The pesticide Nemagon contains the active chemical DBCP (Dibromochloropropane) and was used for many years on banana plantations to kill nematode pests in the soil. Shell and Dow had conducted animal studies in the 1950s that found that exposure to DBCP led to sterility as well as liver, kidney and lung damage.
Nemagon was banned in 1977 in the United States after it was linked to sterility in workers at an Occidental Chemicals plant in California. Since then experimental evidence from animals has shown it to cause brain and kidney damage, and it is considered a highly toxic and likely highly carcinogenic compound. Regular contact with the toxic chemical has been linked to birth defects, sterility, skin diseases and cancer. After its ban in the United States, the companies continued to export their existing stocks to Nicaragua where it was used by Standard Fruit on banana plantations.
The chemical can be absorbed by ingestion, inhalation or skin contact, and persists for decades in the water and soil of contaminated areas, giving it a particularly dangerous legacy.
Banana Trade News Bulletin, no. 27, January 2003.
Stephanie Williamson (March 2003) ‘Nicaragua backs its banana workers’ fight for compensation’, ENCA Newsletter no 33, London: ENCA.
ENCA (July 2004) ‘Banana workers die in march to Managua’, ENCA Newsletter no.36, London: ENCA.
James Watson (December 2010) ‘Nemagon and the Nicaraguan bananeros’, ENCA poster.