Processing Magazine

Banana workers say pesticides made them sterile

July 10, 2007

The pesticide was designed to kill worms infesting the roots of banana trees on Latin American plantations. But at least 5,000 agricultural workers from Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama have filed five lawsuits in this country claiming they were left sterile after being exposed in the 1970s to the pesticide known as DBCP, according to the Associated Press. Jury selection for the first of the lawsuits is scheduled to begin Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The cases raise the issue of whether multinational companies should be held accountable in the country where they are based or the countries where they employ workers, legal experts said. The upcoming lawsuit was filed in 2004 and accuses Dole Fresh Fruit Co. and Standard Fruit Co., now a part of Dole, of negligence and fraudulent concealment while using the pesticide. Dow Chemical Co. and Amvac Chemical Corp., manufacturers of the pesticide, "actively suppressed information about DBCP''s reproductive toxicity," according to the lawsuit. Attorney Erin Burke, who represents Westlake-based Dole, and Kelly Kozuma, a spokeswoman for Newport Beach-based Amvac, declined to comment. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency''s Web site says the chemical was used as a fumigant on more than 40 different crops in the U.S. until it was largely phased out by 1979. Long-term exposure to the pesticide causes male reproductive problems, including decreased sperm count, according to the site, which lists DBCP as a "probable human carcinogen." In April, all five lawsuits were placed under the jurisdiction of Superior Court Judge Victoria Chaney. The legal actions involve claims on behalf of workers from Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, Guatemala and Costa Rica. Other growers and manufacturers are named as defendants.