A lawsuit filed by Earth Rights International in the U.S. District Court against Union Carbide (US) for the Bhopal Gas Tragedy was recently dismissed by Justice John Keenan. I am familiar with John Keenan’s decisions – he is generally inclined to grant motions for summary judgment unless the plaintiff in the lawsuit can show robust evidence of dispute of fact(s). Justice Keenan’s threshold is high. He has been a senior judge since mid-1990s.
Justice Keenan also ruled that Union Carbide (US) and the government of Madhya Pradesh are not responsible for stemming the ongoing contamination of groundwater.
International environmental organizations have claimed that aquifers as far as 3.5 kilometers away from the chemical plant are contaminated with toxic wastes.
In its lawsuit, Earth Rights International argued that Union Carbide had provided the design of waste contamination pits necessary to store hydrochloric acid, a by-product of the methyl isocynite manufacturing process. Hydrochloric acid is the primary source of groundwater contamination emanating from the Bhopal factory.
But Justice Keenan dismissed the complaint because, per Keenan’s fact-finding, Union Carbide had recommended using a non-swelling clay to line the contamination pits, through which water could not seep; instead, UCIL used thin polyurethane, which was significantly cheaper.
Earth Rights International is planning to appeal Justice Keenan’s ruling, but it is unlikely that the plaintiffs will have much success in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. While it may be disappointing, Justice Keenan’s decision may have effectively ended this litigation.