Twenty years after an Indian Union Carbide plant leaked poisonous gas and killed 20,000 people (see “Dumping on India,” In Brief, September/October 1996), Bhopal residents continue to drink contaminated water, suffer from disease and bear children with birth defects. The plant is rusting, contaminated with asbestos, PCBs and mercury. Toxic solvents leach into the groundwater, and open pesticide bags litter the ground. Union Carbide, now owned by Dow Chemical, settled with the Indian government for $470 million in 1989, and Dow refuses to admit further liability. But the settlement provided little relief to the victims, many of whom live in slums around the plant. “The site is an incredible mess,” says Rick Hind, legislative director of Greenpeace’s Toxics Campaign.
Bhopal survivors are pushing Dow to pay for medical bills and lost wages; a class-action suit is pending in federal court. An accomplished imposter pretending to be “Jude Finesterra,” a Dow Chemical spokesperson, was interviewed by the BBC on the anniversary of the leak and proclaimed that the company was “accepting full responsibility for the Bhopal catastrophe.” Finesterra added that Dow had prepared a $12 billion fund, effectively wiping out Union Carbide as an entity. He turned out to be Andy Bichlbaum, a member of the Yes Men group.