From: Reuters
Published October 7, 2004 12:00 AM

Costa Rica Banana Workers Sue over Pesticide

LOS ANGELES — Thousands of banana pickers in Costa Rica have filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles against two chemical companies and three major U.S. fresh produce companies, claiming that exposure to a toxic pesticide caused a range of reproductive disorders.


The suit, filed against Shell Chemical Co., a subsidiary of Royal Dutch/Shell Group, Dow Chemical Co., Dole Food Co., Chiquita Brands International Inc., and Fresh Del Monte Produce Co., accuses the companies of using DBCP on bananas in Central America after it was banned in the United States in 1979.


The pesticide, a soil fumigant sold under the brand names Nemagon and Fumazone, is suspected of causing sterility, testicular atrophy, miscarriages, birth defects, liver damage, and cancer when inhaled or absorbed by the skin, according to the lawsuit filed recently.


A spokesman for Cincinnati, Ohio–based Chiquita said the company had "just become aware of this and has not had time to review the complaint."


Dow spokesman Adam Muellerweiss said the company was aware of the lawsuit but could not comment. Muellerweiss said Dow had stopped selling Fumazone after it was banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


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A Dole spokeswoman said the company had not seen the lawsuit and had no comment. Representatives for Shell and Del Monte were not available for comment.


Dow and Shell stopped making DBCP in the late 1970s but continued selling it to Costa Rica "in conscious disregard of the health and safety" of workers there, the lawsuit said.


The suit also accuses the produce companies of continuing "to oversee the application" of DBCP on their banana farms.


Lawyers for the plaintiffs also accused the companies of conducting a "settlement campaign" in which workers exposed to the pesticide were induced to sign releases freeing the companies of liability. The companies allegedly offered to settle the claims for sterility for $2,900 to $6,500 apiece, as long as the workers did not involve their own lawyers.


The lawsuit requests general and punitive damages for what it describes as "wanton and reckless acts ... and outrageous and malicious conduct" including product liability, fraud, negligence, and conspiracy, but it did not specify an amount.


The plaintiffs' lawyers, Walter Lack and Tom Girardi, could not immediately be reached for comment.


Source: Reuters


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