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Justice Denied: US Court Rules Bhopal Victims Can't Sue Union Carbide

“These families have been living with Union Carbide pollution for decades. We remain committed to seeking the justice that they deserve,” said co-counsel Rajan Sharma.

  Some of the various protests taking place in Bhopal, around the 28th anniversary of the Bhopal Disaster, shot by Giles Clarke. (Photo:  Bhopal Medical Appeal)

Victims of the notorious Bhopal chemical plant disaster are still seeking justice after a U.S. district court judge on Wednesday ruled (pdf) that Union Carbide Corp. (UCC) cannot be sued for ongoing contamination from the plant.

The disaster, dubbed "The Hiroshima of the Chemical Industry," began in 1984 when a cloud of poisonous gas, methyl isocyanate, leaked from a pesticide plant whose majority owner was UCC and was operated by an Indian subsidiary, UCIL. Thousands were killed instantly and thousands more in the aftermath. Decades after the plant's closure, nearby residents continue to suffer health impacts including cancers and birth defects.

The suit was filed by EarthRights International (ERI) on behalf of Bhopal residents whose water and land continues to suffer contamination from the plant. The organization states that "UCC largely abandoned the site, allowing toxic wastes to leach into the local water supply."

Judge John F. Keenan rejected the plaintiffs' claim that UCC was a "substantial factor" in the “insufficient and grossly negligent" remediation of the plant, stating that "the manufacturing processes and waste disposal systems to be implemented at the Bhopal Plant were all initially proposed by UCIL."

The plaintiffs had also sought for the state of Madhya Pradesh, which now owns the site, to cooperate in the cleanup.

"Because I conclude that there is no basis to hold UCC liable for Plaintiffs’ damage, there will be no court-ordered cleanup in this action, and thus, no basis for enjoining Madhya Pradesh," Judge Keenan ruled.

ERI denounced the ruling as a denial of justice and vowed to continue the fight.

“The evidence demonstrates that Union Carbide was intimately involved in every aspect of designing and building the Bhopal plant, including the waste disposal systems that caused the pollution,” Marco Simons, counsel for the plaintiffs and Legal Director for ERI, said in a statement.

“The court's decision discounted this evidence, and it depends entirely on assuming that the manager who oversaw the construction of the Bhopal plant—who said he worked for Union Carbide—didn’t really know who he worked for,” Simons stated.

“These families have been living with Union Carbide pollution for decades," stated co-counsel Rajan Sharma of the New York law firm Sharma & DeYoung. "We remain committed to seeking the justice that they deserve.”

In 2001, UCC became a wholly owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical.


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