Government Votes to Support Poisoned Banana Workers
(Beyond Pesticides, October 24, 2005) On September 2005, the Nicaraguan National Assembly approved a law that will provide farmworkers poisoned by the pesticide Nemagon with legal advice for lawsuits they have filed against transnational companies that used this substance, including Dole Fruit, Dow Chemical, Occidental, Shell Chemical and Standard Fruit, according to the Latin America Press. Lawmakers agreed to consider another law that could possibly provide victims of Nemagon use with lifelong compensation.
A Nicaraguan court in March 2004 ordered Shell Chemical, Dole Food and Standard Fruit companies to pay a group of women US$82.9 million in fines in a lawsuit brought by women farmworkers made chronically ill by the use of the pesticide Nemagon on banana plantations in the 1970s. Payment is expected to be years away.
In one 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. 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 refuse to pay.
Nemagon, banned in the U.S. since 1977, contains the active ingredient dibromochloropropane (DBCP). Despite the U.S. ban, it was exported to Nicaragua and used during the 1980s. Studies on workers have shown that exposure to DBCP cause men to produce fewer sperm and to eventually become sterile. Other symptoms of exposure include headaches, nausea, lightheadedness, and weakness in workers. There is also evidence that DBCP causes cancer in animals and humans.
Organizations representing those affected by Nemagon have been camping out in the capital, Managua, since March, denouncing the chemical's deadly effects that have already killed 966 people and damaged the health of at least 20,000 farmworkers.