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A Paris court this week dropped a criminal investigation into the use of a pesticide that caused cancer rates to spike on the French Caribbean islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe, ending a nearly 20-year-old case that had sparked protests in the overseas territories, France’s Le Monde reported.

In 2006, the islands’ inhabitants sued to hold the French government criminally liable for allowing the extended use of the chlordecone pesticide to protect crops in Martinique and Guadeloupe against weevils.

The chemical has been linked to prostate cancer – the two islands have some of the highest rates in the world – as well as stomach and pancreatic cancer.

French authorities banned the use of the pesticide in France in 1990 but the chemical was still used on the islands’ banana plantations until 1993, Agence France-Presse noted.

Last month, French health authorities released a report saying that nearly 90 percent of people on the islands have been contaminated by chlordecone.

In its ruling, the French court found that the use of the chemical had caused a “health scandal” and resulted in long-term harm to the islanders. But the judges countered that based on scientific evidence available at the time, it could not prove that individuals involved were fully aware of the risks.

Nonetheless, it encouraged plaintiffs to seek restitution from “other authorities” based on the links demonstrated between the chemical and cancer.

The verdict caused dismay among the territories’ officials and residents, who feared that statutes of limitations and other legal constraints could preclude accountability.

On Friday, Harry Durimel, mayor of the city of Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, and a lawyer who represents chlordecone victims, said he will appeal the judgment, bringing it to European courts if necessary.

Thousands of people marched through Martinique’s capital Fort-de-France in February 2021 to protest the case’s statute of limitations and again in late 2022 in response to prosecutors’ recommendation in November to drop the criminal prosecution.

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