Thursday, June 30, 2011

Banana workers blame chemical for sterility, health problems

The chemical DBCP was banned
in the US in the late 1970s.In a major health and safety complaint, Latin American banana workers have filed a series of lawsuits against company giants such as Shell Oil, Dole Food Company and Dow Chemical, among others, for exposure to a harmful pesticide between 1960 and 1985.

The banana farmers from Ecuador, Panama and Costa Rica allege they have been exposed to the chemical dipromochloropropane, commonly known as DBCP.

It was sold under the trade names Fumazone, Nemagon and Oxy 12.

The workers injected the chemical into the soil or sprayed it on the plantations to protect the produce against microscopic worms called nematodes.

They were exposed to the toxic chemical for more than two decades and suffer varying degrees of sterility, the lawsuits claim.

The chemical, which has long been banned from use in the United States, has also been linked with cancer, miscarriages, corneal damage, chronic skin disorders and renal system failure.

In the case of the banana workers, the inability to have children also left them stigmatized in their communities, where large families are the norm, the claims say.

The lawyer who is bringing the cases to US courts says they have evidence that the companies knew well in advance of the chemical’s harmful side-effects.

The claim quotes a confidential animal testing report from Shell, prepared by its consultant toxicology expert in 1958, which said that “among the rats that died, the gross legions were especially prominent in lungs, kidneys and testes”, and the report concluded that “Testes were extremely atrophied.”

Subsequent tests also allegedly showed that DBCP was "readily absorbed through the skin and high in toxicity in inhalation" and that "testicular atrophy may result from prolonged, repeated exposure."

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified DBCP as a suspected carcinogen in 1976, and the chemical was banned in the United States by 1979. However, the lawsuits claim that use of the chemical continued on some plantations until the 1990s.

Source: Courthouse News Service, The Independent

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