A few days ago, I received a press announcement for a new line of luxury bottled water: B’eau Pal. (Oo la la!) But the fine print was a little less enticing:
The unique qualities of our water come from 25 years of slow-leaching toxins at the site of the world’s largest industrial accident. To this day, Dow Chemical â€” who bought Union Carbide â€” has refused to clean up and whole new generations are being poisoned.
An explanation? Suffice it to say that The Yes Men have been at it again. In 2004, one of the Yes Men impersonated a Dow spokesperson on BBC World TV and announced that the “company was finally going to compensate the victims and clean up Bhopal.” (We blogged about it here.) Immature? Perhaps. But it was remarkably satisfying to watch Dow, with its tail between its legs, distance themselves from this false announcement, which temporarily decreased Dow’s share price by two billion dollars.
Some of you may remember that stunt. Others of you, like me, may even be old enough to remember when Bhopal unfolded in December 1984. (And I’m young enough to have associated Indira Gandhi’s assassination earlier that year with trick-or-treating.) As Bhopal prepares to mark the 25th anniversary of this disaster, a recently released report by the Sambhavna Trust shows that
local groundwater, vegetables, and breast milk are contaminated by toxic quantities of nickel, chromium, mercury, lead, and volatile organic compounds. The report describes how a majority of children in one nearby community are born with serious medical problems traceable to the contamination. [source]
I’m trying to find a copy of the report, but in the meantime, find it worth mentioning that the Sambhavna Trust, composed of scientists, doctors, writers, and social workers, is working to “evolve simple, safe, effective, ethical and participatory ways of treatment monitoring and research for the survivors of Bhopal.” Part of this approach involves re-examining what in their words has been the dominant treatment of Bhopal victims so far– “the indiscriminate prescription of steroids, antibiotics and psychotropic drugs [that] is compounding the damage caused by the gas exposure.”[[source]](As the spawn of an Indian physician who emigrated to the United States in the late 1960s and as an antihistamine junkie, I cautiously agree that Sambhavna may have a point.)
Watch below as the Yes Men collaborate in their latest stunt with Bhopal activists, including Sathyu Sarangi (pictured above) from the Sambhavna Clinic, who attempt to offer random Londoners a taste of their toxic water before attempting to deliver it to Dow headquarters in London. (Dow doesn’t seem to be at home.)
Given that some younger people (at least in this video) have no memory of this disaster, I think that this PR gimmick is effective in raising awareness about both the disaster itself, and the fact that much, much more needs to be done. But what say the mutinous hordes?