1,2-Dibromo-3-chloropropane, better known as DBCP, is the active ingredient in the nematicide Nemagon, also known as Fumazone. It is a soil fumigant formerly used in American agriculture. After discovery of its deleterious health effects on humans, the compound was banned from use in 1979. However, the continuing presence of the chemical as a contaminant in ground water remains a problem for many communities.
- Until 1977, DBCP was used as a soil fumigant and nematocide on over 40 different crops in the United States. From 1977 to 1979, EPA suspended registration for all DBCP-containing products except for use on pineapples in Hawaii. In 1985, EPA issued an intent to cancel all registrations for DBCP, including use on pineapples. Subsequently, the use of existing stocks of DBCP was prohibited.
- DBCP is used as an intermediate in the synthesis of organic chemicals.
Sources and potential exposure
- Human exposure to DBCP could result from the ingestion of contaminated drinking water and food.
- Human exposure could also result from inhalation and / or skin contact with the product.
- In the past, release of DBCP to the environment occurred primarily from its fumigant and nematocide uses; because of the cancellation of all DBCP uses, environmental exposure is expected to decline with time.
Examples of persistence
DBCP residues have persisted in contaminated soil
long after applications have ceased. For example in agricultural areas around Turlock
in the Central Valley
of California, DBCP was applied to crops in the 1970s. As late as 1989, DBCP persistence was reported in groundwater that was previously used for beneficial purposes, and numerous nearby wells
had to be shut down at that time.
Workers at the Dow Chemical
plant producing DBCP were made sterile
by exposure to DBCP. These male reproductive effects were consistent with animal experiments showing that DBCP sterilizes rabbits. One contract worker at the production plant successfully sued the company. Most workers remained with the company and in a company sponsored medical program until the facility was sold in 1987. At that time, some of the workers did file suit against the company. However, the suit was denied due to "statute of limitations" issues.
Most domestic uses of the chemical were banned in 1977. Amid growing concerns over DBCP's effects on male workers, Dow ceased production and reclaimed DBCP that had been shipped to its users.
However, despite warnings from Dow about its health effects, the Dole Food Company, which was using the chemical on its banana plantations in Latin America, threatened to sue Dow if it stopped DBCP shipments. Dow then shipped half a million gallons of DBCP to Dole, much of it reclaimed from other users. Plantation workers who became sterile or were stricken with other maladies subsequently sued Dow and Dole in Latin American courts, alleging that their ailments were caused by DBCP exposure. Although the courts agreed with the workers and awarded them over $600 million in damages, they were unable to collect payments from the companies. A group of workers then filed lawsuits in the United States, and on November 5, 2007, a Los Angeles jury awarded them 3.2 million dollars.