Nine civil suits filed in Hawaii last week accuse a group of food and chemical companies, including Dole Food Co., of neglect after exposing Latin American banana workers to pesticide decades ago.
About 60 former workers — mostly from Panama, Costa Rica and Ecuador — are seeking compensation for exposure to dibromochloropropane, or DBCP.
Plaintiffs claim they’ve suffered a number of debilitating health problems, including sterility and "excess cancer rates." They allege the companies failed in taking precautions for workers who had to handle the substance.
Dole, based in Westlake Village, Calif., has been fighting lawsuits over the issue for decades, ever since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned the use of the chemical on all fruit except pineapples in the late 1970s. Its use on pineapples was banned in 1985.
Marty Ordman, Dole’s vice president of marketing and communications, said the company does not comment on ongoing litigation.
Other defendants in the case are Dow Chemical Co., Shell Oil Co., Occidental Chemical Corp., Amvac Chemical Corp., Standard Fruit Co., Standard Fruit and Steamship Co., Del Monte Fresh Produce Inc., Pineapple Growers Association of Hawaii and several unidentified individuals.
Scott Hendler, the Texas-based attorney representing the plaintiffs, said DBCP was developed in Hawaii by Dole and the Pineapple Growers Association. He said the case was filed in Circuit Court because of the state’s "reputation of having a fair … judiciary, and people who will weigh the facts fairly."
"Dole, Dow and other multinational corporations involved knew that DBCP was dangerous, and exported it to these unwitting, developing countries, exposing farm workers and causing irreversible damage for the rest of their lives," Hendler said.
In a related case, the Los Angeles Superior Court is considering dismissal of a 2007 jury verdict that awarded $2.3 million to six banana workers. Dole is alleging the plaintiffs’ lawyers recruited men to falsely claim they were employed at Dole and rendered sterile.
Hendler said cases are still being filed decades after the alleged incidents because attorneys sought class-action lawsuits, which do not have statutes of limitations. Once the class certification was denied, groups of cases were filed separately.