Banana workers affected by pesticide block Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly

A group of banana workers blocked the entrances and exits of the Legislative Assembly yesterday for at least an hour.

The move came after the workers had waited until 7pm for the hearing of Bill 18.802, which aims to provide direct compensation to workers affected by the pesticide Nemagon, a pesticide which was commonly used on banana plantations and which causes a number of diseases, most commonly sterility in men. The bill was scheduled to be read yesterday, but by 7pm the group began to grow angry as it became apparent that the bill would not be heard by the end of the day.

Shortly after 7pm, the workers began blocking the entrances and exits to the Legislative Assembly, preventing lawmakers from leaving. The situation continued for about an hour, until security forces arrived at the scene and dispersed the workers.

“We have been asking for this bill since July 2003,” a spokesperson for the workers told the daily Diario Extra, who said he has suffered health problems as a result of his exposure to Nemagon. The man added that medical examinations – apparently to determine sterility – by the National Insurance Institute (INS), which has provided compensation to some workers, are “inhuman.”

Nemagon was banned in the United States in 1979 after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined the pesticide was a carcinogen and caused sterility in male mammals, including humans.

The pesticide is also known to contaminate groundwater, even years after its use is discontinued. Human exposure comes as a result of inhalation, skin contact, or from contaminated drinking water. Besides causing sterility, Nemagon, also known as DBCP, has been determined to be one of the most powerful cancer-inducing agents, even in low doses.

In Nicaragua, where DBCP use has also been widespread, 67% of male banana workers are sterile, while 33% of female banana workers have uterus or breast cancer. Other workers suffer from cancer of the testicles, stomach, and kidneys.

Costa Rica ranks far ahead of any country in the world in its use of pesticides – more than double number two Colombia, according to rankings by the World Resources Institute.


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