Thousands of victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster petitioned the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals June 21 to reconsider its decision in May, which found that the Union Carbide Corporation was not responsible for cleaning up the mess caused by the world’s worst accident.
The victims, represented by EarthRights International, have stated that this is their final attempt at gaining justice from the U.S. courts, which have ruled against them six times over the past 17 years.
Thirt- two years after methyl isocyanate leaked out of the Bhopal plant, aquifers as far as 3.5 kilometers away are still contaminated with toxic wastes. Owners and occupants of land near the Bhopal plant are suing UCC – which was bought by Dow Chemical in 2001 – for causing injuries resulting from hazardous contaminants attributed to the plant’s inadequate waste management system. Residents living near the now-shuttered site have suffered from a variety of illnesses from drinking contaminated water, and a huge number of babies have been born with birth defects. EarthRights and the plaintiffs want UCC to clean up the toxic wastes from the site; UCC has said it is not responsible.
In his May 24 ruling, Judge Robert Katzmann upheld a 2014 ruling by New York District Court Judge John Keenan, which found that the Union Carbide Corporation – UCC – had turned over the day-to-day responsibilities of managing the pesticides plant to Union Carbide India Limited – UCIL — which owned and operated the facility. UCC, however, owned 51 percent of UCIL’s stock at the time of the disaster.
Keenan has ruled in favor of UCC on three previous occasions. In 2014, the judge ruled that UCC had supplied a design to UCIL which would use non-porous clay to line the waste contamination pits. UCIL instead used a cheaper, thin polyurethane.
Key to the plaintiffs’ case is the testimony of plant manager John Couvaras, who has said he was an employee of UCC at the site at the time of the disaster. If Couvaras was in fact an employee of Union Carbide, UCC would be responsible for his actions or non-actions.
Katzmann, however, upheld Keenan’s 2014 ruling that Couvaras could not be deposed. Couvaras — a retired engineer who lives in Houston, Texas — could not be found for comment.
“The courts are supposed to be an avenue for justice. But, time and time again, that has not proven to be true for the people of Bhopal,” Marco Simons, ERI’s general counsel, said in a statement.
“The waste disposal strategy concocted by Union Carbide ultimately and inevitably resulted in the leaching of toxic chemicals into villagers’ groundwater supply. More than 30 years later, they still suffer from the poisons left behind,” said Simons, adding: “They are still waiting for justice.”