Wed | Mar 3, 2021

French Caribbean fights to keep pesticide case alive

Published:Wednesday | February 17, 2021 | 11:46 AM
In this November 18, 2007 photo, lawyer Harry Durimel (right) stands next to an activist with a sign that reads in French "No to Chlordecone poison," as they protest during the arrival of the French government’s Health Minister Roselyne Bachelot in Raizet Abymes, Guadeloupe. Durimel is among the attorneys representing agricultural workers in Guadeloupe and Martinique who have long been fighting for compensation for the use of a banned pesticide, chlordecone. (AP Photo/Dominique Chomereau-Lamotte)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Agricultural workers who have long sought compensation for contamination from a pesticide banned in France but used in the country’s Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe have finally had a day in court after a nearly 15-year wait.

Investigating magistrates in Paris held a video conference hearing last month with representatives of consumer, farm and environmental groups gathered in a Martinique courtroom to determine how to proceed on a complaint that had languished since 2006.

“I have never given up,” said attorney Harry Durimel, speaking in a phone interview from Guadeloupe.

“This is a serious matter that merits everyone’s involvement.”

The complaint focuses on chlordecone, a pesticide also known as Kepone that was banned in the US in 1976 following several notorious incidents, including the contamination of the James River in Virginia, and which is blamed for neurological problems including slurred speech.

French health authorities have expressed concern it could be linked to high rates of prostate cancer on the eastern Caribbean islands and some studies have suggested it may be linked to premature births.

It was legally marketed in France from 1981 until 1990 and was used for three more years in Guadeloupe and Martinique to fight the banana weevil under an exemption granted by the French government.

Durimel and other attorneys argue that exemption was illegal.

The suit accuses the French government of failing to protect the health of its people and not doing enough to identify and limit the effects of chlordecone pollution on both islands, with a combined population of some 750,000.

“They poisoned us in silence,” Durimel said.

France’s Ministry of the Overseas did not return a request for comment.

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