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Farmworkers’ Lawsuits Claim Pesticides Made Them Sterile

(Beyond Pesticides, July 12, 2007) More than 5,000 agricultural workers from Central America have filed lawsuits in the United States, claiming that a pesticide used on banana trees has rendered them sterile. The pesticide, dibromochloropropane (DBCP), was used by workers from Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama to kill worm infestations in the trees’ roots. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, DBCP, which was largely phased out on U.S. crops by 1979, causes male reproductive problems, including low sperm count, and is a “probable human carcinogen.”

The first of the five lawsuits, originally filed in 2004, which began jury selection two days ago, accuses Dole Fresh Fruit Co. and Standard Fruit Co. of “negligence and fraudulent concealment while using the pesticide.” In addition, it argues that Dow Chemical Corp. and Amvac Chemical Corp., which manufacture DBCP, “actively suppressed information about DBCP’s reproductive toxicity.”

The suit filed by attorney Duane Miller states that Dow and Amvac were aware of the health risks of DBCP in the 1950s. “Defendants, however, continued to market, sell, and use pesticide products containing a DBCP outside of the United States, including Nicaragua,” it says. In addition, Miller claims the pesticide seeped into the water supply, contaminating bathing and drinking water in company-owned plantation housing, while at the same time the company did not provide the workers with any sort of protective gear.

This case is particularly significant, legally speaking, because its outcome will likely determine whether multinational corporations, like Dole, should be tried in the country where they are based or where the employees are. The result is significant because settlements in the U.S. tend to be larger than in other parts of the world. According to Columbia University law professor Alejandro Garro, “The administration of justice in developing countries in comparison to the administration of justice in the U.S. – there’s a big gap. The significance of it is we’re talking about a global economy where big business does business all over the world and where we don’t have a uniform type of justice.”

This is not the only case of claims involving DBCP. The same Nicaraguan banana workers had their case tried in a Nicaraguan court before gaining approval for a U.S. trial. Earlier this year, West African plantation workers filed a suit against Dole, Dow, Amvac, and Shell Chemical Co., with similar claims of sterility. Amvac has also attracted some attention for its practices of selling older, more toxic pesticides overseas, in spite of U.S. bans. DBCP itself has also been found in California tap water as recently as 2001.

The health of farmworkers is one of many reasons to support locally and organically grown food. For more information on Beyond Pesticides’ work with organics, including the 2007 Farm Bill recommendations, click here.

Source: Associated Press


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