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Authorities knew of bromacil in Costa Rica’s waters and didn’t alert public

March 6, 2020

The Plant Health Department (SFE) of Costa Rica knew the levels of bromacil in the water of Río Cuarto (canton of Alajuela) since 2015. Despite having the information, the data wasn’t shared with other authorities until 2016 and wasn’t known publicly until 2018.

In 2015, the Plant Health Department — a unit of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAG) — had access to a partial report from the Center for Environmental Pollution Research (CICA) of the University of Costa Rica.

The former director of the Plant Health Department, Francisco Dall’Anese, told the deputies of the Environment Commission that CICA found “presence” of bromacil and not “pollution,” because the limits established by the law to define pollution by that agrochemical were not clear.

“That there is presence does not mean that there is contamination; that there is presence does not mean that there can be no human consumption,” Dall’Anese assured the deputies.

The deputy José María Villalta responded that Dall’Anese “put on several hats,” among them the Minister of Health and the adviser on pineapples, with whom he maintained a relationship.

Dall’Anese resigned his position in the Plant Health Department in 2016, after requesting that pineapple shipments at export ports be reviewed (until then, that review had been carried out on farms). 

Now, Dall’Anese says he works as a lawyer for the owner of the pineapple farm La Lydia (Rodolfo Barrantes). The agro-producer is located in Pital de San Carlos and is one of the companies questioned for contaminating water sources in Costa Rica’s Northern Zone.

“They had the right to know that [bromacil] was in what they were drinking. They had the right to know since 2015, not when you, acting as Minister of Health, felt like it,” Deputy Villalta said. 

In 2016, the Costa Rican Water and Sewer Institute (AyA) closed water wells in Veracruz de Pital (San Carlos) for “contamination” with bromacil.

In a joint measure, MAG banned the use of bromacil in crops in 2017. CICA’s conclusions on the levels of agrochemicals in water weren’t shared until 2018.

Villalta said in the Environment Commission that the Associations Administrators of Aqueduct Systems and Sanitary Sewers (ASADAS) “were not informed until the deputies made the public complaint.”

“It was reported through the CICA: if they didn’t do it, I understand. If the ASADAS weren’t there, how unfortunate,” Dall’Anese said. 

“But there was no pollution, there was no risk and they found out through a legislative complaint that lacks scientific support, which is the most important when determining whether there is contamination or not,” said the former director of the PPlant Health Department. 

The former Minister of Agriculture, Luis Felipe Arauz, was also present at the Dall’Anese appearance and denied having knowledge about bromacil levels in the water.

“In my mind the North Zone was being informed, I was not thinking about specific communities. No attempt was made to keep a secret, it was not a matter of secrecy. We believed that the CICA was informing,” he told the deputies.

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A version of this story was originally published by Semanario Universidad on March 5, 2020. It was translated and republished with permission by The Tico Times. Read the original report by Natalia Díaz Zeledón at Semanario Universidad here.

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