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December 3 - World No Pesticide Use Day

Media Release:

Embargoed until December 3.

Community groups in NZ are joining those in Sri Lanka, India , Malaysia, Bangladesh, Nepal, United Kingdom to mark World No Pesticide Day on December 3.

Pesticide Action Network Asia and the Pacific (PAN AP) first launched the "No Pesticide Use Day" in 1998, to protest the manufacture and use of pesticides world-wide. The day is in commemoration of the thousands who died, and the tens of thousands who still suffer and continue to die as a result of the 1984 Bhopal disaster. The tragedy of Bhopal is an example of an intense instance of chemical pesticide contamination for which its victims continue to suffer to this day. Bhopal has been called the worst commercial industrial disaster in history - but not the last. Around the world the ongoing manufacture, distribution, and use of chemical pesticides continues to wreck devastating afflictions on people and the environment.

In New Zealand community groups are marking on the day by calling on the government to stop aerial spraying of urban populations. Many people become ill very 3 weeks when Auckland is sprayed with Foray 48b. Symptoms include skin rashes, respiratory and gastro-intestinal problems, and headaches.

The government still insists that the spray is safe and refuses to let the community know what chemicals they are being exposed to. Research however reveals that there is almost certainly an endocrine disrupting compound in the formula (nonyl phenyl ethoxylate). Hence there is a very strong call from the community for "right-to-know" legislation.

There is also immense community anger that people are being made sick for the benefit of private forestry interest.

"It is not acceptable that people's health should be sacrificed on the altar of commercial profit through mass spraying of pesticides", said Dr Meriel watts, PAN's New Zealand co-ordinator. "Many, many people have been made sick by the aerial spraying of Foray 48b over Auckland so that commercial forestry interests can profit. We learn nothing from the tragedy of Bhopal until we learn to treat people with respect and find a different way to manage our pests."

Meriel Watts, PhD Co-ordinator, Pesticide Action Network, Aotearoa NZ PO Box 46-076 Herne Bay Auckland, NZ

ph/fax 64-9-3788-244 m.watts@organicnz.pl.net

Background Information :

In the first few minutes of December 3, 1984, Union Carbide's pesticide-manufacturing plant in Bhopal, India spewed forth a lethal cloud of methyl isocyanate (an extremely toxic chemical used in the manufacture of Sevin - a very potent pesticide at the time) into the air - killing between 16,000 to 30,000 people and leaving more than a half a million people horribly injured. People still die from their gruesome chemical injuries today.

For years, the Bhopal survivors' organisations have urged Union Carbide to release precise details of the chemicals released during the accident and the results of tests conducted by Union Carbide to further assess the effects of methyl isocyanate on animals. This information has been withheld by Union Carbide because the company claims it is 'confidential business information'. However, such data is necessary to enable effective treatment of those who remain ill as a result of the tragedy.

The Bhopal tragedy exposed the negligence and culpability of transnational corporations. The Union Carbide Corporation accepted 'moral responsibility' for the indiscriminate genocide, but denied and evaded any other kind of responsibility. While it eventually agreed to pay $470 million in compensation, for most victims it was not even enough to pay their medical bills. Since the tragedy, Union Carbide has closed and abandoned its Bhopal plant which produced pesticides for use in cotton production but has refused to clean up the substantial pollution of water and soil that it caused. It has also forsaken the estimated 140,000 survivors who still suffer from a range of diseases linked to exposure to the gas that leaked from the site. As the years pass, the harmful health and environmental effects attributable to the Bhopal disaster grow worse as increasing impacts are discovered.

Although no criminal verdicts have been issued in the Bhopal case, Union Carbide made a settlement to the Indian Government for US$470 million in 1989. To date, individual settlements have been in the range of US$3300.00 for the loss of life and US$800.00 for permanent disability. Although Union Carbide has abandoned the Bhopal plant, it has not cleansed its legacy of extensive soil and water pollution. Although criminal cases against Union Carbide are still pending in the Bhopal district court, criminal proceedings against Union Carbide are difficult to enforce legally because, even as the accused refuse to appear in Court, Union Carbide no longer has any assets in India1.

On August 4, 1999, the Dow Chemical Company announced that it would acquire Union Carbide Corporation, creating then, the world's second largest chemical company after the Du Pont Corporation. Dow Chemical gained notoriety in the 1960's as one of the makers of the herbicide known as "Agent Orange", used as a defoliant in the American involvement of the Vietnam War. However, Dow's $10 billion acquisition of Union Carbide opened the possibility of enforcing criminal liability against the corporation as Dow has four subsidiaries and substantial assets in India. It is believed that an intensified campaign by the Bhopal survivors and their international supporters to hold Dow liable for the crimes of Union Carbide has caused Dow's insecurity and hence their pressure on the Government of India to effectively close the files1. Today, news of the merger and its consequences which demonstrated gross indifference to human suffering and environmental pollution, still evokes protests from the survivors of the disaster.

A spokesperson for the Bhopal disaster victim's organisations said "Dow Chemicals has made a serious mistake if it thinks that the disappearance of the Union Carbide name will bring the Bhopal issue to a close. Dow will inherit all of Union Carbide's liabilities and responsibilities. Dow needs to know that Bhopal gas victims will never give up their fight for justice and fair compensation.


ENDS

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