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Daily News Blog

03
Aug

Terminix To Pay Delaware Family $87 Million Settlement for Poisoning with Methyl Bromide in U.S. Virgin Islands

(Beyond Pesticides, August 3, 2016) Home pest control giant Terminix reached a tentative settlement agreement this week of $87 million with  the  Esmond family for the severe poisoning of the mother, father and two teenage children with the highly neurotoxic pesticide fumigant  methyl bromide.  The company treated  a neighboring unit  to  their vacation residence  last spring  at a  condo resort complex in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. This amount is in addition to $3 million already paid to the family to cover the insurance deductible, and an undisclosed amount that the company’s insurance carriers have agreed to pay pursuant to their general liability insurance policies, according to an earnings report filed by the Terminix’s parent company, ServiceMaster Global Holdings, Inc. of Memphis, Tennessee. Stephen Esmond became paralyzed after the March 2015 incident, while his two sons spent weeks in critical condition. The mother,  Theresa Devine is still recovering.

Beyond Pesticides’ executive director, Jay Feldman, spoke to CBS Evening News August 2 on the poisoning. Watch news piece  here.  

Methyl bromide is a restricted use pesticide and is not registered for residential use, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) 2013 Methyl Bromide Preliminary Workplan. It was taken off the market for residential use in 1984. Although mostly banned in the U.S., it can still be used in certain agricultural and food storage sites under a controversial “critical use exemption” loophole in federal (and international) law. In addition to being highly neurotoxic, methyl bromide is an ozone depleter and was slated to be removed from the market under the Clean Air Act and international treaty, the Montreal Protocol.

According to authorities, certified applicators working for the Tennessee-based company illegally applied pesticides containing methyl bromide to residences in St. John, St. Croix, and St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Judith Enck, EPA’s regional administrator in New York City, which has jurisdiction over the U.S Virgin Islands said in the initial investigation that a certified applicator had applied methyl bromide in the complex where the family was staying while targeting an indoor beetle that consumes wood. The pesticide gas drifted from a rental unit that was being fumigated below the where the family was staying. Courthouse News Service reports that the Esmonds were taken to a hospital two days later with neurological symptoms such as weakness, severe muscle twitching, “altered sensorium, and word-finding difficulty,” according to U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission records.

In addition to the settlement to the family, Terminix had agreed to pay a $10 million criminal fine under a plea agreement after being charged by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in March 2016. “The facts in this case show the Terminix companies knowingly failed to properly manage their pest control operations in the U.S. Virgin Islands, allowing pesticides containing methyl bromide to be applied illegally and exposing a family of four to profoundly debilitating injuries,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division in a March 29 statement on the criminal plea agreement.

According to the parent company’s earnings report, the company entered into a superseding plea agreement on July 21, 2016 in connection with the DOJ and EPA investigation. The plea calls for the same aggregate amount as previously agreed, but with monetary ranges for the fines and community service, giving the court discretion at sentencing. The superseding plea agreement is subject to the approval of the court at a hearing scheduled for August 25, 2016 and, if approved will resolve the federal criminal consequences associated with the DOJ investigation.

The company is also currently involved in another lawsuit, filed September 2015, pertaining to the poisoning of ten-year-old Peyton McCaughey of Palm City, Florida, who was hospitalized after his home was treated for termites with another toxic fumigant sulfuryl fluoride. After returning to their home hours after the Terminix subcontractor told them it was safe to enter, the whole family became very ill. While the parents and the 7-year-old daughter recovered, the young boy’s condition continued to worsen. According to news reports, the  fumigation was performed by Sunland Pest Control, a subcontractor of Terminix. The Florida Department of Agriculture has since issued a “Stop Work Order” while it  investigates the company in collaboration with EPA and the state Department of Health. According to the company’s earning report, the court has set a trial date in September 2016. Sunland and two persons associated with Sunland have pled guilty in Federal court.

Because methyl bromide is an ozone-depleting substance, its production is controlled under both the Montreal Protocol on Ozone Depleting Substances, which is legally binding on all signatories to the treaty, of which the United States is one, and the Clean Air Act. These laws mandate that the substance was to be completely phased out, according to a  precise schedule, by January 1, 2005. However it can still be used in certain agricultural and food storage sites under a controversial “critical use exemption” (CUE) which allows the chemical to  continue to be used  if users petition that there are “no feasible alternatives.” As a result of uses under CUEs, application rates of methyl bromide in the U.S. have remained persistently high. While it should be noted that there are no CUEs for residential uses, methyl bromide has CUEs for its use as a pre-plant soil fumigant and in the post-harvest treatment of commodities and structural (food storage sites) fumigation.

After EPA began its investigation, Terminix voluntarily stopped using methyl bromide in the U.S. and its Territories, with the exception of a government contract at the Port of Baltimore.

In November, the Virgin Islands revamped its pesticide enforcement and applicator training  on alternatives, which advocates say are too focused on alternative pesticides, rather than building management strategies that eliminate pest-conducive conditions.  In St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) and the EPA held a joint conference on “Reducing Pesticides in the U.S. Virgin Islands.” As a result of discussions that took place between the more than 100 participants, DPNR has announced plans to promote natural alternatives to toxic pesticides and to draft new applications for commercial and purchase permits related to pesticide application in an effort to increase protections for residents and vacationers from pesticide poisoning.

There are clear established methods for managing homes that prevent infestation of unwanted insects without the use of synthetic chemicals, including exclusion techniques, sanitation and maintenance practices, as well as mechanical and least-toxic controls. Beyond Pesticides advocates the use of a well-defined  integrated pest management (IPM)  program for an indoor pest program for facilitates, homes, and other buildings. It offers the opportunity to eliminate toxic pesticide use through the management of conditions that are attractive to pests and exclusion techniques that through sealing keep pests out of structures, while only using least-toxic chemicals as a last resort. Sanitation, structural repairs, mechanical and biological control, population monitoring are a part of a sound pest management program. Based on range of successful pest prevention practices, use of these hazardous chemicals are unnecessary.

All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.

Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer, Courthouse News Service

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One Response to “Terminix To Pay Delaware Family $87 Million Settlement for Poisoning with Methyl Bromide in U.S. Virgin Islands”

  1. 1
    Robert thered Says:

    I’M shocked who let these rookies , Go it alone ? I worked for Terminix in the past. They don’t pay their Employees very good . That’s the price you pay when you don’t hire people of quality at a decent wage. you could see something bad happing when you don’t have Managers in the field checking certified Applicators work. so good people open their own businesses . I worked for the President of the pest control Operators of the national pest control Association , He went to a ball Game with President BUSH. SAFETY IS THE NUMBER ONE CONCERN IN ALL PEST CONTROL SERVICES TO ALL LIVING THINGS . Should of had a Licensee do the services. And It could and should have been Avoided. A CALIFORNIA P.C.O.C

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