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More than 5,000 agricultural workers from Latin American countries are claiming that a pesticide, DBCP, designed to kill worms infesting the roots of banana trees, caused them to become sterile after extended exposure. There have been five lawsuits filed in the U.S. against growing and manufacturing companies.

Jury selection for the first lawsuit begins on July 10th in Los Angeles County Superior Court. This is an important case because it raises the issue of whether multinational companies should be held liable in the country where they are based or in the country where they have employees. If the jury finds a verdict in favor of the workers, then other workers with similar cases will be able to file suit in the U.S., where the awards tend to be larger.

The upcoming lawsuit was filed in 2004 and accuses Dole Fresh Fruit Co. and Standard Fruit Co., now a part of Dole, of negligence and fraudulent concealment while using the pesticide. Dow Chemical Co. and Amvac Chemical Corp., manufacturers of the pesticide, “actively suppressed information about DBCP’s reproductive toxicity,” according to the lawsuit.

DBCP was used as a fumigant on more than 40 different crops in the U.S, but use of the chemical was largely stopped in 1979. Long exposure to DBCP can cause male reproductive problems, including decreased sperm count.

The lawsuit states that Dow and Amvac knew about the problems with the chemical as early as the 1950’s because of studies done on animals exposed to DBCP. The pesticide was sprayed on trees and dropped onto workers are contaminated the water supply.

Workers lived in company-supplied houses where they continued to drink and bathe in the DBCP contaminated water. The company did not warn the workers of the danger and did not use any protective measures.

For more information on this subject, please refer to our section on Workplace Injuries and Discrimination.

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