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Local Activists Meet Bhopal Survivors

May 29, 2009

On May 26, in the shadow of Chevron’s Richmond Refinery, survivors of the Union Carbide toxic disaster in Bhopal, India met with Richmond residents from the Laotian and African American communities.  Hesperian and the People’s Health Movement (PHM-US) brought these geographically distant groups together to share experiences around their closely related struggles for health and justice against corporate pollution.  Organizations from both Richmond and Bhopal helped Hesperian in the writing of our recent book A Community Guide to Environmental Health and we were glad to be able to facilitate dialogue among them.

A community meetingThe folks from Bhopal—two second generation survivors and several campaigners– were here as part of the 25th Anniversary Bhopal Survivors Tour, of which we were Bay Area co-sponsors. On December 3, 2009, it will be 25 years since the night that Union Carbide (now owned by Dow Chemical) unleashed a cloud of poisonous gas that killed more than 20,000 people and continues to damage the health of hundreds of thousands more because of contamination of the ground water. In Richmond, people are suffering from a slow-motion toxic disaster that comes from living near the Chevron refinery (the largest on the West Coast) and other chemical sites.

Dr. Henry Clark from the West County Toxics Coalition hosted the Richmond event and issued a clear call for justice against the environmental racism and policies that prevent poor people from having clean water and a safe place to live, work and play. Members of the Laotian Organizing Project and Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice also participated in the meeting.

Later that evening, another event was held in Berkeley to screen a new video about Bhopal and remind people that Dow continues to be an “absconder” from justice. While Dow is trying to “greenwash” its image by funding a Chair in Sustainable Chemistry (whatever that means!) at the University of California, activists in Berkeley have agreed to help hold Dow accountable by funding an organizer’s salary in Bhopal and planning an action at the Dow facility in Pittsburg, CA on the Dec. 3rd anniversary of the disaster. Also, the Berkeley City Council passed a resolution on May 19, “supporting justice for survivors of the Bhopal gas disaster on its 25th anniversary.” For more information about activities planned throughout the US, visit the website of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal: bhopal.net.