Behind the Lines

Poisoning Honduras

THE U.S.-BASED MULTINATIONAL Standard Fruit's use of pesticides which are banned in the United States has endangered Honduran workers' health on plantations in Honduras' northern coastal zone, according to Dallas attorney Charles Siegel. Siegel is representing the Standard Fruit workers in a lawsuit to be filed in the United States this year. Standard Fruit, a subsidiary of Dole Food Company, owns extensive plantations in the coastal provinces of Atlantida and Colon and exports more than 15 million boxes of bananas annually.

The workers decided to take legal action following the June 1992 death of a worker from a cancer believed to have been caused by exposure to the pesticide DBCP, which was fully banned in the United States in 1985.

 Standard Fruit offered out-of-court settlements of $4,000 per worker in an attempt to avoid judicial proceedings. The workers rejected the offer. Siegel, who won settlements for Costa Rican Standard Fruit workers in a similar case earlier this year, is seeking at least $30,000 indemnification for each worker exposed to the chemicals.

Siegel says that he hopes the legal action will "discourage the corporate attitude that it is OK to sell something abroad that you wouldn't let your own children go anywhere near, and encourage [foreign] workers to vindicate their rights in the United States when they are injured by U.S. companies."


Dumping on Malaysia

A DRAMATIC JULY COURT DECISION ordering a polluting multinational corporation to close its operations in Malaysia is now threatened by pro-company rulings from the country's supreme court. A Malaysian High Court found that a joint venture of the Japanese Mitsubishi Kasei Corporation, Asian Rare Earth (ARE), was releasing radioactive waste which was endangering the surrounding community of Ipoh, and ordered the facility to shut down immediately. The court ruling also ordered ARE to remove within 14 days all radioactive wastes and other toxic chemicals from its factory in Bukit Merah to a permanent dump site away from area villages. Residents claim that ARE has been dumping chemical wastes into a nearby pond and river. ARE has appealed the ruling to the Malaysian Supreme Court.

On August 3, riot police were called to stop about 2,000 people, who had gathered at the Supreme Court in Kuala Lumpur to protest ARE's waste disposal methods, from entering the appellate hearing. In response to the demonstrators' presence, Supreme Court Judge Yusoff Mohamed postponed the case, leaving the appeal date undecided. To the frustration of the plaintiffs and village residents, the judge suspended the ban on ARE plant operations pending the appeal and overruled the high court's order requiring ARE to clean up its radioactive wastes at Bukit Merah.

 The case against ARE was brought by eight Bukit Merah residents who claim that the health of villagers has been severely affected by exposure to the radioactive wastes. Judge Peh Swee Chin said that he found sufficient evidence of increased leukemia, congenital disease, infant deaths and higher levels of lead in village children since the plant's opening in 1982 to justify closing the factory. Mitsubishi Kasei refused to comment on the charges to Multinational Monitor.


Toxic Loopholes

THE ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY (EPA) has reported reductions in U.S. industrial toxic chemical releases which are overstated by more than 50 percent, according to a study released in August by the Washington, D.C.-based public interest group Citizen Action. The report's authors, Ed Hopkins and Tom Pollack, surveyed 50 manufacturing facilities across the United States to find that the largest decreases in chemical emissions are attributable not to pollution reduction efforts but to changes the EPA has made in its requirements for the reporting of certain chemicals, as well as to decreases in industrial production due to the economic recession.

Pollack, Citizen Action's research director, charges that while the EPA announced a decrease in toxic wastes from 5.8 billion pounds in 1989 to 4.8 billion pounds in 1990, about half of the reduction can be attributed to delisting formerly reported toxins.

For example, Monsanto's Alvin, Texas plant released 200 million pounds of ammonium sulfate in 1989. Because the plant was not obligated to report the chemical in 1990, its "reductions" in toxic releases were advanced by 70 percent, Hopkins and Pollack claim.

 Citizen Action Public Affairs Director Ed Rothschild, who assisted with the study, says that the EPA has responded to the arguments made in the report. He says EPA's 1992 toxic release inventory, through which companies' toxic releases are made public, states that if companies had been required to report ammonium sulfate emissions, industry reductions for 1990 would amount to 11 percent, not the 18 percent previously reported.

According to Rothschild, the chemicals were delisted in response to corporate pressure. "When companies take credit for environmental improvements, we want there to be real changes in source reduction, alterations in processes and investments in the way products are manufactured to reduce the chemicals that end up in the waste stream," says Rothschild.n

 - Julie Gozan