BHOPAL, India — Dozens of giggling children in wheelchairs or limping on twisted limbs raced for gold Thursday in their own Special Olympics organized in a bid to shame London Games sponsor Dow Chemical Co. about the deadly 1984 Bhopal gas leak.
Cheered on by parents and activists, the children — teenagers and kids as young as 5 who have birth defects blamed on their parents’ exposure to the gas — struggled across distances they normally would not attempt in spirited competition. One boy ran laps back and forth on the field even when no race was on.
Survivors say Dow owes them compensation for the world’s worst industrial disaster and have campaigned to have the chemical giant dropped as a sponsor of the Olympics. Dow says it has no liability because it bought the company responsible for the plant more than a decade after the cases had been settled.
All sides acknowledge that what took place on Dec. 3, 1984, in this central Indian city was a tragedy. A pesticide plant run by Union Carbide leaked about 40 tons of deadly methyl isocyanate gas into the air, killing about 15,000 people and affecting at least 500,000 more, according to government estimates.
Activists say thousands of children have been born with brain damage, missing palates, and twisted limbs because of their parents’ exposure to the gas or to contaminated water.
Having failed to get Dow’s Olympic sponsorship quashed, Bhopal activists carried through with their threat to hold their own Olympics the day before the London Games’ opening ceremony to showcase the devastation caused by the gas leak.
Some children carried brooms to symbolize their demand that Dow clean up the plant. Others held banners reading ‘‘Dow Poisons’.’