National Environmental Engineering Research Institute concluded that the “groundwater in general is not contaminated due to seepage of contaminants from the UCIL” plant site.”

Although this NEERI report, referred to by Dow, states that the groundwater is not contaminated due to ‘seepage from the Union Carbide site’ it does state that the groundwater is contaminated. However it rather bizarrely suggests that this is a result of surface run-off  and NEERI’s assessment and evidence has been described as ‘deeply flawed.’ An expert critique written on behalf of the Bhopal Survivor’s Organisations had this to say:

“Both the NEERI and the NGRI report provide useful information, however, a number of key deficiencies have been identified in the site investigations and methodologies used. Critical results are misinterpreted or
missing and a number of the conclusions reached, within the reports, are not supported by the evidence presented… The scarcity of groundwater sampling, the absence of detailed investigation of the Solar Evaporation Ponds, false assumptions regarding groundwater flow direction, and the identified permeable nature of the black cotton soil all suggest that NEERI’s conclusion that groundwater has not been contaminated from UCIL sources cannot be supported”

A child is treated at the BMA-funded Chingari therapy centre in Bhopal. Thousands in Bhopal live with chronic illnesses caused by soil and water polution from Dow subsidiary Union Carbide. © Jack Laurenson / BMA

Dow, for its part, clearly misrepresents NEERI’s findings, with extremely selective usage of text from the report in order to make a case and unfortunately Lord Coe – head of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) – and Mayor Boris Johnson, have chosen to accept all of Dow Chemical’s PR statements at face value and are not accepting any independent advice. They continue to back Dow as a ‘sustainable and ethical sponsor’ for the games.
MP Barry Gardiner has been campaigning with the Bhopal Medical Appeal not only for justice for Bhopal victims, but for a transparent investigation into how and why Dow Chemicals were selected by LOCOG as a sponsor, despite their seemingly awful record. At the protest in Trafalgar Square yesterday he stated that “we have just 200 days to kick Dow Chemicals out of these Olympics…Union Carbide, who are wholly owned by Dow, are responsible for the world’s worst industrial disaster which killed thousands and still affects more than 120,000.” He then, via TV cameras, issued a passionate challenge to Lord Coe to drink with him a glass of Bhopal’s contaminated water so he could better understand the toxic legacy of Union Carbide and Dow Chemicals.

200 Days to Drop Dow from Richard Twilton on Vimeo.

“If he doesn’t dare do this, then he should kick Dow out of the Olympics. They have no place in what has been billed as the greenest and most sustainable Olympics ever; it can’t have Dow Chemicals associated with it.”

Recently, Dow agreed to drop all branding rights to the plastic wrap they are sponsoring for the Olympic stadium, in the apparent hope they could slip into the shadows and avoid further criticism. However, with Bhopal campaigners launching the new ‘200 days to drop Dow’ campaign and Agent Orange survivors and activists becoming increasingly vocal and critical about London 2012, Dow seem to have a rocky 2012 ahead of them.

You can add your voice to the discussion by joining the Bhopal Medical Appeal on Facebook and signing the Change.org petition to drop Dow Chemicals from London 2012.

Words byJack Laurenson for the Bhopal Medical Appeal – Video by Richard Twilton

Girl with candle Bhopal

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