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Planet Ark World Environment News Honduran Farm Workers Sue Companies Over Pesticide

Date: 18-Apr-05
Country: USA
Author: Nichola Groom

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in Los Angeles federal court, names as defendants fresh fruit producers Dole Food Company Inc., Chiquita Brands International Inc. and Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc., as well as Dow Chemical Co. and units of Royal Dutch/Shell Group

The complaint follows similar actions by Costa Rican and Nicaraguan banana workers in recent years.

According to court papers, the plaintiffs, who worked on banana plantations in and around Honduras, were injured by their exposure to the pesticide 1,2-dibromo-3-chloropropane (DBCP).

The chemical, which was manufactured by Shell's chemical units and by Dow Chemical, was banned by the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1979.

"DBCP is a highly toxic and poisonous pesticide which has been alleged to cause sterility, testicular atrophy, miscarriages ... liver damage and various forms of cancer in humans when absorbed by the skin or inhaled," the lawsuit says.

The injuries, however, are not easily discovered and were not diagnosed by doctors until 2004, court papers say.

Following the US ban, both Dow and Shell continued to distribute DBCP throughout Central America, the complaint alleges. By continuing to distribute and use the chemical, the companies showed a "conscious disregard" for the safety of the plantation workers, the complaint said.

But Dow Chemical disputed that charge. "The allegation that Dow sold the product after it was banned by the EPA is false," Dow Chemical spokesman Adam Muellerweiss said. He added that Dow had not yet been served with the complaint.

Shell Oil spokeswoman Habiba Ewing said the company had not yet seen the lawsuit and was not able to comment.

The lawsuit says the pesticide was used on plantations owned by Dole, Chiquita and Del Monte following the US ban.

Chiquita spokesman Michael Mitchell said he had not yet seen the lawsuit and could not comment on its specifics. Although Chiquita did use DBCP in Panama, Costa Rica and the Philippines during the 1970s, he said, it had not knowingly used the chemical in any other countries.

Fresh Del Monte spokesman Bruce Jordan also said it had not yet been served with the complaint, but he added that Fresh Del Monte has never had any operations in Honduras.

Dole spokeswoman Freya Maneki said the company had not yet had an opportunity to review the lawsuit and had no comment.

The companies are being sued for negligence, concealing the hazards of the product and conspiracy, among other charges.

The lawsuit seeks special, general, punitive and exemplary damages.

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