Environmental Racism? Pesticide banned in UK and EU shipped in vast quantities to Costa Rica.

By secretary of the Environmental Network for Central America (ENCA) Sheila Amoo-Gottfried.

Sheila has summarised the results of an investigation made largely by Greenpeace and Public Eye into what she calls ‘environmental racism’ by European agri-business transnational companies like Syngenta which have been sending fungicides that are banned here in Europe to countries of the Global South such as Costa Rica in this case.

Cipreses, a town on the fertile slopes of the Irazú volcano, north of San José, traditionally held ceremonies at the Plantón spring, praying for rain for the crops. Nine years ago, Isabel Méndez noticed a strong pesticide smell at the spring.  She raised her concerns to ASADA (the local water administrative association), but these were brushed off.

Chlorothalonil, the chemical used widely as a fungicide is banned as a potential carcinogen in the UK and EU and yet is shipped in large quantities to Costa Rica, and other countries in the Global South, by European companies like Syngenta.

Méndez, determined to fight for her community, partnered with Ricardo Rivera, a former ASADA administrator, and other concerned residents to form EcoCipreses.  Noticing that many people were getting sick in such a small place, samples were sent for testing and scientists confirmed the water springs were contaminated in Cipreses and the neighbouring town of Santa Rosa.  EcoCipreses advocacy led to national calls for a ban on Chlorothalonil, following these scientific reports. The government issued instructions not to drink tap water, and since then trucks have been rolling in to deliver drinking water to the affected communities.

“For nine years now”, says Méndez, “I’ve been fighting with other women in Cipreses to get Chlorothalonil banned, and we are making progress on what used to feel impossible:  Costa Rica’s Constitutional Court has given the Executive Branch of Government a deadline of six months to issue a ban.”

This ruling came into force in June 2023, but Isabel Méndez is well aware that Costa Rica’s complex decision-making system which requires relevant government ministries to all agree to the ban, along with the strong lobbying pressure coming from the agrochemical industry, could seriously delay definitive action.

In the meantime, to keep the pressure up, she has launched an online petition, gathering more than 52,500 signatures to put pressure on government ministers. “These last years have been very tough on my community.  Besides never having enough water, my daughter, Fiorella, had polyps at 16 and has now, at 23, lost her sense of smell and taste.  One of my neighbours has tongue cancer and several young people have been diagnosed with stomach cancer.  It’s alarming….   To make matters worse, some locals with the support of the pesticide lobby regularly harass, intimidate and threaten us with death because of our activism.”

EcoCipreses has concerns about the broader health and environmental impact on the whole region, which produces 80 per cent of Costa Rica’s vegetables, using similar quantities of fungicides, vastly exceeding safe consumption limits. The solutions are not easy. No-one knows how long people have been drinking contaminated water or what the effects on their health will be.  No one knows how widespread the contamination is across the country or how the pesticide traces can be removed from the springs already found to be tainted.

So, Isabel Méndez and her colleagues are determined to maintain maximum pressure. “As hard as it is, as hard as it’s been, we won’t give up because it isn’t just Cipreses’ and Santa Rosa’s springs … there could be plenty more. We feel we can’t let Syngenta use countries like ours – from Latin America to Africa – as dumping grounds for chemicals they can’t sell legally in Europe.”


  • Unearthed, (June 2023), ‘”Water is sacred too”: How a pesticide banned in Europe robbed a Costa Rican town of its drinking water’, Greenpeace, Public Eye, https://www.publiceye.ch/en/topics/pesticides/chlorothalonil-a-banned-pesticide-exported-from-europe
  • Euronews, 26 June 2023, ‘The EU and UK exported 1,000 tonnes of a banned pesticide to poorer countries, investigation reveals’,
  • Vinicio Chacón, 20 septiembre 2023, ‘Más de 52 mil personas piden prohibición de Clorotalonil’, Semanario Universidad.
  • Eko, 16 August 2023, Online petition: ‘EU: stop spreading banned chemicals’.