(Beyond Pesticides, November 8, 2007) In a landmark decision, a California jury on November 5, 2007 awarded $3.3 million to Nicaraguan farmworkers sterilized by pesticides made by Dow Chemical and used at Dole’s banana plantations. The lawsuit accused Dole and Standard Fruit Co., now a part of Dole, of negligence and fraudulent concealment while using the pesticide 1,2-Dibromo-3-Chloropropane (DBCP) to kill rootworms on banana plants. Until 1977, DBCP was used in the United States as a soil fumigant and nematocide on over 40 different crops. From 1977 to 1979, EPA suspended registration for all DBCP-containing products except for use on pineapples in Hawaii. In 1985, EPA issued an intent to cancel all registrations for DBCP, including use on pineapples. Subsequently, the use of existing stocks of DBCP was prohibited. In Nicaragua, DBCP was legal from 1973 until 1993.EPA’s website states the following:
Acute (short-term) exposure to DBCP in humans results in moderate depression of the central nervous system (CNS) and pulmonary congestion from inhalation, and gastrointestinal distress and pulmonary edema from oral exposure. Chronic (long-term) exposure to DBCP in humans causes male reproductive effects, such as decreased sperm counts. Testicular effects and decreased sperm counts were observed in animals chronically exposed to DBCP by inhalation. Available human data on DBCP and cancer are inadequate. High incidences of tumors of the nasal tract, tongue, adrenal cortex, and lungs of rodents were reported in a National Toxicology Program (NTP) inhalation study. EPA has classified DBCP as a Group B2, probable human carcinogen.
According to PubMed:
In mid-1977 a number of cases of infertility among male pesticide workers in California came to light. A description of this problem was published as a Preliminary Communication in The Lancet. A larger clinical-epidemiological study was undertaken to better understand the exposure-effect relationships involved. Of 142 non-vasectomized men providing semen samples, 107 had been exposed to 1,2-dibromo-3-chloropropane (DBCP) and 35 had not been exposed. There was a clearcut difference in both the distribution of sperm counts and the median counts between the exposed men and the not-exposed men, Of the exposed, 13.1% were azoospermic, 16.8% were severely oligospermic, and 15.8% were mildly oligospermic. Among the controls, 2.9% were azoospermic, none were severely oligospermic, and 5.7% were mildly oligospermic. Under workplace conditions, DBCP appears to have a selective effect on the seminiferous tubules.
According to the AP, in court arguments earlier this month, attorney for the plaintiff, Mr. Duane Miller, “pointed to documents from the 1960s and 1970s that he said showed Dole and Dow were aware of dangers connected with the pesticide. [Miller] noted that medical experts who had examined his clients found 11 of 12 had no sperm in their bodies and detected other symptoms reflecting exposure to a toxic chemical.”
The case is the first of five lawsuits involving at least 5,000 agricultural workers from Ecuador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras and Panama, who claim they were left sterile after being exposed to the pesticide. Other growers and manufacturers are named as defendants.
In a similar case tried in a Nicaraguan court in December 2002, the judge ordered Dow Chemical, Shell Oil, and the Dole Food, to pay $490 million to 583 banana workers adversely affected by the use of the pesticide Nemagon (DBCP). The case was filed in Nicaragua under a controversial law that allows any Nicaraguan worker to sue a foreign company. However, Dow Chemical called the judgment “unenforceable” because the case was supposed to be moved to a U.S. court, and because the ruling was “based on a law passed in Nicaragua that its own attorney general has called unconstitutional.” The companies refused to pay.
See Daily News Blog posting from July 12, 2007.
Source: Associated Press