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Daily News Blog

05
Aug

U.S. Exportation of Banned and Highly Restricted Pesticides Continues to Inflict Serious Harm

(Beyond Pesticides, August 5, 2022) A terrible saga of environmental injustice — and of grieving couples who wanted children but could not have them — is getting new attention via the BBC’s (British Broadcasting Corporation’s) recent coverage of Di-bromochloropropane (DBCP) exposures and impacts on banana plantation workers in multiple Latin American countries. A significant number of those male workers became sterile, and many charge that their exposures to DBCP in the 1970s was responsible. A 1979 ban on uses of DBCP on the U.S. mainland by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) did not immediately stop manufacturers from exporting the toxic insecticide to (primarily) Central American countries, nor did it stop U.S. fruit companies operating there from using it. Beyond Pesticides wrote in 2020 about the damaging and what some call unethical practice of allowing corporate export of domestically banned pesticides — which practice continues in the U.S.

This BBC investigative report comes on the heels of a piece in The Lancet, United States and United Nations pesticide policies: Environmental violence against the Yaqui indigenous nation, that catalogues the abuse of pesticide export policies on indigenous peoples. The piece finds: “The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) is a U.S. statute that allows “pesticides that are not approved – or registered – for use in the U.S.” to be manufactured in the U.S. and exported elsewhere. The UN Rotterdam Convention also allows the global exportation of “banned pesticides.” The ongoing exportation of banned pesticides leads to disproportionately high rates of morbidity and mortality, most notably in Indigenous women and children.”

The authors cite the extent of the export issue from the U.S.: “Export data from U.S. ports found that over 27 million pounds of pesticides forbidden for use domestically were shipped at an average of 32 thousand pounds per day.1 In 2012, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that banned pesticides were being produced in 23 U.S. states.”

DBCP was commonly used to kill microscopic nematodes that damage banana plants. The compound was manufactured and sold in the 1970s by U.S. companies, primarily under the brand names Fumazone (Dow Chemical Company) and Nemagon (Shell Chemical Company); other iterations were manufactured by Occidental Chemical Corporation and AMVAC. In the 1960s, Dole Fruit (then Standard Fruit) started using DBCP on banana crops in Latin America; Chiquita and Del Monte followed suit in the early 1970s.

By 1977, EPA had restricted use of the compound on 19 mainland crops, and allowed its use on other crops only within very narrow conditions, and with use of respirators and other protective gear for workers. It then cancelled the registration for DBCP for all uses in this country in 1979 (except for that on pineapple crops in Hawai’i, which was halted in 1985). According to the BBC, “Even though Shell and Dow stopped manufacturing DBCP in 1977, they continued legal exports of their unused stocks of the pesticide to several Central American countries.” Dow and Shell were able, legally, to offload remaining stocks of the insecticide.

Shell says it “had already ceased all sale or manufacture of Nemagon before the EPA” ban; Dow says that “every sale or shipment of DBCP occurred well before October 1979” (when the EPA cancelled DBCP’s registration). Occidental and AMVAC sold DBCP to Panama until 1979; AMVAC continued to sell to Panama as late as 1985. An Occidental officer said, “The sales and uses upon which you are focused date back 40-plus years. . . . According to records that I have seen, the company apparently sold DBCP in bulk to distributors who, in turn, sold the goods into various LatAm [Latin American] countries. The final destination for these goods was often unclear.”

According to BBC reporting, tens of thousands of banana industry workers from Panama, Guatemala, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica have brought litigation against both the manufacturers of DBCP and the companies that used it in their Latin American operations (Dole, Del Monte, and Chiquita). Documents from the lawsuits show that, as early as the 1950s, internal animal studies by Dow and Shell evidenced testicular atrophy and reduced sperm counts due to DBCP exposures. One of the investigators in those studies, Dr. Charles Hine, wrote in a draft report for U.S. regulators that, “repeated exposure to DBCP could affect human reproduction.” Yet the compound was approved for use in 1964 — with no indication on its label that it could represent a threat to male fertility.

For its part, Dow continues to insist that “the dose makes the poison,” and that “Low dose, outdoor, or intermittent exposures will not affect male fertility.” In a statement to the BBC, a Dow spokesperson said that “DBCP had been ‘shown to possibly affect reproductive function of some male workers who handled it directly in very high doses at manufacturing plants.’ . . . [But] “agricultural workers would have potentially experienced significantly lower doses, and no studies of agricultural workers have shown a similar effect from working with DBCP.” Its website states that “there is no credible scientific evidence that Dole’s use of DBCP on banana farms caused any of the injuries claimed in any of the DBCP lawsuits, including sterility.”

Beyond Pesticides suggests that the folks at Dow take a look at the 2019 study by J. Marino, et al., which concluded that its research “evidence suggests that DBCP has significant and occasionally permanent effects on semen parameter and fertility in exposed men.” Or perhaps consider the 2018 research by K. McAbbe, et al., which states flatly, “DBCP is a banned nematicide that has been shown to cause male infertility.”

Workers have repeatedly sought justice in U.S. courts, to no lasting avail. The BBC reports that “there has been only one case in which a U.S. court considered whether the pesticide caused sterility” — the central harm for which plaintiffs have repeatedly sought compensation, often with the hope of securing better healthcare with such funds. In 2007, a group of Nicaraguan litigants was awarded $2.5 million in punitive damages in a case charging sterility as an outcome of exposures. But in 2010, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge overturned that ruling, saying that the company had been a victim of fraud related to plaintiffs’ alleged witness tampering.

The BBC article asserts: “To date, there have been no successful litigations in the U.S by banana workers. Their cases have been dismissed on procedural matters or the companies have settled out of court, making payments to some plaintiffs, but not accepting liability. There are currently just two active cases in the U.S. Scott Hendler, the lawyer pursuing them on behalf of workers from Guatemala, Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Panama, says the companies are ‘resorting to procedural matters again and again.’ He wants a jury to see the evidence. ‘There is no question that DBCP can cause sterility,’ he says. ‘The question is whether each of these individual plaintiffs sustained sufficient exposure in their own right to be a substantial factor in causing their own infertility.’”

Beyond Pesticides has covered some of the history of litigation related to DBCP:

  • In the 2000s, Nicaraguan courts ordered a total of $805 million in damagesto be paid to hundreds of victims by Dow Chemical, Shell Oil, and Occidental Chemical (now OxyChem). The companies refused to pay, saying the courts lacked jurisdiction and had denied them fair trials. In one of those suits, in 2001,a court in Nicaragua ordered Shell, Dole, and Dow to pay $489 million to 500 male banana workers made sterile by DBCP. The companies refused to pay and counter-sued the plaintiffs for fraud, asking for $17 billion in damages. When a U.S. federal court was asked by the plaintiffs to enforce the Nicaraguan court judgment, the U.S. court refused to hear the case.
  • In 2002, a case tried in a Nicaraguan courtresolved when the judge ordered those same three companies 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 law allowing any Nicaraguan worker to sue a foreign company. But Dow called the judgment “unenforceable” because the case was supposed to be moved to a U.S. court; further, defendants’ attorneys argued that the ruling was based on a Nicaraguan law criticized by its own attorney as “unconstitutional.” The companies again refused to pay.
  • A 2005 case against Dole and Dow, brought by 150 Nicaraguans for injury by DBCP from their 1970–1982 work on Dole banana plantations, was found for the plaintiffs by a Nicaraguan court, which awarded them $97 million for the sterility and psychological suffering they had endured. A U.S. District Court in Miami then reversed that judgment, sayingthat it “was rendered under a system which does not provide impartial tribunal or procedures compatible with the requirements of due process of law, and the rendering court did not have jurisdiction over Defendants.”

Having exhausted options in the U.S., Nicaraguan banana workers brought suit in 2018 in France against Dow Chemical, Occidental Chemical, and Shell Oil, seeking compensation for the 1,200 litigants for health problems caused by the companies’ DBCP products. Plaintiffs argued that the global nature of the pesticide and agricultural markets gave them standing in France, but in May 2022, their attempts were again thwarted when the Paris Trial Court denied the claim, saying the judges had no jurisdiction over the companies.

As noted above, Beyond Pesticides has covered the practice of allowing corporate export of domestically banned pesticides, which happens in the U.S. and some European countries. In 2020, Greenpeace affirmed that the United Kingdom was the biggest European exporter of banned, toxic pesticides to poorer, often so-called “developing” countries, such as Mexico, some on the African continent, Brazil, Ukraine, and Indonesia.

This practice continues to be legal here; the EPA website notes: “Pesticides that are not approved — or registered — for use in the United States may be manufactured in the United States and exported.” EPA requires only some documentation that shows that the foreign entity doing the purchasing (of a specific product and shipment) knows the compound is not legal in the U.S., and then EPA notifies whatever national health and environment officials exist in the receiving country.

In 2019, Truthout captured well the pernicious nature of how policies that allow toxic pesticide exports can play out. “When the federal government bans a pesticide, pro-industry loopholes allow agrochemical companies to recoup lost profits by manufacturing the same pesticide for use abroad. . . . With no comprehensive global regulatory framework to guide policy for transport, storage and use, the U.S. consciously subjects vulnerable agricultural workers overseas to chemicals known to cause harm and death, and widens international dependence of agriculture on pesticides. Every registered pesticide has a ‘tolerance’ . . . how much residue can remain on a food product before it is deemed unsafe for human consumption. Pesticides deemed too dangerous or unregistered with the EPA cannot be sold in the U.S. . . . While the U.S. is required to inform countries when a pesticide is not registered in the U.S., there is no assurance that the receiving official will forward the data to the user of the chemical. Agrochemical companies can satisfy labeling requirements simply by placing labels on shipping containers rather than on the product container. . . . Given the reality of how these pesticides are actually used (without appropriate protective equipment, lack of proper disposal, etc.), halting exportation is critical.”

Beyond the ethical violations that such practices are, they can create a perverse “circle of poison,” as banned compounds are exported, used in other countries, and then return as residues on imported foods to pollute the domestic food supply. And such policies send a message that American lives (or British, or French, etc.) are more important than those of the largely “brown” populations of the countries that use these toxic imports. This exacerbates the existing reality that many BIPOC communities (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) in the U.S. and globally already endure higher levels of pesticide exposures and consequent health anomalies than do dominant white populations.

The 2015 documentary film, “Circle of Poison,” featuring Beyond Pesticides Executive Director Jay Feldman and luminaries such as Vandana Shiva, Noam Chomsky, and President Jimmy Carter), focuses on the toxic pesticide export issue. It “shows how the global pesticide industry is politically powerful, shaping regulations (or lack thereof) and the conditions of food and farming around the world.”

For banned pesticides such as DBCP — sometimes called “legacy” chemicals — the fates of agricultural workers thousands of miles away, who suffered infertility through no fault of their own as long as 50+ years ago, may seem (increasingly) remote. Certainly the U.S. judicial system has been, ultimately, indifferent to their plights. But it is critical to remember that legacy chemicals are “gifts that keep on giving,” whether DDT from the ‘40s and ‘50s, DBCP in the ‘70s, or PFAS chemicals used for the past 90 years (among others). But in addition, the creation and deployment of toxic legacy chemicals are not all “in the past”; this is a “rolling admissions” situation because we continue to use — and export — toxic chemicals whose impacts may show up now, or may show up in a decade or more.

It is a harmful and cynical experiment we are conducting in our continued allowance of toxic pesticides (and other chemicals) being pumped out into products, the environment, and our bodies, with insufficient understanding of how they may harm us and Nature. And in truth, in some cases, government officials, more-or-less “captured” by industry interests, allow this even when the damaging effects are well understood.

It may be too late for Isabel Coba and Rafael Martínez González — just two of thousands of workers who expected to have children and then found themselves infertile — to find justice. Certainly, it is too late for the many workers from the 1960s and 1970s who have already died. But it is not too late to stop the threats to current and coming generations of agricultural workers who may suffer exposures to toxic pesticides that we in the U.S., or in various European countries, have found unacceptable for use inside our own nations. We must insist to our legislators and federal agencies, and to EPA in particular, that the export of domestically un- or deregistered pesticides must stop.

Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-62120058

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

 

 

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