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DBCP and male infertility in Lathrop, California, United States

Lathrop became known as the first major episode of worker infertility related to occupational exposure to DBCP. In 1977, workers at a production plant noticed that they were unable to father children.


Dibromochloropropane (DBCP) is a pesticide used against nematodes that damage pineapples, bananas and other tropical fruits. It was introduced into US agriculture in 1955 and approved for use as a fumigant in 1964. The compound was widely marketed and became a commercial success. In 1977, an emergency study by the EPA agency discovered that workers at Lathrop were suffering from deficient or absent sperm. While controls were improved at US facilities, the product continued to be marketed and sprayed in Latin America, the Philippines, some African countries.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict: DBCP and male infertility in Lathrop, California, United States
Country:United States of America
State or province:California
Location of conflict:Lathrop
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Biomass and Land Conflicts (Forests, Agriculture, Fisheries and Livestock Management)
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Intensive food production (monoculture and livestock)
Specific commodities:Pesticides
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Babich H, Davis DL, Stotzky G. (1981) [1] : "a highly persistent, lipophilic, brominated organochlorine which is effectively used against nematodes, dibromochloropropane (DBCP) has been produced for agriculture since 1955. In 1975, production of DBCP in the United States reached 25 million lbs. However, investigations with laboratory animals, some of which were published in the early 1960s, have shown that DBCP decreases sperm mobility and spermatogenesis, disturbs the estrous cycle, reduces phagocytosis by white blood cells, and induces malignant tumors. Later studies with procaryotic and eucaryotic cells, including human sperm, have demonstrated DBCP to be mutagenic and to effect the genome adversely. In 1977 many of the employees at the Occidental Chemical plant in Lathrop, California, who had handled DBCP, were found to be either azoospermic or oligospermic. Subsequent surveys of employees handling DBCP at other chemical plants confirmed these findings. In 1977 on edible crops and in 1979 DBCP per se was detected in well waters. As a result of these studies, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1977 promulgated regulations restricting the use and handling of DBCP. In 1979, the EPA banned almost all agricultural uses of DBCP."

Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:150
Start of the conflict:1977
Company names or state enterprises:Hooker Chemical Company from United States of America - owner
Occidental Chemical Company from United States of America
Dole from United States of America
Shell Chemical Company from United States of America
Relevant government actors:EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, USA
OSHA, Occupational Safety and Health Administration
Courts in San Francisco, Texas ...
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Workers at the Lathrop factory, California
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Industrial workers
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns
"An avalanche of lawsuits was filed against Occidental Chemical in the wake of the sterility scandal. A class action suit was filed on behalf of 30 workers ..." (Cathy Trost, 1981).
Environmental ImpactsPotential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity)
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths, Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsSterility in male workers, also alleged cases of cancer
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of livelihood
Potential: Violations of human rights
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
New legislation
Strengthening of participation
Project cancelled
Proposal and development of alternatives:DCBP was banned in the US in 1979 but not in other countries. It was manufactured and exported from the US.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:DBCP was banned in USA in 1979, damage to workers' health had been done. There was some monetary compensation. It was not banned outside the US until many years later. No justice has been done outside the US, because support from the judicial system of the US has been very weak or non existent, although the facts were well proved.
Sources & Materials
References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[1] Sci Total Environ. 1981, 17(3):207-21. Dibromochloropropane (DBCP): a review, by Babich H, Davis DL, Stotzky G.
[click to view]

[2] European Environment Agency, Lessons from health hazards | The pesticide DBCP and male infertility. Late lessons from early warnings: science, precaution, innovation, vol. II, by Eula Bingham and Celeste Monforton

DBCP consumer fact sheet prepared by the State of California, health risks
[click to view]

Environment and Hawai. DBCP and Dole, 30 Years Later. (Posted 11/1/07), on DBCP in pineapple plantations.
[click to view]

Good Neighbor Policy by Cathy Trost (excellent report, 1981)
[click to view]

"Bananas" website - The film Dole Food Co. doesn't want you to see
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

The film that stood up to banana giant Dole over pesticide poisoning (and won). The pesticide was banned in the USA in 1977 for causing male sterility but Standard Fruit - now Dole - continued to use the pesticide in its plantations outside the USA
[click to view]

Meta information
Last update18/08/2019
Conflict ID:2443
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