As more bad news surrounding Dow Chemical and its pollution of a vast river valley in Michigan surfaces, one has to wonder if their sponsorship of Live Earth’s clean water initiative is looking less like social responsibility and more like a giant billboard for irony.
The company recently agreed to help clean up more than 50-miles of the Tittabawassee River after dumping cancer-causing dioxins into it for most of the last century. The contamination has turned the area into one of the nation’s most polluted sites — something the Obama administration decided was in desperate need of government intervention. According to company records, Dow has known since the mid-1960s that dioxins could sicken or even kill people. The EPA even performed independent tests confirming that the chemicals cause cancer and “disrupt the immune and reproductive systems.”
Despite this, Dow has been criticized time and time again for dragging their feet on the matter. “This cleanup can get done, and a company like Dow can afford it,” Tracey Easthope of the Ecology Center told the LA Times. “But we are under no illusions that this will be carried out without constant pressure from concerned citizens.”
If current events aren’t enough to make Live Earth second-guess their partnership with Dow, the company’s handling of the Bhopal cleanup should have been the first red flag. 25 years ago, one of the world’s worst industrial accidents happened in Bhopal after a Union Carbide pesticide plant leaked a deadly gas that spread over the city. 8,000-10,000 people died within the first 72 hours — and 25,000 have died since. According to Wikipedia, some 390 tonnes of toxic chemicals abandoned at the Union Carbide plant continue to pollute the ground water in the region and affect thousands residents of Bhopal who depend on it.
Since Dow Chemical acquired Union Carbide, the company has refused to perform any additional cleanup, saying that UC’s settlement payments have already fulfilled Dow’s financial responsibility for the disaster. However, the on-going contamination of ground water in the region and high rates of cancer have brought heavy criticism on the company; most notably from campaigns fueled by corporate pranksters The Yes Men. In June, 27 members of Congress wrote to Dow Chemical Company CEO Andrew Liveris and Dow’s Board of Directors, urging the company to face their criminal and civil liabilities for the tragedy that occurred at Bhopal. “While thousands continue to suffer, Union Carbide and its successor, Dow Chemical, have yet to be brought to justice,” Congressman Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) wrote in the letter. “I appreciate the efforts of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal to raise awareness of the plight of the people of Bhopal. Members of Congress will continue to fight against companies that evade civil and criminal liability by exploiting international borders and legal jurisdictions.”
One wonders how Dow can be so concerned about clean water, but completely ignore or avoid responsibility for environmental dangers that continue to happen under their watch. It’s even more maddening when you see organizations like Live Earth and charity:water jumping into bed with them. Sponsorship means cashflow to pull off important events, but is a company like Dow worth the ethical headache? Should an initiative focused on the water crisis partner with a company that is responsible for some of that damage to begin with?
Short answer: No.