Bayer to Face the Families of 24 Children Killed by Methyl Parathion at a Court-Ordered Settlement Hearing

On October 22, 1999 in the remote Andean village of Tauccamarca, 24 children were poisoned and killed when they drank a powdered milk substitute as part of their school lunch that had been contaminated by the organophosphate pesticide methyl parathion. Eighteen other children at the school were poisoned but survived, and today suffer the developmental consequences typical of organophosphate poisoning.

In 2001 the families brought a civil action against Bayer S.A., the wholly owned subsidiary of the German chemical company which imported, formulated and registered methyl parathion in Peru. For six years the families have been defending the right to their day in court against Bayer’s maneuvers to have the case dismissed on procedural grounds. In July 2006, in a victory for Peru’s modern civil code as well as the families, the appellate court in Lima rejected Bayer’s procedural claims and set a date for a settlement hearing prior to a full trail. The hearing will take place April 12, in Lima, Peru.

Bayer sold methyl parathion, a white powdered pesticide with no strong chemical odor, in one kilogram plastic bags with pictures of healthy vegetables on the label. The plastic bag – common packaging for many foodstuffs including powdered milk – gave users no practical warning of toxicity of the product. The product label, printed in Spanish, similarly provided no useful warning of the extreme toxicity of the product to the many Peruvians, including the Tauccmarca villagers who don’t speak Spanish or are illiterate.

Methyl parathion is classified by the World Health Organization as a Ia, or 'extremely hazardous,' pesticide. Two years before the poisonings in Tauccamarca, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, in response to poisonings and deaths caused by illegal indoor use of methyl parathion, had required that significant protective measures be taken by sellers. These measures included adding a stenching agent to warn users of the extreme toxicity of the product and secure packaging that that requires special equipment to open the containers and apply the pesticide. Methyl parathion was banned in Germany in 1989.

The cost to Bayer of packaging methyl parathion in child resistant packaging, and adding a stenching agent, as the EPA required in 1997 in response to illegal indoor use, would have been minimal. Yet knowing the risks of foreseeable misuse and danger to users under the socio-economic conditions that are prevalent in Peru, Bayer chose to do nothing.

The Tauccamarca families have persevered in an effort to win medical monitoring and special education for the eighteen children who survived the poisoning as well compensation for the tragedy that befell their community. Most importantly the families want pesticide manufacturers and the Peruvian government to ensure that all other extremely hazardous Ia and Ib pesticides are withdrawn from the market, so that similar, preventable tragedies don’t befall other communities like theirs.

See also:
Press Release: Make Bayer Accountable for Deaths of Peruvian Children
Peru: Bayer Moves to Block Families' Legal Action
Pesticide Poisoning Deaths of 24 children in the Andean Village of Tauccamarca