Don't omit health effects of pesticide.

Posted by Thea M. Edwards at Jul 23, 2010 02:00 PM |

In a July 16 article, Victoria Kim of the Los Angeles Times reports on a recently dismissed court case between Dole Food Company and Nicaraguan banana plantation workers. The workers claimed they lost their fertility after being exposed to dibromochloropropane (DBCP), a pesticide used on Central American banana farms in the 1970’s. A  California judge threw out the case due to issues of forgery, bribery and other fraudulent behaviors affecting both sides.

However, the article neglects an important issue.  It does not address if DBCP could cause infertility.  It can!  DBCP is a well-established reproductive toxicant that causes infertility in men. This was known in the 1960s and 1970s and continues to be reported in the scientific literature. In fact, reproductive toxicity was the primary reason the pesticide was banned in the United States in 1977.

While the science did not affect the dismissal of the court case, the reporter should have included health effects information in the article because it was the underlying reason for the case.

DBCP prevents pre-sperm cells from maturing into active sperm. Instead, the pre-sperm cells die. When a man is tested for infertility caused by DBCP, doctors find that there are few or no live sperm in the man’s ejaculate.   
DBCP is still found in ground water in the United States and other countries, particularly in areas where it was heavily used in the past. In addition to infertility, animal studies also link DBCP exposure with cancers of the breast, lung and other organs, according to a Cornell University factsheet
There is considerable scientific evidence that exposure to some pesticides can harm human fertility.  It is critical that readers differentiate that the case was dismissed due to fraud and not poor scientific support for the plaintiff’s case, as suggested by this quote from the article: “Scott Edelman, an attorney for Dole, welcomed the ruling and said the case would have a wide-reaching impact on tort cases involving toxic chemicals.”