The 10 Biggest Dow Chemical Company Lawsuits in History

Dow Chemicals

Dow Chemical Company (TDCC) is a US-based chemical manufacturer headquartered in Midland, Michigan. The company manufacturers’ main products include agricultural products like pesticides, plastics, and chemicals. In March 2020, it ventured into hand sanitizer production to help people manage the Coronavirus outbreak. It has outlets in approximately 160 countries worldwide, with more than 55,000 employees.

An overview of the company

In 1897, a chemist called Herbert Henry Dow discovered a new method of retrieving a chemical called bromine. It was stuck underground in a mining area in Midland, Michigan. He began the facility operation the same year, occupying around 1,900 acres. According to EPA, the plant has 550 buildings and 30 manufacturing plants. Because Dow is a chemical and plastic manufacturer, it’s no surprise that it would face several lawsuits.

10. Dow vs. Washington, DC ($2.5 million)

According to EPA.GOV, the US Department of Justice and US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently made a public statement to the press about the Dow Chemical Company. As per their statements, Dow was to pay a civil penalty to the tune of $2.5 million. The announcement was made after the two organizations sued the company for breaching the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and Recovery Act (RCRA). The breach occurred in their facility in Midland between August 2005 and August 2006. Following the cases, the Clean Air Act conducted an inspection the following year. The money was expected to help the company see the hazards it was causing to the environment, considering how serious the issue of global warming and the greenhouse effect is.

9. Dow Chemical vs. San Francisco BayKeeper ($3 million)

Agent Orange wasn’t Dow’s only environmental controversy. For decades, the company has faced other lawsuits related to environmental degradation and toxicity. Experts believe that while the company produced products for the users’ interest, some caused irreversible health effects that prevailed for decades. For example, the environmental group, San Francisco BayKeeper, sued the company citing the unlawful release of contaminated water from its Pittsburgh plant in California. They argued that the contaminated water found its way into people’s taps, predisposing them to negative health implications. Should they have left Dow Chemical to continue their operations without stepping in, the effects would have carried on for years. So, in 2002, the company agreed to pay $3 million to restore the wetlands in California.

8. Dow Chemical Vs. Workers in Freeport, Texas, and Costa Rica ($20 million)

Dow once again found itself on the wrong side of the law through an occupation hazard lawsuit from its workers. According to Corp-Research, an anonymous medical representative for Dow’s Freeport, Texas plant discovered that workers developed genetic damage after exposure to epichlorohydrin and benzene in 1980. The New York Times found that the company wanted the medical investigation to be a secret. For years, the employees continued working under these conditions, but it’s no longer as secret as expected. In a separate case, a section of employees in Costa Rica working on banana farms sued Dow and Shell Oil in a Texas state court in 1984. They complained of suffering respiratory and other medical conditions after exposure to harmful substances of the pesticide DBCP. Some confessed to being sterile after the exposure. From the look of things, Dow realized its mistake and offered to settle the matter out of court with the workers. The company paid about $20 million. After spending the compensation, another section of workers from Central America filed a lawsuit against Dow. It looks like their cries bore fruits because a judge in Nicaragua compelled Shell, Standard Fruit, and Dow to compensate the workers $490 million. However, in 2003, the fed court ruled that the Nicaragua ruling didn’t apply in the United States.

7. Dow Chemical Co. vs. The US federal government ($77 million)

In 2019, the federal government (Michigan State) and a Native American tribe struck a $77 million deal with Dow Chemical Co. The government made a move after investigating the company’s activities at Michigan headquarters. The Detroit federal court filed the consent decree. It concluded that the $77 million penalties were to go to environmental restoration projects to reverse a legal case accusing it of emitting toxic chemicals for many years via its Michigan facility. Because the principal inhabitants in Detroit are the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe, it was prudent for the feds to move swiftly to ensure the penalty charges imposed on the company fund the natural resource restoration plan spearheaded by the state-federal agencies.

6. Dow Chemical vs. California ($93 million)

Once more, Dow Chemical went against the law when it manufactured and sold a bug killer linked to children’s brain damage. The pesticide contained Chlorpyrifos as its main ingredient for use on 80+ crops like walnuts, soybeans, almonds, oranges, etc. California was the first to ban this pesticide, and other states like New York followed suit. Experts believe that Chlorpyrifos can stay for decades in the soil and find their way to water bodies through runoffs. People’s homes weren’t an exception, as more than 100,000 homes still felt the effect. The children affected by the pesticide came into contact with it through their parents, relatives, and others in frequent contact with the chemical. According to some scientific studies by NCBI, Chlorpyrifos destroys the brain cells of unborn and alive children. It was first discovered in 1965 but was banned for household use in 2001. The lawyers arguing the case stated that traces of the chemical were found on toys, carpets, and furniture. To imagine a child picking and placing it in their mouths is unforgivable. Also, there are high chances a pregnant mother can pass it on to their unborn babies.

5. Dow Chemical vs. The People- 1984 ($180 million)

While many products from Dow have been considered safe for use, some have attracted many lawsuits, making the public doubt their safety. During World War I, the company developed mustard gas, a poisonous agent that causes blisters. The Vietnamese War also experienced the side effects of napalm, a controversial jelly that the company also produced. Also, it was part of the brains behind Agent Orange, which contained a harmful chemical called dioxin. Consequently, those who used the two products faced adverse medical conditions, with some dying during the wars. After realizing their mistake, Dow joined hands with other chemical companies to settle the numerous lawsuits. They agreed to raise a $180 million fund for families affected by Agent Orange. Their joint venturing partner, Dow Corning, eventually declared bankruptcy due to the numerous lawsuits they faced following the silicone breast implants they sold. Eventually, in a federal court, Dow and other companies faced a lawsuit from the Vietnam Association for Victims of Agent Orange (VAVA). The court threw out the case, but it upheld it in 2017. The only option the US and Vietnam had was to settle out of court. However, it’s still unclear how much compensation the Vietnamese victims were awarded.

4. Dow Chemical/ Union Carbide vs. The People- Bhopal, India ($470 million)

Dow bought Union Carbide in 2001 to continue its operations in Bhopal, India. It’s not clear how Dow got intertwined in one of the worst accidents ever recorded in history. Let’s go down memory lane to help you understand how it happened. Union Carbide’s branch in Bhopal, India, emitted a highly poisonous gas, methyl isocyanate. According to Corp-Research, the poison killed 8,000+ people, with thousands of others suffering terminal illnesses and personal injury. So, the court ordered Union Carbide to pay compensation of $470 million to care for the victims and families. Advocates at Bhopal contesting this case weren’t amused because such a case should have attracted a litigation charge higher than that. They approached Dow to pay more, which Dow refused. Dow argued that they had not acquired Union Carbide by then, so they couldn’t assume liability for actions in their absence. Some children have been born with genetic damage due to toxic gas to date. India didn’t stop filing lawsuits against Dow even after refusing to increase compensation for Bhopal victims and families. In 2012, the High Court of Madhya Pradesh raised the hopes of Bhopal victims by dismissing Dow’s petition against Bhopal activists.

3. Dow & Rockwell International vs. Colorado residents ($900 million)

Rockwell International and Dow Chemical were the federal government’s contractors manufacturing nuclear weapons at Colorado’s Rocky Flats in 2008. Their activities in the plant polluted the air, causing the nearby Colorado residents to file a lawsuit against them. The court ordered Dow and Rockwell to pay more than $900 million to the residents. Unfortunately for Colorado residents, the court of appeal threw out the compensation in 2010 and sent the case back to the District Court. Going by the three-judge panel, it’s not clear if the owners of the 12,000 properties in the area situated around the plant were damaged. They couldn’t prove they suffered bodily harm from the toxic substances emitted into their properties.

2. Nova Chemicals vs. Dow Chemical ($1 billion)

In June 2018, Nova Chemicals lost a round in one of the two most significant lawsuits to Dow Chemical. The lawsuit took place in Alberta before the Court of Queen’s Bench, which ruled that Dow received $1 billion in litigation. According to C&EN, Nova was in charge of overseeing the running of an ethylene business with Dow Chemical. Upon investigations, the court realized that Nova breached the contract by taking more than what they agreed upon with Dow. This took place from 2001 to 2012. Nova defended itself by admitting they had a right to siphon ethylene more than they agreed. They claimed that the manufacturing plant had mechanical issues, perpetuating feedstock shortages. Also, they argued that Dow bought feedstocks for their selfish gain because they channeled all of it to their plant in Alberta. Unfortunately, the court didn’t find Dow at fault, so Nova was ordered to pay Dow $1 billion.

1. Dow Chemical vs. Female Plaintiffs- Autoimmune disorders due to silicone implants ($3.2 billion)

The 1980s marked the years when women with silicone breast implants from Dow complained of autoimmune disorders due to the leakage. The Dow Company investigated the issue in a rush and failed to file a report to vindicate the allegations from the women plaintiffs. The US FDA stepped in to investigate the new implants circulating in the market. The New York Times revealed that the Dow Corning superiors postponed conducting safety studies for more than ten years. The company halted silicone breast implant production in 1992, though it maintained that the product was safe. In the same year, Dow admitted that it doctored the results of the effects of silicone breast implants on the autoimmune system. After back-and-forth lawsuits indicating the company would lose billions, it filed bankruptcy after settling with the plaintiffs for $3.2 billion. The plaintiffs had presented around 19,000 lawsuits regarding the implants.

Conclusion

As one of the largest chemical producers in the world, it is no surprise that Dow Chemical keeps running into legal problems. The environment is a critical aspect that must be protected by all means. As you can see from these lawsuits, Dow has lost many cases because it’s violated environmental, human rights, occupational health, and other variables. For some lawsuits, it had to declare bankruptcy because the issues were far much more complicated than it could handle. While the economic aspect is the central angle most people think of when a giant corporation like Dow faces a lawsuit, its reputation is also at stake. There are many ways to keep the air clean and prevent the toxic chemicals from slipping away from the plants into the wetlands or people’s houses. If the multinational corporation keeps getting sued for years to come, it’s hard to determine whether its future will be bright or otherwise.

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