Lawsuits Seek Justice for California Family Devastated by Dow’s Dangerous Pesticide

Indiscriminate spraying of chlorpyrifos leaves teen with autism, cognitive and intellectual disabilities and other severe neurological issues; Trump’s EPA rolls back proposed ban anyway

HANFORD, Calif., Oct. 19, 2020 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Even as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently rejected its own findings into the damage caused by the pesticide chlorpyrifos, a landmark series of lawsuits against the manufacturer are being filed in central California seeking justice for families whose children have suffered severe damage from its deadly effects.

The first of these lawsuits, Alba Luz Calderon de Cerda and Rafael Cerda Martinez v. Corteva Inc., et al., was filed Sept. 18 in Kings County Superior Court in Hanford (Case No. 20C-250). It relates to damage caused by exposure to the dangerous and now widely banned pesticide, made by Dow Chemical under the brand names Lorsban and Dursban.

More than 50 additional plaintiffs have come forward, and new cases will be filed this week on behalf of other area families who have been similarly damaged.

Chlorpyrifos was first used in 1965, and since then scientific evidence has shown a link between it and neurological disorders. It was banned in household settings in 2001. Due to exposure — both in utero and throughout his early development — the plaintiff in the first of these lawsuits, Rafael Calderon Cerda, born in 2003, now suffers from severe disorders including autism, cognitive and intellectual disabilities and ADHD. Rafael Jr. will need care for the rest of his life.

His parents, Alba Luz Calderon de Cerda and Rafael Cerda Martinez, are suing Dow and others — including the California cities of Avenal and Huron and several firms that sprayed the pesticide — seeking to recover payments for Rafael Jr.’s care. They accuse Dow of hiding the dangers of chlorpyrifos from its customers and the public.

The plaintiffs are represented by Calwell Luce diTrapano PLLC of Charleston, West Virginia, and Bonnett, Fairbourn, Friedman & Balint P.C. of San Diego and Phoenix. Lead attorney Stuart Calwell is one of the most accomplished attorneys in the nation for toxic-poisoning cases, having battled Monsanto for more than 20 years over the polluting of Nitro, West Virginia, with dioxin used in the making of Agent Orange. That case finally settled for close to $100 million. Calwell also won $151 million against a chemical company that poisoned the water supply in southern West Virginia.

“Young Rafael and others like him were literally awash in this deadly chemical before they were born,” said Calwell. “Their central nervous systems never had a chance.”

Chemical Present in the Workplace, on Food and in Water Supply

According to the complaint, it’s not difficult to trace how the toxic chemical was transmitted to Rafael Jr.

During her pregnancy, Alba Luz worked packing chlorpyrifos-covered produce in a packing house that was also surrounded by fields of crops doused in chlorpyrifos, often applied by aerial spraying known to result in both overspray and spray drift. Rafael Jr.’s father was a pesticide sprayer in the fields, coming home with chlorpyrifos-laden clothes.

In addition, the Huron apartment building they lived in at the time of Alba’s pregnancy was near massive, indiscriminate spraying of chlorpyrifos that contaminated the city’s water — water used for bathing, cooking and drinking. When Rafael Jr. was eight months old, the family moved to Avenal, whose water supply was also permeated with the pesticide. Drinking tap water from the contaminated California Aqueduct during Alba’s pregnancy led to further exposure.

The lawsuit describes how the entire community and everyone living and working there were exposed to the pesticide. Exposure was constant and continues to this day, with the chemical contaminating walls, ducts, carpets and drinking water throughout the area.

The dangers of chlorpyrifos are well known. Chlorpyrifos oxon — created when chlorpyrifos is used according to the label instructions provided by Dow — is in the same family of pesticides as the chemical warfare agent Sarin gas, a classification of chemicals first developed by the Nazis in the 1930s. Chlorpyrifos oxon is one thousand times as toxic in mammals as chlorpyrifos itself. Dow didn’t disclose that chlorpyrifos quickly converts to chlorpyrifos oxon when used according to label directions when mixing with water, nor that it will also convert through exposure to sunlight and other environmental factors. The toxic effects of chlorpyrifos oxon can last for months or years in certain conditions, resulting in harmful, chronic low level exposure 24 hours a day to the contamination of food, water, cars, houses, and every day used household items including toys.

In February, California made it illegal to sell chlorpyrifos. The U.S. EPA’s own research on the damage the pesticide causes to children led it to move to ban it in 2015. A nationwide prohibition was not achieved before the 2016 election, however, and the recommendation had been stalled in the Trump Administration’s EPA until Sept. 22, 2020, when the agency rejected its own scientific review in a victory for chemical makers. (Dow donated $1 million to Trump’s inauguration fund.)

“Manufacturers and distributors of chlorpyrifos have greedily ignored the harm caused to workers and their children,” Calwell said. “While this lawsuit can’t undo the damage done to countless families in central California, it will begin to bring justice to these communities.”

Eric Rose