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 exposure to a toxic pesticide caused a range of reproductive disorders.
The suit -- filed against Dole Food Co., Chiquita Brands International Inc., Fresh Del Monte Produce Inc., Dow Chemical Co. and Shell Chemical Co., a subsidiary of Royal Dutch/Shell Group -- accuses the companies of using dibromochloropropane on bananas in Central America after it was banned in the U.S. 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 Friday.
A spokesman for Cincinnati-based Chiquita said the company had "just become aware of this and has not had time to review the complaint."
Representatives for Dow, Shell, Dole and Del Monte were not immediately 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 a piece 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." It's claims against the companies include product liability, fraud, negligence and conspiracy, but it did not specify an amount.