Friday, November 14, 2014

Warren Anderson's Long Voyage From Bhopal Is Over: RIP (1921-2014)

I did not know Warren Anderson. I never met him. All I know is that he had the misfortune to be the Chairman and CEO of Union Carbide when the horrific Bhopal tragedy occurred on December 3, 1984. Something went wrong, horribly wrong at the Bhopal, India subsidiary of Union Carbide. About 40 tons of methyl isocyanate, a deadly gas, escaped into the neighborhood. The official fatality count is 3,787, but estimates range up to 15,000. Thousands died in the succeeding months. Perhaps over half a million are living with adverse health effects from the chemical exposure. It’s known to cause lung cancer and liver and kidney damage. The primary cause of the leak has not been determined. The company claims it was sabotage. Clearly Union Carbide’s safety and emergency response plans were inadequate. Safety devices were non-functional with one critical procedure turned off to save money. A critical lesson of emergency response is for the company to step forward and confront the tragedy. Many execs, such as Mickey Arison of Carnival Cruise Lines, try to duck for cover when accidents confer. Mr. Anderson flew to India four days later to address the tragedy. His conciliatory efforts were met with a criminal arrest for manslaughter. He was released on bail and immediately returned to the United States. The Indian government flew him from Bhopal to Delhi and expedited his departure from India. Both the United States and India wanted him out of India as quickly as possible. Foreign investment in India would have vaporized if Warren Anderson were prosecuted. India has outstanding warrants issued for his arrest. It tried as late as 2011 to have the 90 year old Warren Anderson extradited to India. Many Indians did not celebrate or mourn his death. They preferred his death in a dingy Indian jail cell or at the end of a hangman’s noose. Phrases to describe him include “The Butcher of Bhopal.” He died ‘unpunished” as far as Bhopal survivors are concerned. He retired in 1986 from Union Carbide, and proceeded to lead a quiet, unobtrusive life. Even his death at a Vero Beach, Florida nursing home on September 29, 2014 went unannounced. He dared not travel outside the United States for fear of arrest. Dow Chemical acquired Union Carbide in 2001. Both companies maintain they had no fault in the tragedy. Indian officers managed the 51% owned subsidiary. Indeed, eight former senior officers were convicted on June 7, 2010 and sentenced to two years in jail. Union Carbide paid $470 million in 1989 to settle liability claims against the company. None of the money has been distributed to the victims. Indians believe the small payment is grossly inadequate and just adds more injustice to the tragedy. Mr. Anderson was tormented with the tragedy throughout his life, and yet his injury does not compare to the victims. He finally found peace at last.

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