Remedying Health Harms

Bhopal Case Back Before Indian Supreme Court

The 1984 gas leak at the Bhopal plant operated by a subsidiary of Union Carbide (UC) is the best-known and most horrific toxic tort case in history. In 1989, a $470 million settlement was reached and approved by the Supreme Court of India. For the next twenty years, victims of the tragedy have never given up their struggle to achieve a more just result. The victims have always felt that the original settlement- reached between the government and the company- did not adequately compensate the victims.

In 2010, the victims joined the government in filing a “curative petition” with India’s Supreme Court, asking that the settlement be re-opened due to the vastly greater number of victims than was originally known. The relief sought includes a larger monetary award from Union Carbide, and inclusion of Dow Chemical as a responsible party (Dow purchased UC after the tragedy).

EDLC was asked and agreed to provide expense support for the victims’ pro bono lawyers working on the petition and hearings. EDLC also assisted with U.S. law relating to corporate liability issues, obtaining expert opinions on legal issues relating to “piercing the corporate veil.” The petition is still pending, but the government recently agreed to use the victims’ much higher proposed figures for the number of dead and injured victims. The proceeding likely marks the last chance for justice in this landmark case.

Gold Mine Threatens Villagers in Romania

Rosia Montana is located in the Transylvanian mountains of Romania. In 2000, the government granted rights to Canadian-based Gabriel Resources to develop a gold and silver mine in and around the small, historic town. Under the mining plan, two thousand people would be forced to relocate, nine hundred homes would be torn down, and ten centuries-old churches destroyed.

A cyanide storage pond, together with tons of waste laden with heavy metals, would cover nearly 1,500 acres, endangering the Aries River and threatening the health of 100,000 people. The project gained notoriety when Stephanie Roth, a journalist and activist, won the 2005 Goldman Environmental Prize for her role in mobilizing opposition to the mine and persuading the World Bank’s International Finance Corporation to withdraw its support.

The residents created the Alburnus Maior Association to coordinate opposition to the mine. EDLC is helping Alburnus Maior and its pro bono lawyer in their thus far successful legal challenges to the mining project permitting procedure. These victories have played a key role in establishing the rule of law in Romania in environmental cases, but they are not over. The case involves one of the biggest gold mining companies in the world- Newmont Mining, Gabriel’s parent company- and represents one of the biggest threats to the environment and human health of any resource development project contemplated in Europe.

A Polluted Village in Kazakhstan

The 1,300 residents of Berezovka live a mere three miles from the Karachaganak Oil Field, one of the largest in the world. Once the field became active, the health of this traditional agricultural community began to decline precipitously, causing the villagers to question whether pollution from the oil production was responsible. While the villagers were not eager to pull up their roots, they ultimately came to the painful decision that they must resettle to a safe and environmentally sound location to ensure the health of future generations.

A substantial amount of gas is flared at Karachaganak, resulting in the discharge of toxic substances, especially hydrogen sulfides, into the air. Following flaring, villagers have reported dark clouds accompanied by the smell of rotten eggs. Health surveys and individual accounts reflect a broad range of ailments, including headaches, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, loss of appetite, sore throat, cough, and gastrointestinal problems.

EDLC was asked to find legal representation for the villagers to explore possible claims in the courts of Europe against the responsible companies. EDLC enlisted London-based Leigh Day, a firm with an international reputation for pursuing violations of health and human rights norms. A team of lawyers visited the community, accompanied by a U.S. toxicologist enlisted by EDLC. A lawsuit remains under consideration.