The tragic legacy of the Bhopal gas disaster has cast its shadow on the 2012 Olympics in London. Twenty-seven years after a leak of methyl isocyanate gas killed thousands of people, campaigners are outraged that the Games are partnering the company that now owns Union Carbide.
Dow Chemical, which merged with Union Carbide Corporation in 1997, is to produce a massive £7 million (R51 crore) fabric wrap for the main Olympics stadium — designed to rival the Beijing Bird’s Nest stadium.
The wrap will have 336 individual panels, each of which will be 25m high and 2.5m wide. It will drop a spectacular curtain around the steel girders, breezeblocks and seating of the £486 million (R3,548 crore) stadium. Dow, ‘chemistry partner’ to the Olympics, is to begin installing it next spring.
The decision by Olympics authorities to select Dow for the prized job has been condemned by Bhopal activists. “For Dow to be allowed to be associated with a sporting event is an insult to the people in Bhopal and to those around the world who support them,” said Lorraine Close of Bhopal Medical Appeal, a British charity.
“It is absurd that one of the richest multinationals in the world continues to abuse and neglect some of the poorest people, while being positively reinforced by Olympic organisers and the UK government.”
Another charity, the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal, is urging widespread demonstrations to protest the move and global environmental group Greenpeace too has issued a swift condemnation.
The wrap, which will be seen by television viewers around the world, was scrapped by the British government last year in a bid to shave off £20 million (R146 crore) from the budget. But Dow stepped in with an offer to sponsor it.
Keith Wiggins, managing director of Dow UK said the company should not be judged on the “awful legacies” of the past. “It’s acknowledged the industry has made mistakes in the past. But the world without good chemistry in the future would be a poorer place,” Wiggins said.
But Close replied: “The fundamental point he conveniently neglected to mention is that there is nothing past tense about the situation in Bhopal.” Those who survived the gas leak from the Carbide factory – as well as their children – continue to suffer, she said.
Campaigners have also hit out at London 2012 Olympic chairman Lord Sebastian Coe, after he declared: “The stadium will look spectacular at Games time and having the wrap is the icing on the cake.” The former British athlete’s mother was of Indian origin.