Pesticide Disaster in Paraguay

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Pesticide Disaster in Paraguay

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 Asuncisn. 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 Chavez." 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 Asuncisn  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; web site

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