Annual meeting draws protests, questions

Published May 10, 2002 in the Midland (MI) Daily News

Beth Medley Bellor

    Like last year, The Dow Chemical Co.’s 105th annual shareholders meeting drew protesters.

    Like last year, the main theme was the 1984 gas explosion of a Union-Carbide-owned plant in Bhopal, India.

    Like last year, board chairman William S. Stavropolous expressed empathy for victims of the “horrific event,” but drew the line at accepting and moral or legal responsibility.

    Protests began early, with an 11:30 a.m. gathering timed for noon TV news shows. About 40 people gathered, some holding signs such as “20,000 dead: Responsible Care?” and “Dowable standards = racism.” A replica of a memorial statue that stands in Bhopal was unveiled.

    Rick Hind, legislative director of Greenpeace, said Dow should be liable for Bhopal just as it is for asbestos. He held aloft a copy of “Five Past Midnight in Bhopal,” a book that will be released in June, with half the royalties going to a Bhopal clinic.

    With great fanfare, including chanting, the group crossed the street to the Grace A. Dow Memorial Library to present the book to the library. Hind offered another copy to Stavropolous during the question and answer portion of the annual meeting, but was allowed only to hand it off to a public affairs staffer.

    Protests just before the annual meeting drew a counterprotest of one youth with a crude cardboard sign indicating protesters “R stupid.” Two of the younger protesters argued with him, saying they were following the rules they had been given and asking him to be respectful.

    Several people asked questions related to Bhopal during the meeting, centering around what Dow planned to do to clean up continuing contamination.

    Stavropolous’ consistent reply was that the lawsuits were handled with $470 million put in trust, plus an additional $90 million in a hospital trust. Dow is considering some sort of gesture “as an outgrowth of doing business there,” but he said it ends there.

    “The trust is there to deal with these issues and we are not liable,” Stavropolous said.

    Other questions related to responsible biotechnology, sustainability, property taxes in Midland, political influence, outsourcing in Midland, contract negotiations in Texas, dioxin and whether the company should suspend paying dividends for 10 years or so and plow that money into research and development.

    Stavropolous was ready to move on to refreshments, but had to have his attention called back for still two more questions, one an annual plea for consideration from an Ohio shareholder who believes Dow owes him for work he did for another company, and another request for assistance with negotiations from a Texas union member who traveled 27 hours to speak at the meeting.

    The draft public health assessment on dioxin in Midland and the Tittabawassee River floodplain drew counter statements.

    Terry Miller, chairman of the Lone Tree Council — a “small but persistent” environmental organization, as he called it — sought the company’s cooperation with the assessment.

    Oswald Anders of Midland urged the company not to bend to “environmental scaremongers and politically tuned regulators” and offered several estimates of just how much dioxin would be required to harm a person. Taking information from the World Health Organization, he calculated that even eating the most contaminated dirt in Midland, from sites with about 600 parts per trillion of dioxin, people could safely add 44 ounces of soil to their daily diets. “The whole issue is baseless,” Anders proclaimed.

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