Central America: Dole starts to pay in pesticide settlement

On Sept. 4 the giant California-based fruit and vegetable producer Dole Food Company, Inc. finally began funding a settlement it made more than a year earlier with some 5,000 former banana workers in Central America who said their health had been damaged by exposure to the pesticides Nemagon and Fumazone, brand names for dibromochloropropane (DBCP). Dole had refused to pay until all judgments against it had been dismissed and each of the plaintiffs had signed a release agreeing not to sue Dole again for injuries linked to DBCP.

Speaking in Chinandega in northwestern Nicaragua on Sept. 6, Dole spokesperson Humberto Hurtado confirmed that the money was available. The settlement covers 3,157 Nicaraguans along with 780 Costa Ricans and 1,000 Hondurans; they all worked for Dole during the period from 1973 to 1980 when the company used the pesticides, which are now banned. Many of the workers spent 16 years struggling to win the settlement, which covers five lawsuits in the US and 33 in Nicaragua; the Nicaraguan suits were for a total of $9 billion in damages.

Only the former banana workers represented by the Texas-based law firm Provost Umphrey are included in the settlement. Another 13,874 Nicaraguan workers have pending cases being handled by other law firms. Hurtado said Dole “might be available for possible agreements with other groups.”

Dole wouldn’t reveal the size of the settlement, but the company indicated that the payments wouldn’t significantly affect its financial condition. A statement from Dole executive vice president C. Michael Carter insisted that “there is no reliable scientific basis for alleged injuries from the agricultural field application of DBCP.” (Ventura County Star, California, Sept. 6; La Prensa, Nicaragua, Sept. 7)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Sept. 9.