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Lawyer argues that pesticide left banana workers sterile

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LOS ANGELES - A lawyer for a dozen banana workers from Nicaragua argued Wednesday that Dole Fresh Fruit Co. and Dow Chemical Co. robbed his clients of the ability to have children by overexposing them to a harmful pesticide that left them sterile.

Attorney Duane Miller, who represents the workers, made the claim during closing arguments in the three-month civil trial targeting the world's largest producer of fresh fruits and vegetables and the giant chemical company.

"As adults, we decide whether we want children or not," Miller told jurors. "This is a case about a decision made for my clients instead of by my clients."

The lawsuit accuses Dole and Standard Fruit Co., now a part of Dole, of negligence and fraudulent concealment while using the pesticide DBCP in the 1970s.

It also alleges that Dow "actively suppressed information about DBCP's reproductive toxicity."

Dole and Dow deny liability.

During his closing argument, Dow attorney Gennaro "Gus" Filice said the workers did not have enough exposure to DBCP to have any effect. Experts analyzed the exposure and found it to be insignificant, he said.

"These numbers are important," he said. "They tell the story."

Filice also claimed many workers had other health problems that could have made it difficult to have children, including venereal disease and infections.

DBCP was used to kill microscopic worms on the roots of banana plants. It was approved for use in the United States by the Environmental Protection Agency until 1979. In Nicaragua, it was legal from 1973 until 1993.

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