(Beyond Pesticides, April 23, 2010) In recognition of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, the Dow Chemical Company is a proud sponsor of the Dow Live Earth Run for Water. Yes, that Dow Chemical Company. The same company that manufactures some of the most hazardous pesticides in the world, that was responsible for Agent Orange, and that is liable for the worst industrial disaster of all time is sponsoring what it calls the “largest solutions-based initiative aimed at solving the global water crisis in history.” The series of events held in various cities on April 18 consisted of 6 kilometer runs, concerts and “water education activities.” The Bravo TV network will broadcast a one hour special on Friday April 23 “offering audiences an inside look at the global event and its mission to help solve the world water crisis.”
When Environmental Action planned the first Earth Day in 1970 at a cost of $125,000, it accepted no money from corporations. Some 20 million Americans from across the country participated in the day’s marches, demonstrations, lectures, workshops, and other events, making it one of the most successful political events in American History. Since that time, many companies have started making donations to Earth Day events, and selling products or services marketed as “green.” While some companies have made major strides to protect the environment, and contribute to a green economy, others are simply “greenwashing” their products. The Wall Street Cheat Sheet has called Dow Chemical, “this year’s Earth Day winner of Most Obscene Greenwashing.”
The Dow Chemical Company acquired the assets and liabilities of Union Carbide in 2001. According to the Bhopal Medical Appeal, the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal India leaked 27 tons of methyl isocyanate a toxic gas used in the production of certain carbamate insecticides on the night of December 2, 1984. An estimated 10,000 people died within the first 72 hours, and an additional 15,000 people have died as a result of chronic exposure. An additional 120,000 people require serious ongoing medical care. The Indian Council of Medical Research estimated that over half a million people were harmed in some way. Today the rate of birth defects in Bhopal is 10 times higher than India’s national average.
The factory which ceased active production in 1980 after the venture proved unprofitable. Despite being stocked with a surfeit of deadly chemicals, the plant’s safety system was allowed to fall into disrepair. The first reported poisonings occurred in the early 1980’s when animals grazing near the site became ill and died. After the disaster the plant was effectively abandoned and left to rot. To this day the plant is still leaking a deadly brew of industrial waste into the surrounding soil and water. The nearby aquifer, the only source of drinking water for an estimated 25,000 people, has since been contaminated, poisoning a whole new generation.
Some might expect a company that has put its name on an event dedicated to clean water would be concerned with cleaning the environmental devastation its subsidiary caused. However, according to a Dow statement, “Dow has no responsibility for Bhopal.” Union Carbide’s official statement says, “In the wake of the gas release, Union Carbide Corporation, and then chairman Warren Anderson, worked diligently to provide aid to the victims and set up a process to resolve their claims.” In 1989 the Supreme Court of India ordered Union Carbide to pay a $470 million settlement. Union Carbide and Dow are currently making no effort to remediate the ongoing water pollution from the plant.
Dow Chemical was also a major manufacturer of Agent Orange, the herbicide used by the U.S. military to defoliate forests during the Vietnam War. It contained the deadly byproduct 2,3,7,8-TCDD a dioxin compound. Dioxin contamination that still persists in the soils of Vietnam is an ongoing health and environmental crisis for the developing nation. Many U.S. Veterans and their children also continue to struggle with the effects of Agent Orange. Dow’s stance is that the evidence does not support a link between Agent Orange and illness in veterans.
Dow is also responsible for ground and surface water poisoning in the United States. As recently as last week a malfunction at a Dow Chemical plant in Norco Louisiana forced residents to evacuate when their homes were contaminated with titanium tetrachloride. Titanium tetrachloride can convert into hydrochloric acid which causes eye and throat irritation, along with other more serious health problems. Evacuees have since filed a federal class action suit. Even when things are going “right” Dow’s pesticides are linked to serious health and environmental effects. Learn more about their pesticides and alternatives in the Safer Choice consumer brochure.
Protesters from various groups have shown up to several of the Dow Live Earth events. The Yes Men showed up to the New York event posing as Dow representatives, where they handed out literature mocking Dow’s add campaigns, and warning participants to “Run for your life.” Several other groups have spoken out about Dow’s sponsorship of the event. Audrey Gaughran, Director of Global Issues at Amnesty International said in a statement, “Dow may be trying to run away from the legacy of Bhopal, but it can’t be allowed to hide behind sponsorship of ‘Run for Water’ events.”