October 22, 2001

Legal Action Filed Against Bayer in the Pesticide Poisoning Deaths of 24 Children in the Peruvian Andes

Lima, Peru -- On Monday October 22, 2001, two years to the day after 24 children in the remote Andean village of Tauccamarca were killed and 18 more severely poisoned when they drank a powdered milk substitute that had been contaminated with the pesticide methyl parathion, their families brought suit against the product’s principle importer and manufacturer, the agrochemical company Bayer.

Methyl parathion is classified as Ia, or “extremely hazardous” and acutely toxic product by the World Health Organization, and is responsible for a disproportionately large share of pesticide poisonings in Latin America.

Bayer widely promoted its methyl parathion formulation, known as “Folidol”, throughout Peru, without alerting users as to the product’s grave risks to human health and the environment. The pesticide was marketed specifically for use in Andean crops that are cultivated mostly by small farmers, the vast majority of whom are are illiterate Quechua speakers. Nonetheless, Bayer packaged Folidol, a white powder that resembles powdered milk and has no strong chemical odor, in small plastic bags that provide no protection to users and give no indication of the danger of the product within. The bags are labeled in Spanish only, and carry drawings of healthy carrots and potatoes but no pictograms indicating danger or toxicity.

The lawsuit asserts that the agrochemical companies who imported and sold the product in Peru should have taken steps to prevent the foreseeable misuse of this extremely toxic product, given the severe health risks presented by methyl parathion and the well known socio-economic conditions in the Peruvian countryside.

The suit also named the Peruvian Ministry of Agriculture for failure to enforce Peruvian pesticide regulations. Methyl parathion was registered as a “restricted use” pesticide in Peru, which can only be legally sold with a technical prescription issued by an agronomist licensed by the Minister of Agriculture, nonetheless uncontrolled sales of parathion and other pesticides in the countryside is the norm.

The spokesperson for the family members of the deceased children emphasized his hopes that their legal action would send a message to the agrochemical industry, so that they would not continue to sell unreasonably dangerous pesticides in the Peruvian countryside, and that the Peruvian courts would support justice for all the children of Tauccamarca.

For more information: (Luis Gomero), (Erika Rosenthal)