Union Carbide has gained an unsavory reputation as being one of the biggest corporate polluters on the planet. It has also demonstrated an ability to drag its feet in taking responsibility for its actions: many people who survived the release of toxic gases from Union Carbide’s plant in Bhopal, India, in December of 1984 and are still suffering from its effects continue to await compensation. Given a record like this, it comes as no surprise that the Union Carbide Corporation is the primary defendant in a recent West Virginia lawsuit naming 25 other companies–primus inter pares, as it were. On 1 November 2007, Mr. Gordon R. Conley filed suit in Kanawha Circuit Court, naming a total of 26 national and local corporations; Union Carbide, Mr. Conley’s employer from 1948 until 1985, is receiving particular focus in this action. His counsel is seeking both compensatory and punitive damages. As an electrician and chief operator at Union Carbide’s South Charleston and Institute (West Virginia) plants, Conley frequently performed duties in connection with his job that were carried out in areas where many products with asbestos-containing materials were handled and installed. According to the complaint, Union Carbide had full knowledge during the period in question of the health hazards related to asbestos, yet failed to provide warnings, training or protective equipment such as respirators.
Although the charges against Union Carbide can remain only allegations until proven in court, the corporation’s track record and the general history of asbestos strongly suggest that such allegations are true. In 1977, the discovery of written correspondence between the heads of two major asbestos manufacturers showed that the health dangers of asbestos were indeed well known and that there was a conspiracy to conceal this knowledge from the general public. If the allegations are found to be true, it won’t be the first time Union Carbide has been found negligent in matters related to asbestos. In October of 2002, the corporation was found liable for the deaths of several thousand victims in connection with one of the company’s products, a joint compound containing a substance called calidria–which was shown to be nothing more than chrysotile asbestos. In addition, the amphibole asbestos known as crocidolite is known to have been used in products associated with electricity; this particular form of asbestos, known to be responsible for mesothelioma, has great resistance to electrical current.