Photo credit: Bethany King
At least 5,000 agricultural workers from Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama have filed five lawsuits in the United States. The farmers claim that exposure in the 1970s to dibromochlorpropane (DBCP), a pesticide banned in the United States in 1979 for its reproductive toxicity, left them bereft of the pitter-patter of little feet.
Classified by the U.S. Environmental Agency as a "probable human carcinogen," DBCP is a fumigant designed to eradicate a worm that infests the roots of banana trees and causes the fruit to develop a mottled appearance. (As if American supermarket shoppers would tolerate blemished bananas. The nerve.)
"This is the first time any case for a banana worker has come before a U.S. court," Duane Miller, one of the attorneys representing more than 30 Nicaraguan plaintiffs who worked on plantations from 1964 to 1990, tells BusinessWeek.According to one upcoming lawsuit that was filed in 2004, Dole Fresh Fruit Co. and Standard Fruit Co., now part of Dole, were not only negligent, but that they fraudulently concealed information about DBCP's effects. Likewise, Dow Chemical Co. and Amvac Chemical Corp., manufacturers of the pesticide, "actively suppressed information about DBCP's reproductive toxicity," according to the lawsuit.
California placed an immediate ban on the use of DBCP in 1977, when it was found to cause sterility in men working at an Occidental Petroleum plant in Lathrop, Calif. Other states that were quick on the uptake began to strictly restrict its use soon after.
American-based food growers, however, continued to employ the fumigant in countries not covered by the United States' environmental, legal, and occupational protections; the manufacturers, law-abiding paragons of virtue that they are, have denied that they sent the pesticide overseas after 1979.
We'll keep our eyes peeled as all this goes down. ::BusinessWeek