appears to have drawn a line under years of legal wrangling over whether it should be responsible for the legacy of the Bhopal disaster in India, which was caused by Union Carbide
, a company that Dow bought in 2001.
A US court has ruled that Dow cannot be held legally liable for any further environmental remediation or pollution-related claims made by residents near the plant in north west India.
Although Union Carbide paid $470million in compensation in 1989, US-based Dow has faced pressure to provide more help to people in Bhopal, in particular to clean up remaining pollution.
The campaign to make Dow pay more for remediation has received support from Greenpeace and from a number of socially responsible investors, including the US-based Trillium Asset Management, Domini Social Investments and the Calvert Group, who have maintained that Dow should ‘take more responsibility for addressing the continuing health and environmental impacts’ of the disaster.
Dow has always maintained that Bhopal has been dealt with, and that it is unreasonable for it to be held to account legally for an event in which it was not involved. However, it has held out the prospect of voluntarily providing further help to local residents.
Union Carbide India, which operated the plant, was 51 per cent-owned by Union Carbide and 26 per cent-owned by the Indian government, with the balance held by 24,000 private Indian citizens. The court in Manhattan ruled that liability is now the responsibility of the state government of Madhya Pradesh, which took over the site.
Dow says 3800 people were killed by the gas leak at Bhopal in 1984. But Amnesty International puts the figure at nearer 22,000 with 7000 killed in the immediate aftermath and the rest at later dates.
The lawsuit against Dow claimed that polluted soil and water has been injuring area residents many years after the disaster, and that Dow should be made to pay punitive and compensatory damages as well as the costs of further medical monitoring.
Although the court dismissed the suit, another with similar aims is also going through the legal system. It is not yet clear whether this case will now be dropped, or if plaintiffs in the other case will try to appeal.