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From June 9, 2006                                                                                                        

Terminix Pays Settlement for Fumigation Safety Violation
(Beyond Pesticides, June 9, 2006) Terminix International recently paid an $80,000 settlement to the New Jersey Department of Environment Protection (NJDEP), for a botched cocoa-bean fumigation that resulted in exposing nine employees to methyl bromide. According to a press release issued by NJDEP, Terminix dispatched nine employees on May 12 and 13, 2004, to fumigate cocoa beans stored on pallets in a 500,000 cubic-foot area of the Lyons and Sons Incorporated warehouse in Pennsauken.

The Terminix crew covered rows of the 18-foot stacks of cocoa beans with plastic tarps and sealed them. The crew’s supervisor, who was licensed to perform commercial fumigations, then wrongly inserted a hose into the side of each covered stack and pumped in a total 1,037 pounds of “Meth-O-Gas 100,” which contains the active ingredient methyl bromide.

If the process were carried out in accordance to the methyl bromide label, which is required by law, the liquid pesticide is applied either with a vaporizer or into evaporation pans that are positioned at the top of the stack so it is evenly distributed as a gas. The tarps should then remain sealed for 12 to 24 hours to eradicate any infestations of insects or other pests. For health and safety reasons, the law also requires employees to wear self-contained breathing apparatus during certain phases of the application and to test the air before allowing employees to re-enter the area to remove the tarps.

Instead of following the label, the supervisor directed, the untrained Terminix crew – none of whom wore the required safety gear – to begin removing tarps at least four hours too early, which immediately subjected them to be overcome by the toxic fumes. NJDEP’s Pesticide Control investigators said that the fumigation process done by the Terminix crew, from start to finish, represented a gross misapplication of methyl bromide, and all safety requirements for protective equipment and air testing had been ignored.

According to NJDEP’s, Commissioner Lisa P. Jackson, “We found it disturbing that Terminix put employees to work with one of the world’s most hazardous pesticides without appropriate oversight or training,” Commissioner Jackson continued, “What should have been a routine warehouse fumigation went badly awry, and only by sheer luck did the employees survive.”

Two of the Terminx employees suffered severe injuries. Three others also required medical treatment following the mishap. Methyl bromide can irritate and burn the eyes and skin on contact, and exposure can permanently damage the nervous system. Overexposure can cause headache, nausea, vomiting, tremors, slurred speech, dizziness and convulsions. Exposure to very high levels can result in rapid loss of consciousness and death.

In addition to the acute effects of exposure, a recent United States study of over 55,000 male pesticide applicators found that methyl bromide users had a statistically greater risk of developing prostate cancer, and those who had longer exposure to the chemical were at higher risk. Methyl bromide is also harmful to the global environment. It is a potent contributor to the destruction of the ozone layer. Damage to the ozone layer results in increased rates of skin cancer and cataracts around the world, particularly among children.

Immediately following the incident, the DEP’s Compliance and Enforcement investigators cited Terminix for a host of pesticide-control and air-pollution violations. The warehouse fumigation prompted the DEP to conduct further investigations, which resulted in an overall assessment of the fumigation industry in New Jersey. As a result of the Terminix case, the DEP has now set a national precedent by regulating the release of air toxics from transient fumigation processes. According to DEP, future fumigation licenses will include air-pollution-control requirements.

In addition to the $80,000 payment, the settlement agreement prohibits Terminix International and any of its subsidiaries and franchises from participating in New Jersey’s commodities-fumigation industry for at least a year. Terminix will be able to request the permission from DEP to perform these commercial fumigations again after the suspension has lapsed– provided the company hires a consultant to review its operations and ensure its ability to comply with all regulatory requirements.

Jane Nogaki, pesticide program coordinator for the NJ Environmental Federation commended the NJDEP for coming down hard on Terminix. "It sends a message to a very large national company that they can't put workers and the environment at risk".

Take Action:: Let the Bush Administration know that you think it should NOT allow loopholes to be included in the phase-out of methyl bromide under the Montreal Protocol. Send an email to EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson at Johnson.Stephen@epa.gov and to president@whitehouse.gov.