Pesticide Action Network Updates Service (PANUPS)
June 21, 1999
An international trade union federation has called upon a U.S.-based seed company to assume responsibility for the environmental and public health disaster created in Paraguay by its local subsidiary. The International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) is demanding that Delta & Pine Land, the world’s largest cottonseed producer, remove pesticide-contaminated cotton seed that its subsidiary dumped near a rural community in Paraguay. Delta & Pine Land is in the process of being acquired by the Monsanto Company through a share swap to be completed later this year.
Last November, 30,000 sacks of expired cottonseed, weighing approximately 660 tons, were dumped near a small village 120 kilometers from the capital Asunción. The seeds were treated with high concentrations of toxic pesticides, including the organophosphates acephate and chlorpyrifos. The label on the seed sacks states that the acephate compound (trade name: Orthene 80 Seed Protectant) “contains material which may cause cancer, mutagenic or reproductive effects based on laboratory animal data. Risk of cancer depends on duration and level of exposure.” The sacks were spread over one-and-a-half hectares and were covered with only a thin layer of soil. The disposal site is on private land in the center of a rural population of three thousand and less than 170 meters from a primary school with 262 pupils.
Symptoms of pesticide poisoning such as vertigo, nausea, headaches, neurological disorders, memory loss, insomnia and skin rashes, appeared immediately in the surrounding population and worsened after the first rains.
On December 28, a local resident died. His official death certificate states that he was treated by the attending physician for “acute poisoning due to pollution caused by toxins of the Delta & Pine Land seed deposited on the property of Julio Chávez.” According to his widow, he fell ill on December 26 and by the next day could no longer get out of bed. Mr. Ruiz, a father of five, was thirty years old at the time of his death.
Medical testing of the residents has produced irrefutable evidence of acute pesticide poisoning. The Ministries of Agriculture and of Public Health have acknowledged the results of the tests but have not taken action. The IUF has met with the Minister of Health and the president of Paraguay, and has helped to organize demonstrations and support for the victims of the contamination. Still, the government refuses to act.
In August, the case will be the subject of an inquiry in Asunción organized by the Ethical Tribunal against Impunity in Paraguay with the support of the Latin American Regional Secretariat of the IUF.
The IUF is demanding:
* Immediate action to remove the toxic seed and decontaminate the area;
* Immediate and comprehensive medical treatment for the victims;
* A program of long-term medical and environmental surveillance, including regular monitoring of water supplies;
* Adequate compensation for the victims, their families and the wider community;
* Full and public disclosure of the circumstances surrounding the dumping.
The thirty thousand sacks of seeds buried in the area were part of a larger shipment of 84,000 bags of Delta & Pine Land cotton seeds authorized for importation by the Paraguayan Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock in 1997. There is no information about the location of the remaining seed. The IUF is trying to determine if the seeds were already past their expiry date at the time of export from the United States and whether they were exported rather than destroyed in the U.S. where costly disposal procedures would have been required.
The International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF) is an international trade union federation composed of 329 trade unions in 118 countries with an affiliated membership of 2.6 million members. It is based in Geneva, Switzerland.
Source: IUF press release, June 15, 1999.
Contact: International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF), Rampe du Pont-Rouge, 8, CH-1213 Petit-Lancy, Switzerland; phone (41-22) 793 22 33; fax (41-22) 793 22 38; email email@example.com; web site http://www.iuf.org.