During the 1970s, the pesticide DBCP (Dibromochloropropane) was used extensively on banana plantations all over the world. DBCP, originally synthesized in 1955, had many brand names, such as Nemagon and Fumazone (read more about DBCP here).
DBCP was used to protect many different crops: vegetables, nuts, fruits, beans and cotton. The target pest was nematodes, tiny worms living in the soil, feeding on the roots. The pesticide was either pumped directly into the ground, or sprayed into the air with irrigation guns.
In 1977, employees who had handled DBCP at the Occidental Chemical plant in California were found to be sterile. Within months, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had suspended most uses of the chemical.
In 1983, Sacramento attorney Duane Miller won a $4.9 million judgement against Dow on behalf of six of the Occidental plant workers. Two years later, the EPA permanently banned the use of DBCP in the United States.
In March 1990, the Texas court announced they would allow cases with a foreign location as place of incident. This was not possible before due to a legal doctrine called “forum non conveniens”, which said lawsuits should be heard in the countries where the damage occurred.
In 1992, this shift in regulation made it possible for 1,000 Costa Rican workers and their lawyers to win a case against Standard fruit (now Dole). The corporation agreed to pay $20 million to the affected workers. After legal fees, each worker was left with $1,500 to $15,000, depending on individual circumstances.
In 1993, a class-action lawsuit was files in Texas by more than 16,000 banana plantation workers from Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Philippines. The target was several fruit and chemical companies, including Dole, Chiquita, Del Monte, Dow, Shell and Occidental. The companies agreed to pay a total of $41.5 million in 1997 to those who proved they were sterile. However, when all legal fees were paid, the affected workers received relatively small payments.