Right-to-Know Wins Over DuPont Trade Secrets Claim
February 1, 1994
On January 26th, 1994 a Florida judge lifted a
confidentiality agreement that would have sealed 150,000
documents from cases alleging that Du Pont's fungicide
Benlate DF, a benomyl fungicide, caused extensive crop
damage. The documents ordered released include internal
DuPont memos and scientific reports on the product, alleged
to have caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to
crop and nursery plants in the 1980's. The product was
removed from the market in 1991.
The Florida Department of Agriculture filed the motion to
release the documents over a year ago under the state's
"Sunshine in Litigation Act." After three separate hearings
to determine the constitutionality of the act and its
applicability to the Benlate case, the judge ruled that
benlate is indeed a "public harm" as defined by the act, and
ordered the documents released. "The release of these
documents is critical to getting to the bottom of this
Benlate disaster," according to state Agriculture
Commissioner Bob Crawford. Du Pont has ten days to appeal
Florida juries have found Du Pont liable in four recent 1993
cases, awarding between $500,000 and $2 million to tomato,
fern, and orchid growers claiming Benlate-related crop
damage. In August, an Arkansas jury hit Du Pont with $3
million in punitive damages on top of $9 million in
compensatory damages awarded to growers. (Punitive damages
were not requested in the Florida cases.) DuPont has also
paid upwards of $500 million in out-of-court settlements;
hundreds of similar suits are still pending around the
Last December growers were given yet another persuasive piece
of evidence when a Florida Department of Agriculture
scientist reported that in his studies, plants treated with
Benlate DF did indeed exhibit stunted growth, mutated leaves,
and immature root systems, supporting the growers experiences
(i.e. circumstantial evidence) of Benlate's phytotoxicity.
In addition to plant damage, numerous health problems have
been reported by growers exposed to Benlate DF, including
skin rashes, respiratory problems and cancers. A broad
coalition of farmworker, grower, consumer and environmental
organizations led by a group called Benlate Victims Against
Du Pont, as well as Florida's Pesticide Review Council,
continue to investigate the reports.
Du Pont's liability is likely not limited to the US cases.
Health problems and plant damage related to Benlate have been
reported in Costa Rica, Jamaica, Thailand and the
Philippines, and there may be problems in other countries as
well. Benomyl fungicides are widely used in specialty crops
such as ornamental plants, fruits and vegetables, and field
crops, especially rice, around the world.
Florida Defenders of the Environment is investigating
international cases of both plant damage and human health
problems related to Benlate.
For more information, or to report incidences of Benlate
damage, please contact: Kerry Dressler, Director of the
Toxics Project for Florida Defenders of the Environment.
Route 2, Box 565C, Micopany, FL 32667; phone/fax (904) 466-
Additional contact: Benlate Victims Against Du Pont, 17000
SW, 284th Street, Homestead, FL 33030; phone: (305) 246-8627.
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