Benlate is the brand name of a fungicide produced by the DuPont chemical company between 1970 and 2001 to kill fungus growing on commercial crops. Though studies about Benlate’s toxicity have been inconclusive, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies it as a possible carcinogen. Animal studies have shown that prenatal exposure to Benlate may cause anopthalmia and micropthalmia, diseases in which babies are born with no eyes or abnormally small eyes. Benlate® is also cited in thousands of lawsuits for damaging crops, possibly due to contamination with herbicides. When DuPont’s internal studies failed to show that Benlate causes crop or health damage, the company stopped settling lawsuits. Nevertheless, DuPont took Benlate off the market in 2001, citing the high cost of defending itself in court.
DuPont’s Benlate® Fungicide
Benlate� is a fungicide which is used pre-harvest and post-harvest as a dip or dust to combat a wide range of fungal diseases in arable and vegetable crops. Benomyl is the active ingredient in the brand name product Benlate�, produced exclusively by DuPont. Before DuPont discontinued manufacturing Benlate� in 2001, this fungicide had long been one of DuPont’s most successful products and was registered worldwide for many crops. Benomyl was first synthesized by DuPont in 1959. Production of Benlate� began at the Belle, West Virginia plant in 1969. Benlate� was introduced in 1970 in a wettable powder form. In 1987 DuPont introduced an alternative, dry-flowable form that was recalled in 1989 and 1991 due to the presence of an herbicide in some lots.
Benlate and Lawsuits
These recalls of Benlate� due to contamination generated hundreds of claims–mainly for damage to crops. DuPont initially paid many claims and initiated their own studies into the alleged damages. When their studies did not duplicate the claimed injuries from Benlate�, the company declined to pay any further claims. In the following decade, DuPont faced hundreds of Benlate� lawsuits ranging from crop damage to personal injury. The litigation results were mixed. DuPont won cases before some courts and lost in others. Ultimately, citing business reasons, the company decided to stop manufacturing Benlate� worldwide in 2001, even though they still claim there is no credible scientific evidence demonstrating that Benlate� caused either damages to crops or injuries to human health. The company has faced a vast number of claims for Benlate� damage to crops, soil, and health, and announced that it is no longer willing to bear the high and continuing costs of defending the product in the US legal system.
DuPont continues to defend itself in legal ongoing matters. As of June 30, 2004, DuPont has incurred costs and expenses of approximately $1.9 billion from all Benlate� associated matters. The company has recovered approximately $250 million of its costs and expenses through insurance.
Benlate and Exposure During Pregnancy
However, studies have shown that the exposure to Benlate� in the first trimester of pregnancy can cause anopthalmia (no eyes) or microphthalmia (small eyes) in a fetus. Thus, a fetus would not fully develop or would not develop anything at all in their eye cavities. In 1972 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency advised DuPont that it should put a label on Benlate� warning that it could cause birth defects and exposure during pregnancy should be avoided. But lobbying by DuPont persuaded the EPA that a warning on the Benlate� label was misleading and unnecessary.
If you have been exposed to Benlate� Fungicide and have suffered injury, you may have a legal case. If you would like to contact an attorney, please use the Find Attorney button at the top of the page.
Benlate and Eye Defects
Approximately 1 in 100,000 babies are born with anophthalmia (no eyes) worldwide. Microphthalmia (small eyes) occurs in around 1 in 10,000 births. About two thirds of the cases are believed to be genetic. The rest are believed to be caused by environmental factors–for example, exposure to an environmental toxin such as Benlate�–or viral infections. Currently, at least ten children and their families have brought legal action against DuPont, the manufacturer of Benlate�, claiming exposure to Benlate� caused their eye defects; one in Florida, one in West Virginia, and eight in Delaware. All, except for the Florida case, involve foreign plaintiffs. This is because fungicides are far more widely used in European countries than in the United States due to the damp climate. Fungus, and not insects, is the main crop killer there. Further, Benlate� was freely available over the counter for home use in Britain. DuPont claimed that they removed Benlate� from shelves in January of 1998 because it was becoming less effective, not because it was dangerous.
What causes these eye defects?
Normal development of the eye is an extremely complex process that relies on a precisely arranged sequence of developmental steps. These steps are governed by control genes that are switched on and off at particular times of development. Most of the important development of eye structures in a developing fetus is programmed to take place in the first three months of pregnancy. However, after this there are still some refinements that occur. Failure of any of the early eye development stages may cause anophthalmia and/or microphthalmia. Later events in pregnancy such as infections or exposure to chemicals such as Benlate� may also cause microphthalmia, but usually not anophthalmia. In most cases the cause of these problems is not known.