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Toxic Injustice: A Transnational History of Exposure and Struggle

Susanna Rankin Bohme
Copyright Date: 2015
Edition: 1
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    Toxic Injustice
    Book Description:

    The pesticide dibromochloropropane, known as DBCP, was developed by the chemical companies Dow and Shell in the 1950s to target wormlike, soil-dwelling creatures called nematodes. Despite signs that the chemical was dangerous, it was widely used in U.S. agriculture and on Chiquita and Dole banana plantations in Central America. In the late 1970s, DBCP was linked to male sterility, but an uneven regulatory process left many workers-especially on Dole's banana farms-exposed for years after health risks were known.Susanna Rankin Bohme tells an intriguing, multilayered history that spans fifty years, highlighting the transnational reach of corporations and social justice movements.Toxic Injusticelinks health inequalities and worker struggles as it charts how people excluded from workplace and legal protections have found ways to challenge power structures and seek justice from states and transnational corporations alike.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95981-1
    Subjects: History, Environmental Science, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-15)

    IN A LOS ANGELES COURTROOM over the summer of 2007, twelve Nicaraguans brought suit against Dow Chemical and Dole Food Companies, alleging that the use of Dow’s pesticide dibromochloropropane (DBCP) on Dole’s banana plantations had rendered them sterile.¹ DBCP, a nematicide meant to prevent damage from the tiny, wormlike soil-dwelling creatures called nematodes, had been used on Nicaraguan and other Central American banana plantations in the 1970s and 1980s, even after it had been decisively linked to sterility in U.S. production workers. By 2007, tens of thousands of former Central American banana workers had reported health problems linked to their...

  6. ONE Roots of Optimism and Anxiety
    (pp. 16-46)

    THE TRANSNATIONAL HISTORY OF DIBROMOCHLOROPROPANE (DBCP) began in Hawaii in 1951, among the shallow roots of a popular tropical crop. Researchers were not sure exactlyhowthe compound protected pineapples from the wormlike nematodes that threatened the plants from within the soil, but they knew it worked. In its efficacy lay the promise of increased profit, and the chemical soon made its way to the mainland United States, where Dow Chemical Company and Shell Chemical Company worked in concert, transforming the experimental compound into their own marketable and branded products, Fumazone and Nemagon.

    That transformation took place through interlocking processes...

  7. TWO DBCP on the Farm
    (pp. 47-72)

    ONE CROP STOOD OUT IN Shell and Dow’s 1961 residue petition to the USDA. Bananas were different because they were not commercially grown in the United States at all, but imported from nations including Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. The inclusion of bananas in the chemical companies’ DBCP petitions to the USDA signals that the use of the pesticide must be understood in its transnational as well as its local and national contexts. In fact, tracing the rise and fall of DBCP use from 1961 to 1977 points to the complex interconnection of multiple local, national, and transnational...

  8. THREE Unequal Exposures
    (pp. 73-105)

    IN THE SUMMER OF 1977, pesticide production workers at the Occidental Chemical plant in Lathrop, California, were worried. One “Oxy” worker recalled: “It was rumored [that] anybody that worked in that department for more than two years couldn’t produce children. And I haven’t.”¹ Soon the rumors gave way to evidence, as testing revealed that many workers on the line did have abnormally low or even zero sperm counts. Their sterility was eventually linked to their exposure to DBCP, confirming what Shell and Dow scientists had first suspected 20 years earlier—that the testicular effects of DBCP seen in laboratory animals...

  9. FOUR An Inconvenient Forum?
    (pp. 106-141)

    IN MAY 1983, SAÚL MUÑOZ Sibaja and 57 other DBCP-affected Costa Rican men and their women partners or wives filed a suit against Dow and Shell in Florida state court, claiming that DBCP exposure had made the men sterile.¹ They were the first of what would eventually be thousands of plaintiffs from Central America to bring DBCP cases in the United States in an attempt to hold U.S.-based transnational corporations accountable for harms done abroad. The transnational litigation seemed to hold the promise of justice for workers whose health had been affected by DBCP, symbolically reversing the flow of DBCP...

  10. FIVE Making a Movement
    (pp. 142-173)

    IN 1994, COSTA RICANAFECTADOSfaced a confusing scenario. On the one hand, about 11,000 Costa Rican men and women had filed claims in the United States, but few of them knew the progress of the cases or how much they might win.¹ Meanwhile, Standard Fruit had offered direct payments to some workers, in some cases totaling as much as 2 million Costa Ricancolones(about US$4,400 at 1994 exchange rates).² Shouldafectadoscontinue to place their hopes in the far-off litigation, or try to secure money directly from banana companies still operating in Costa Rica?

    San José attorney Susana...

  11. SIX National Law, Transnational Justice?
    (pp. 174-214)

    IN NOVEMBER 1999, THE MANAGUA dailyEl Nuevo Diarioreported that hundreds of DBCP-affected agricultural workers were protesting in the capital: “Under the torrid sun of the capital, a hundred marchers carrying giant crosses, placards and banners, arrived with their faces sweating, their feet swollen, and crying in unison, ‘We want Justice! End the exploitation of the transnational Standard Fruit Company!’”¹ Seven days before, the ex-banana workers and their family members had gathered in Chinandega, a town of about 120,000 in northwest Nicaragua, at the center of the hot and humid agricultural region where United Fruit and Standard Fruit had...

  12. Conclusion
    (pp. 215-232)

    THE STORY OF DBCP SHOWS how corporate and state actions produced inequalities in chemical exposures, and how banana workers sought accountability for their health problems, garnering some victories but also facing significant barriers. Central to the creation of and response to DBCP harms were fights over science and law as workers, corporations, state actors, and attorneys sought to define or contest acceptable risks, DBCP damage, and the terms of justice for harms done. This story is important to understanding the spatial organization of systems of production and trade, as well as their intersection with the political boundaries and regulatory scope...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 233-304)
    (pp. 305-324)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 325-344)