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Shell’s Toxic History

Extracts from an article published by BEYOND PESTICIDES: 7 Oct 2019

Banana Workers Made Sterile from Pesticide Sue Dow in France

In a pattern of corporate irresponsibility, if not actual malfeasance, now commonly recognized — think Big Tobacco, Big Fossil Fuels, Big Pharma, Big Chem — Shell (Royal Dutch Shell) and Dow Chemical were aware as early as 1958 of toxicological data from experiments on male rats demonstrating that exposure to DBCP caused reproductive anomalies, including reduced testes size at airborne exposures of 5ppm (parts per million), and at 20ppm, sterility in all subjects. (Dow Chemical merged for a time with DuPont to become DowDuPont; in spring of 2019, that company disaggregated into Dow, DuPont, and Corteva, the last of which handles the agricultural seed, trait, and chemicals strands of the business.)

Farmworkers, particularly from banana plantations, who had suffered harms from DBCP — usually sterility — began to sue manufacturers (largely Dow and Shell) and large producers, such as Dole (formerly Standard Fruit Company, now Dole Food Company). Such frontline workers most affected by the ravages of pesticide use often face a Sisyphian task in seeking legal and monetary redress for those harms, as they confront giant corporate entities that leverage enormous resources to delay, delegitimize, and defeat the “little guys.” In these DBCP cases, that list includes flat-out stonewalling on payment by industry, repeated challenges to courts’ jurisdiction in the matter, and U.S. courts punting on these cases by outright refusing to hear them.

Some examples from that fraught landscape:

Some examples from that fraught landscape:

  • In the 2000s, Nicaraguan courts ordered a total of $805 million in damages to be paid to hundreds of victims by Dow Chemical, Shell Oil, and Occidental Chemical (now OxyChem). The companies refused to pay, saying the courts lacked jurisdiction and had denied them fair trials. In one of those suits, in 2001, a court in Nicaragua ordered Shell, Dole, and Dow to pay $489 million to 500 male banana workers made sterile by DBCP. The companies refused to pay and counter-sued the plaintiffs for fraud, asking for $17 billion in damages. When a U.S. federal court was asked by the plaintiffs to enforce the Nicaraguan court judgment, the U.S. court refused to hear the case.

Plaintiffs hope to collect at least part of that sum, per the Nicaraguan court judgments, from Dow in France, and to secure the freezing and sale of assets owned by Dow, Shell, and OxyChem in other European countries where they do business — predicated on a European Union (EU) rule that allows a court order issued in a member state to be enforced in any of the 28 EU countries.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.



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