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Trespass Against Us


Let’s assume for a second, as the law does, that a corporation is a person.

If a corporation is a person, then how come we don’t see biographies of corporations?

We’re not talking about “official” biographies — those written by people in the pocket of the corporation.

Of course they exist.

By why not warts-and-all biographies of major American corporations?

Like — the Life and Times of General Motors?

Actually, a historian by the name of Brad Snell has been working for years on such a biography about General Motors — warts and all. He says he’s almost finished.

In 1974, Gerard Colby Zilg wrote a book titled “DuPont: Behind the Nylon Curtain,” which was a biography of DuPont Corporation — warts and all.

Zilg claimed that his publisher, under pressure from DuPont, buried the book — and it went nowhere.

Now comes Jack Doyle.

Doyle is trying to make a career out of writing critical corporate biographies.

In 2002, under contract with the Environmental Health Fund, Doyle wrote his first corporate biography, titled Riding the Dragon: Royal Dutch Shell & The Fossil Fire.

Now, to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, Doyle is out with Trespass Against Us: Dow Chemical and the Toxic Century (Common Courage Press, 2004).

At midnight on December 2, 1984, 27 tons of lethal gases leaked from Union Carbide’s pesticide factory in Bhopal, India, immediately killing an estimated 8,000 people and poisoning thousands of others.

Today in Bhopal, at least 150,000 people, including children born to parents who survived the disaster, are suffering from exposure-related health effects such as cancer, neurological damage, chaotic menstrual cycles and mental illness.

Over 20,000 people are forced to drink water with unsafe levels of mercury, carbon tetrachloride and other persistent organic pollutants and heavy metals.

Activists from around the world — including human rights, legal, environmental health and other experts — are mobilizing over the next two weeks to demand that Dow Chemical, the current owner of Union Carbide, be held accountable.

Here we are 20 years after this disaster, and the company responsible for this catastrophe and its former executives are still fugitives from justice. Union Carbide and its former chairman, Warren Andersen, were charged with manslaughter for the deaths at Bhopal, but they refuse to appear before the Indian courts.

Many events worldwide are taking place to coincide with the 20th anniversary, including the release of Doyle’s book-length rap sheet against Dow.

Doyle took the title of his book “Trespass Against Us” from Lord’s prayer:

Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us.

We asked Doyle if he was urging humanity — those who have been polluted by Dow chemicals — to forgive Dow for its trespass against us.

“Not at all,” Doyle said. “By using the ‘trespass against us’ phrase, I am trying to make visible the invisible — trying to show that there are boundary lines being violated daily by toxic substances. Corporations are making a profit on the invasion of my personal space, my biology.
They are not controlling the full costs of their operation, and we are picking up the tab for their externalities in form of disease, illness, lower immunity, altered reproduction, birth defects, cancer. That’s not right. That’s a mortal trespass, an unforgivable transgression that must be stopped. We are certainly not calling on consumers to ask that companies be forgiven — quite the opposite. They need to be prosecuted. Companies like Dow are getting away with biological trespass daily.”

And his book documents this.

In honor of the dead and dying in Bhopal, we urge you to buy Doyle’s book. Every time you use common plastic items, think of the destruction. Every time you use Saran Wrap (originally a Dow product), question the consequences.

And in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the crime of Bhopal, we present here 20 things to remember about Dow Chemical — the company now responsible for Bhopal and a fugitive from justice.

20. Agent Orange/Napalm — The toxic herbicide and jellied gasoline used in Vietnam created horrors for young and old alike — and an uproar back home that forced Dow to rethink its public relations strategy.

19. Rocky Flats — The top secret Colorado site managed by Dow Chemical from 1952 to 1975 that is an environmental nightmare for the Denver area.

18. Body burden — In March 2001, the Centers for Disease Control reported that most Americans carry detectable levels of plastics, pesticides and heavy metals in their blood and urine.

17. 2,4-D — An herbicide produced by Dow Chemical. It is still in use today. Used for killing lawn weeds, crop weeds, range weeds, along utility company rights-of way, railroads. One of the key ingredients in Agent Orange, the toxic defoliant used in Vietnam. 2,4-D is the most widely used herbicide in the world.

16. Mercury — In Canada, Dow had been producing chlorine using the mercury cell method since 1947. Much of the mercury was recycled, but significant quantities were discharged into the environment through air emissions, water discharges, waste sludge and in end products. In March 1970, the governments of Ontario and Michigan detected high levels of mercury in the fish in the St. Clair River, Lake St. Clair, the Detroit River and Lake Erie. Dow was sued by state and local officials for mercury pollution.

15. PERC — Perchloroethylene, the hazardous substance used by dry cleaners everywhere. Dow tried to undermine safer alternatives.

14. 2,4,5 T — One of the toxic ingredients in Agent Orange. Doyle says that “Dow just fought tooth and nail over this chemical — persisted every way it could in court and with the agencies, at the state and federal levels, to buy more time for this product. They went into a court in Arkansas in the early 1970s to challenge the EPA administrator. They did that to buy some extra marketing time, and they got two years, even though it appears that Dow knew this chemical was a bad actor by then, caused birth defects in lab animals, and was also being found in human body fat by then. But it wasn’t until 1983 that Dow quit making 2,4,5-T in the U.S., and 1987 before they quit production in New Zealand. And 2,4,5-T health effects litigation continues to this day.”

13. Busting unions — In 1967, unions represented almost all of Dow’s production workers. But since then, according to the Metal Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, Dow undertook an “unapologetic campaign to rid itself of unions.”

12. Silicone — Key ingredient for silicone breast implants, made by a joint venture between Dow and Corning (Dow Corning). Made women large, but also made them sick. Ongoing illness and litigation.

11. DBCP — Toxic active ingredient in Dow pesticide Fumazone. Doctors who tested men who worked with DBCP thought they had vasectomies — no sperm present.

10. Dursban — Chlorpyrifos, a toxic pesticide, a product that proved to have the nerve agent effects that Rachel Carson warned about. Also tested on prisoners in New York in 1971 and in 1998 at a lab in Lincoln, Nebraska. Took over for DDT when DDT was banned in 1972. Huge seller. In June 2000, EPA limits use.

9. Dow at Christmas — “Uses of Dow plastics by the toy industry are across the board,” boasted Dow Chemical in an internal company memo one Christmas season — “and more and more of our materials are found under the Christmas tree and on the birthday table, make some child, some toy company, and Dow, very happy indeed.” Among the chemicals used in these toys — polystyrene, polyethylene, ethylene copolymer resins, saran resins, PVC resins, or vinyls and ethyl cellulose. And a Happy New Year.

8.The Tittabawassee — River and river basin polluted by Dow in its hometown, Midland, Michigan.

7. Brazos River, Freeport, Texas — February 1971 headline in the Houston Post read: “Brazos River is Dead.” In 1970 and 1971, Dow’s operation there was sending more than 4.5 billion gallons of wastewater per day into the Brazos and on into the Gulf of Mexico.

6. Toxic Trespass — Doyle writes: “Dow Chemical has been polluting property and poisoning people for nearly a century, locally and globally
– trespassing on workers, consumers, communities, and innocent bystanders — on wildlife and wild places, on the global biota and the global genome. … Dow Chemical must end its toxic trespass.”

5. Holmesburg Experiments — In January 1981, a Philadelphia Inquirer story reveals that Dow Chemical paid a University of Pennsylvania dermatologist to test dioxin on prisoners at Holmesburg Prison in Philadelphia. Tests were conducted in 1964. Seventy inmates tested.

4. Worker deaths — Dow has a long history of explosions and fires at its facilities, well documented by Doyle in Trespass Against Us. One example, in May 1979: an explosion ripped through Dow Chemical’s Pittsburgh facility, killing two workers and injuring more than 45 others.

3. Brain tumors — In 1980, investigators found 25 brain workers with brain tumors at the company’s Freeport, Texas facility — 24 of which were fatal.

2. Saran Wrap — The thin slice of plastic invaluable to our lives.
Produced by Dow until consumers were looking for Dow products to boycott. Dow decided to get out of consumer products for this reason — they sold off Saran Wrap — and since just makes chemicals that make our consumer products.

1. Bhopal — Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses, as we seek to bring to justice those who trespass against us.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter, http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, http://www.multinationalmonitor.org. They are co-authors of the forthcoming On the Rampage: Corporate Predators and the Destruction of Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press; http://www.corporatepredators.org).

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Focus on the Corporation is a weekly column written by Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman. Please feel free to forward the column to friends or repost the column on other lists. If you would like to post the column on a web site or publish it in print format, we ask that you first contact us (russel[email protected] or [email protected]).

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