Thoughtless Poison

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A court in Paris found the French government guilty of wrongful negligence over the use of a banned pesticide in the French Caribbean Islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique but rejected demands to compensate the victims, the Associated Press reported.

The case centers on the use of chlordecone pesticide on the two islands, which has been linked to a number of neurological disorders, high rates of prostate cancer and premature births.

The United States banned chlordecone in 1976 and the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants has barred its production since 2004.

Chlordecone was legally sold in France from 1981 to 1990 and used for three additional years in Guadeloupe and Martinique to combat the banana weevil pests under a French government exemption.

But activists and attorneys said the exemption was illegal. They also demanded $15,900 for each person who has lived for at least 12 consecutive months in Guadeloupe or Martinique since 1972.

The Paris court acknowledged that the government’s actions led to the “pollution of certain soils, drinking water and certain marine areas, and that agricultural workers have been exposed to this substance.” However, it denied compensation, saying the plaintiffs failed to provide any specific or precise elements “justifying the damage of anxiety they claim.”

Christophe Leguevaques, an attorney involved in the case, said the ruling could be appealed but noted that the decision marks “a significant step forward” since it acknowledges France’s culpability.

The case is one of at least two lawsuits filed against the French government: The other case – filed in 2006 and still ongoing – accuses the government of failing to safeguard its people’s health and failing to do enough to detect and minimize the impacts of chlordecone contamination on both islands.

According to the French authorities, more than 90 percent of adults in Guadeloupe and Martinique were exposed to chlordecone. The islands’ total population is around 750,000 people.

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