ON May 7, the horrible gas leak at RR Chemical plant in the outskirts of Visakhapatnam killed over 12 people. Over 1000 people remain sick due to the exposure to the deadly gas. During the incident, Styrene, a substance used to make plastic, was leaked, which can cause cancer, neurological damage and harm reproduction. Many of its effects may not appear until several years after the explosion. The industrial plant that caused the leakage is owned and operated by South Korean company LG Chem.
Yet again, this was the result of improper maintenance and compliance of safety protocols in chemical plants. This negligence brings back the uncanny memories of unforgivable tragedies like the Bhopal gas leak in 1984.
A United Nations expert, om May 14, termed the gas leak as a wakeup call for the industry to recognise and meet its responsibility to respect human rights.
Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur on Hazardous substances and waste, said that the tragedy was rightly being compared to the toxic gas leak that killed thousands in the Bhopal gas leak. He further said, “It also illustrates the range of human rights infringements brought by our rampant consumption and production of plastics.”
The Special Rapporteur welcomed the opening of an investigation, including possible charges of homicide. He reiterated his call last year, on the 35th anniversary of the Bhopal chemical disaster, urging industries to implement due diligence of human rights and to maintain accountability and transparency of the authorities. The Special Rapporteur expressed his concern about ensuring effective remedies for the victims of exposure who develop diseases or disabilities later in life.
“I urge Indian and South Korean authorities, and the businesses implicated, to avoid the same mistakes and abuse of judicial procedures that have denied justice to the victims of the Bhopal disaster, who are still suffering to this day,” Tuncak said.
While offering his condolences, observed the regularity by which these mini Bhopal-like chemical disasters continue to unfold regularly horrific sufferings of the innocent workers and local communities within India.
The chemical industry’s ‘Responsible Care’ initiative was adopted in 1986 after the Bhopal disaster in an effort to prevent further abuses of human rights by chemical manufacturers. “Yet this industry initiative’s principles contain no mention of human rights and fail to require that industry respects human rights in practice as required under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights,” the Special Rapporteur said.
The expert’s appeal has been endorsed by the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises Surya Deva, Elżbieta Karska, Githu Muigai(Chair), Dante Pesce, Anita Ramasastry (Vice-chair), the Special Rapporteur on human rights and environment, David Boyd, and the Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health, Danius Pūras.
Read the statement of the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights here.