Dibromochloropropane, a nasty pesticide that continues to lurk in Hawai`i’s aquifers long after the pineapple fields have gone fallow, was used throughout Central America as well – and with consequences equally disastrous. In November, a Los Angeles jury found that Dole Food Co. had deliberately exposed six Nicaraguan banana workers to DBCP, rendering them sterile. A Nicaraguan court had found Dole culpable earlier, but lawyers for the plantiffs said the workers were unable to collect on their judgments in that country. The jury ordered Dole and Dow Chemical Co. to pay compensatory damages to the six totaling $2.8 million, with Dole bearing 80 percent of the responsibility; punitive damages may still come.
According to the Los Angeles Times, “after Dow Chemical Co. discontinued production of the pesticide in 1977, Dole insisted that Dow fill its contracts to supply the fruit company with the pesticide.” DBCP had been ordered off the market in the United States as a result of concerns over its impacts to worker health and the environment, but out-of-country sales of existing stocks continued. Dole executives “rejected a recommendation that workers be advised about the sterility problems,” the attorney for the workers said, with Dole officers saying such a recommendation was “not operationally feasible and need not be implemented.”
“This is not about an accident,” the lawyer, Duane Miller, told the court. “This is not about executives who were forced to make a decision on a few moments’ notice. They had plenty of time to think about it, and to do the right thing, and they consistently put a different priority above human safety: production. Tons of bananas.”
Claims from six more workers were rejected. Meanwhile, some 4,000 more Central American workers have pending lawsuits in Los Angeles over exposure to DBCP, while elsewhere around the world, the lawsuits over DBCP exposure number in the tens of thousands.
Dole general counsel C. Michael Carter said the six verdicts against Dole “are flat wrong and the result of junk science, raw emotional appeals and false testimony. These six men were not injured by DBCP or Dole… We are appealing to set the record straight.”
Environment Hawai`i has published extensive articles on DBCP and other chemical contaminants in Hawai`i. See especially our articles in the May and June 1996 issues (available through our archives):