Health and Safety

Brazilian Workers Charge Shell with “Environmental Crimes”

(November 12, New York City) — Brazilian chemical workers addressing a New York audience of students, academics, and union members said that the Shell Oil Company, one of the world’s largest, had willfully ignored life-threatening exposures to its workers who handled hazardous chemicals in South America.

Antonio de Marco Rasteiro, a former worker for SHELL/BASF in Brazil and the Coordinator of the Association of Workers Exposed to Chemical Substances there, was accompanied by Brazilian union attorney Vinicius Cascone, and Gloria Nozella de Lima, Director of Health for the Unified Chemical Workers Union for the region of Campinas.

With Cascone as translator, de Marco Rasteiro told his audience at the Center for Worker Education about the consequences of Shell’s decision, in 1977, to continue to use chemicals at its Brazilian pesticide plant that had been banned in the U.S. in 1975. They included organochlorines Aldrin, Bidrin, Dieldrin, and Endrin. These chemicals, among others, he said, adversely affected the health of 844 workers at the plant, resulting in the deaths of 50 and numerous cases of life-threatening illnesses.  De Marco Rasteiro himself has been diagnosed with hypertension, hearing loss, and prostate and lung cancers.

In a video that accompanied the lecture, another former SHELL worker, Mauro Bandeira, told how a man he worked with at the facility was told he was doing “great,” by a doctor.  He died ten days later of stomach cancer.  When asked at the lecture who this doctor was, de Marco Rasteiro told the audience, ”He was hired by Shell.”

Attorney Cascone said that organizing efforts are underway to bring together associations that represent victims of environmental crimes. David Kotelchuck, a NYCOSH board member who attended the lecture, said workers in the United States faced similar challenges in the 1950’s and 60’s, before the creation of OSHA.  “[The Brazilian workers] are now trying to get to the level that workers here have achieved,” he said.

The former employees are currently fighting to make Shell take responsibility for the damage to their health.  The process of obtaining treatment through the public health option in Brazil is, according to all three speakers, so slow that lives can be lost during the wait.  It also does not cover all of their medical expenses, forcing them to pay out of their own pockets for expensive medicines.

Despite the debilitating state of his health, de Marco Rasteiro says he will not stop fighting. “We want our health,” he said. “Justice must be done.”

November 16, 2009

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