WILMINGTON, Del. – Hundreds of Latin American banana plantation workers claim in court that Dole Foods, Chiquita, Dow Chemicals and other multinational giants deliberately exposed them to DBCP, a pesticide banned in the United States that causes cancer and sterility.
In multiple complaints in Delaware courts, the banana workers claim the defendants knowingly exposed them to dibromochloropropane, or DBCP, a chemical used to kill nematodes in the soil.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency lists DBCP as a probable carcinogen and banned domestic use of the pesticide in 1979, exempting pineapple growers in Hawaii until 1985.
Eight lawsuits have been filed in state and federal courts in Delaware since May 31, all alleging that the defendants failed to provide workers with protective covering or equipment while they injected the pesticide into the soil or sprayed it over the fields. According to the most recent complaint, in New Castle County Court, the “fumes and vapors released by the chemical remained trapped under the canopy created by the large impermeable banana leaves which cut off almost all ventilation and drifted throughout the banana plantation exposing anyone working in the vicinity.”
The workers claim fruit company officials told farm managers to “ignore certain proposed guidelines for DBCP use,” especially those concerning evacuation of workers from the application areas, saying, “this is not operationally feasible and does not need to be implemented.”
The banana workers say they suffer from a multitude of illnesses, including infertility, cancer, compromised renal systems and defective sperm because of exposure to DBCD from 1961 to 1985 or later.
They claim that scientists working for Dow Chemical Co. knew as early as 1958 that DBCP was “readily absorbed through the skin and high in toxicity in inhalation,” and that “testicular atrophy may result from prolonged, repeated exposure.”
These lawsuits are the latest in a long history of litigation over DBCD use in Latin America, dating back to the early 1990s, when a class action lawsuit was filed in Texas.
Recent cases were filed in Los Angeles Superior Court by Nicaraguan nationals, who were awarded $2.3 million by a jury. But that award was overturned by a California appeals judge in 2007, after Dole argued that plaintiffs lied about becoming sterile.
Defendants in the latest Delaware complaint include Dole, Standard Fruit, Dow, Amvac Chemical, Shell Oil, Chiquita Brands, Del Monte, and their predecessors and successors.
All the Delaware lawsuits were filed by Michael Sensor, with Perry & Sensor.