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Dole settles farm workers’ pesticide lawsuits

Dole settles with plaintiffs after 30+ years of debate

On Monday, Dole Food Co Inc. ended years of litigation with U.S. and Nicaraguan farm workers who claimed that a pesticide the company used left the workers sterile. Plaintiffs claimed Dole used the chemical dibromochloropropane (DBCP) to attack crop-destroying roots on banana plantations.

Workers in in a DBCP manufacturing plant filed the first suit involving the chemical in 1977, when California health officials determined the pesticide could cause infertility.  At the same time, another of Dole’s supplier companies, Dow Chemical Co., stopped production at the DBCP manufacturing plant and instituted a recall. In 1979, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned almost all uses of DBCP in the U.S., listing related possible injuries as cancer, male infertility and chromosomal damage. Dole stopped using the pesticide in 1980, but a series of debates ensued between Dole attorneys, doctors and plaintiffs attorneys, both in the U.S. and Nicaragua, involving the validity of tests conducted in laboratories, the extent to which workers were exposed to the pesticide and what preventive action the workers used to safeguard themselves.

The plaintiffs lost credibility in 2009, when two cases filed by Nicaraguan plaintiffs were dismissed on account of falsified fertility tests, as one of the plaintiffs was discovered as a father of three children.

After more than 30 years of dispute, Dole settled with the plaintiffs on Monday. The settlement covered 38 lawsuits, 33 of which were Nicaraguan cases that represented nearly $9 billion in damages. Michael Carter, Dole’s general counsel, still maintained in a statement that “there is no reliable scientific basis for alleged injuries from the agricultural application of DBCP.”

The Los Angeles court hearing the cases will evaluate the fairness of the settlement Nov. 3.

To read more on the history of the Dole settlement, go to the Wall Street Journal law blog And Reuters.

Danielle Feinstein

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