Banana workers fight for right to appear in court after alleged chemical exposure

By Dawn Geske | Oct 10, 2016

NEW ORLEANS – Several lawsuits that have been filed by a group of Latin American banana plantation workers regarding their exposure to alleged harmful chemicals has been upheld after a variety of dismissals in other courts.

The lawsuit was filed against Dole Foods, Chiquita, Dow Chemicals and a series of other companies by hundreds of banana planation workers that claim these companies purposely exposed them to the chemical dibromochloropropane (DBCP). The use of DBCP has been banned in the U.S. because of its potential to cause cancer and sterility.

The banana farmers are alleging they came in contact with DBCP while working for these companies because the chemical was used in the soil to kill roundworms. DBCP was banned by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency between the years of 1977 to 1979, allowing its use for pineapple farmers until 1985 when it was completely prohibited.

According to the lawsuit, the banana farmers claim they were not provided any protection from the exposure to DBCP in terms of protective covering or equipment when they spread the chemical around the fields or injected it into the soil. The plaintiffs allege the vapors and chemicals would become trapped under the canopy of banana leaves and they would become trapped in its fumes, exposing them to the chemical and cutting off their ventilation.

Because of the exposure to DBCP, the banana farmers are claiming that they have suffered from infertility, cancer and problems with their renal systems and sperm.

The litigation started by the banana farmers has been in process for 20 years and has been moved in and out of different courts throughout the U.S. First filing in Texas and then moving to the Louisiana courts out of procedure, the plaintiffs were concerned the case would be dismissed over the timeliness of the suit and filed also in Delaware. While the Delaware court dismissed the case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit revived it in an 11-0 decision.

Dole, Chiquita and Dow argued that the plaintiffs in the case were forum shopping by filing in two courts, but Judge Julio Fuentes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit disagreed, saying he did not think the group received any advantage by filing in two courts and that they are indifferent to which court hears their case. The Louisiana court also rejected the suits, thereby making the requests untimely in Louisiana Courts.

Regarding the claims that the banana works have alleged, Dow Chemical responded by saying, “The Dow Chemical Company continues to view these cases as meritless,” Jarrod Erpelding, corporate media relations leader at The Dow Chemical Company told the Louisiana Record

“Moreover, the cases were not filed within the statutory period as required by Louisiana law. Every state has its own statute of limitations period. The cases filed and dismissed in Louisiana are the same cases the same attorney filed in Delaware and Hawaii. Plaintiffs and their attorney alone determine where to file case," he said.

Other banana workers that have filed similar cases have been successful in their claims, winning multi-million settlements in their cases.

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Organizations in this Story

Dole Food Company The Dow Chemical Company

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