Brazil prosecutors seek $16 million from pesticide makers

RIO DE JANEIRO, May 18 (Reuters) - Brazilian prosecutors said on Monday they would seek at least 50 million reais ($16.6 million) from multinational pesticide manufacturers for alleged safety violations at a collection facility for used pesticide containers.

The violations, in the west-central farming state of Mato Grosso, exposed workers at the facility to “risk of contamination” by toxic farm chemicals, prosecutors said. It is operated by a local agronomists’ association for collection by manufacturers.

Brazil is one of the world’s biggest agricultural producers and its biggest buyer of pesticides, according to Phillips McDougall, a Scotland-based agricultural consultancy and research firm. Manufacturers by law are required to provide so-called “reverse logistics,” or channels for safe disposal of containers for the chemicals they sell.

Prosecutors are seeking the damages from Inpev, an industry group established by manufacturers to meet the disposal rules, and the makers of specific pesticides whose containers were found at the facility during a February inspection.

Those manufacturers, prosecutors said, include the Brazilian units of BASF, DuPont, Monsanto, Nufarm, Syngenta, Adama, FMC and Nortox.

In a telephone interview, Joao Cesar Rando, president of Inpev, said the companies are cooperating with prosecutors but declined to discuss specific allegations.

During the inspection in Sapezal, a town deep in Brazil’s soy belt, prosecutors said workers were handling pesticide containers without proper cleaning facilities and safety equipment. The collection point, they said, gathers about 600 tons of pesticide containers annually.

The charges come as scientists, regulators, public health officials and consumers increasingly complain that Brazil’s ascent as an agricultural powerhouse has led to unsafe and excessive use of pesticides.

Reuters reported in April that at least four foreign manufacturers sell pesticides in Brazil that they are not allowed to sell in their home markets.

A week later, Brazil’s National Cancer Institute issued a report in which it criticized the reliance of Brazilian growers on pesticides and echoed concerns by the World Health Organization that some of the chemicals can cause cancer.

In addition to the 50 million reais sought for the February violations, prosecutors said they would seek 1 million reais ($331,000) in individual damages for each of the point’s seven workers.

Under Brazilian law, which includes a distinct judicial system for the hearing of labor cases, the charges in Mato Grosso must be weighed in court. ($1 = 3.02 Brazilian reais) (Reporting by Paulo Prada; Editing by Dan Grebler)