A storm has been brewing in London, home of the 2012 Summer Olympics: A coalition of groups representing survivors of the 1984 Bhopal, India, methyl isocyanate gas leak (*) and now the Indian Olympic Association have asked the International Olympic Committee to drop Dow Chemical as one of the sponsors of the Olympics.
The Bhopal incident was one of the world’s worst industrial disasters: 4 tons of methyl isocyanate was vaporized and released over the city of Bhopal. The chemical is very toxic and can cause eye, skin, and lung damage; the exposure limit recommended by the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health is 0.02 ppm. At least 3,000 people died from the Bhopal release–estimates range up to 25,000–and tens of thousands more were injured. Union Carbide, which owned the plant, claimed that sabotage was the cause (*). In 1989, the company agreed to pay $470 million (*) to compensate the victims. Last year, an Indian court convicted seven former officials of Union Carbide India of criminal negligence and sentenced them each to two years in prison:
In his 95-page ruling, Tiwari said the defendants “omitted to do what they were entrusted to do.” Their company failed to anticipate the possibility of a large-scale leak of methyl isocyanate (MIC) and to fit the plant with suitable countermeasures. Tiwari moreover determined that Union Carbide was storing MIC in excessive quantities, that it had allowed maintenance and training to deteriorate, and that a critical refrigeration system was not working at the time of the accident.
Dow bought Union Carbide in 2001, so its guilt in the Bhopal case is by association. Nevertheless, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, minister of Madhya Pradesh, where Bhopal is located, wrote to the Indian sports minister that “it was not appropriate for a company linked to such a tragedy to be allowed to sponsor an event ‘considered as an ultimate expression of fair play, honesty and healthy endeavour,’” according to the BBC. The deal to make Dow a worldwide sponsor of the Olympics through 2020 was announced last year, although the terms were not disclosed. In London, Dow is funding an $11 million fabric wrap to go around the Olympic stadium, BBC reports.
What say you, Safety Zone readers? Do you think that Dow’s link to Bhopal sullies the company and, by extension, the Olympics? What about the International Chemistry Olympiad, to which Dow pledged $2.5 million?
(*) Subscription required to C&EN Archives. We’re working on free access but we’re short-staffed this week–it’s the one week of the year when we’re not producing a magazine for Monday.