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Daily News Blog

03
Sep

In Coverup of Illegal Pesticide Use, Applicator Gets Two Year Prison Sentence

(Beyond Pesticides, September 3, 2014) The U.S. Justice Department sentenced Steven A. Murray, a pesticide operator with Bio-Tech Management in Pelham, Georgia, to two years in prison last week after as a result of charges related to a cover up illegal pesticide applications made at over 100 nursing homes. Mr. Murray pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy, three counts of false statements, two counts of mail fraud, and 10 counts of unlawful use of a registered pesticide. In addition to being sentenced to two years in prison, Murray was subject to a $7,500 fine. His company was placed on three years of probation and also required to pay a $50,000 fine.

Felderlyhospital_smallrom October 2005 to June 2009, Mr. Murray and Bio-Tech provided monthly pest control services to hundreds of nursing homes in several southern states including Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Alabama by spraying pesticides in and around their clients’ facilities. Bio-Tech employees routinely  applied  the pesticide Termidor indoors, contrary to the  manufacturer’s  label  instructions, and then created false service reports to conceal that illegal use. After the Georgia Department of Agriculture made inquiries regarding Bio-Tech’s illegal use of Termidor and other pesticides, Mr. Murray directed several of his Bio-Tech employees to alter company service reports with the intent to obstruct the investigation.  Mr. Murray and his co-conspirators allegedly falsified service reports to say that they used CyKick T, a pesticide that does not exist. The indictment goes on to allege that Bio-Tech sent invoices through the U.S. Mail to their clients to solicit payment for the unlawful pesticide applications.

“This case is particularly disturbing because of the defendants’ intentional disregard for the well-being of a vulnerable group of victims whose safety was entirely in the defendants’ hands,” said U.S. Attorney Michael J. Moore for the Middle District of Georgia. “This sentence is a just punishment for them and a stern warning to others who might be similarly tempted in the future.”

Fipronil, the active ingredient in Termidor, is a systemic pesticide that has been linked to a number of adverse health effects in humans. The chemical is classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a Group C, possible human carcinogen, based on increases in thyroid tumors in rats. After exposure to the fipronil, the chemical is rapidly metabolized in the body and widely distributed in tissues where significant amounts of residues can remain in fat and fatty tissues, especially when exposed to high or chronic doses. Acute exposure to fipronil results in headache, nausea, dizziness and weakness. However, studies link chronic exposure to neurotoxicity, cancer, and endocrine disruption.

The non-labeled use of this pesticide is extremely concerning, given that Mr. Murray and his company exposed the elderly, a sensitive population group, to potentially both the acute and chronic impacts of fipronil. The elderly are also more likely to be on medication, and very little is known about the synergistic effects of combining pesticide exposure and pharmaceuticals.

“The defendant exposed patients to harmful pesticides which jeopardizing their health and safety and tried to cover it up by submitting false reports. EPA and its partner agencies are committed to holding these kinds of dangerous actions accountable to the law,” said Maureen O’Mara, Special Agent in charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Georgia. Before the plea deal, Mr. Murray faced a prison sentence of over 650 years and $10 million in fines. However, while charges of conspiracy and false statements carry a five year prison term, and mail fraud is punishable by up to 20 years, unlawful use of a pesticide only carries a jail sentence of up to 30 days. This vast disparity highlights a serious flaw in the United States’ current pesticide laws. If Mr. Murray had not tried to cover up his illegal applications, he may have only been charged with the 10 counts of unlawful use of a pesticide, for a total of a mere 300 day potential jail sentence. It was only Murray’s abhorrent attempts to cover up this gross violation that gave him the prison sentence. Given U.S. Attorney’s strong statements regarding the risk Mr. Murray put nursing home residents, it is evident that the current punishment for pesticide violations is simply not an adequate deterrent to the illegal use of these products.

Beyond Pesticides has a long history of advocating for safer approaches to pest control in nursing homes and other health care facilities. In 2008, Beyond Pesticides and the Maryland Pesticide Network (MPN) released a report titled Taking Toxics Out of Maryland’s Health Care Sector, documenting the practices and policies health care facilities can take to eliminate toxic pesticide use. Beyond Pesticides and MPN continue to work closely with D.C-Baltimore area hospitals to encourage pest control practices that eliminate toxic pesticide exposure, and keep with the medical profession’s basic tenet of “first, do no harm.” Additional information on Beyond Pesticides health care facilities project can be found on the Healthy Hospitals program page.

Source: AL.com, United States Department of Justice Press Release

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3 Responses to “In Coverup of Illegal Pesticide Use, Applicator Gets Two Year Prison Sentence”

  1. 1
    Gretchen Says:

    And yet its ok for me to feed my kids food that has been heavily sprayed with an endocrine disruptor and carcinogen called Roundup?? Someone needs to be held accountable for all the damages done to our earth and its inhabitants by Big Ag. They should pay for our medical and funeral expenses. Roundup and all herbicides and pesticides should be banned immediately!

  2. 2
    TonyIsSupreme Says:

    Great Job, Justice Department!

    Every step such as this is a positive step in the right direction.

    Folks, we all have to remember to salute and thank our institutions when they do the right thing—they are up against a lot from corrupt Corporate America.

  3. 3
    Boruch FIshman Says:

    The report Taking Toxics Out of Maryland’s Health Care Sector,was a real eye opener for me. I trained at Mercy and attended lectures at Hopkins. I am curious to know if the cost of IPM is greater than regular pest control.

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