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Pesticide Poisoning


In March 2015, a Delaware family of four was vacationing in the U.S. Virgin Islands when they were exposed to the restricted-use pesticide methyl bromide. (See "Dangerous Pesticides" April 2015 blog). The resort where the family stayed had been treated with the pesticide, even though the use of methyl bromide in residential settings has been banned since 1984 due to its extreme toxicity to people. The pesticide poisoning resulted in the father and two teenage sons being hospitalized in critical condition, with the sons in medically-induced comas for weeks. (Their mother received the least amount of exposure and recovered quickly, becoming caretaker to the other three gravely ill family members). Although the father and boys continue to slowly recover, some of the neurological damage done by the exposure to methyl bromide may be irreversible.


Fast forward a year. The U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency announced in March 2016 that Terminix, the commercial pesticide company that had treated the resort where the Delaware family stayed with the prohibited pesticide methyl bromide, had committed multiple violations of the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Accordingly, Terminix entered into a $10 million plea agreement: $8 million in fines, $1 million to reimburse the EPA for clean up costs at the St. John resort, and $1 million for National Fish and Wildlife Foundation community service projects in St. John (the island on which the pesticide poisoning occurred). Terminix also agreed to pay for the family's past and future medical expenses through separate civil proceedings. A criminal investigation is ongoing.

While investigating Terminix and its use of methyl bromide in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the U.S. found evidence that other pest control companies in the U.S. V. I. have been using the toxic pesticide as well. Methyl bromide is highly effective against a wood-boring beetle prevalent on the Islands, and the lax oversight and rampant corruption in the Virgin Islands' Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) meant that companies continued to use it and got away with it--until a high profile disaster like the poisoning of a family of four. With public scrutiny focused on the fact that companies have been applying a toxic chemical with impunity, the investigation may ultimately cause a re-structuring of the DPNR, a change many in the U.S. EPA think is long overdue. The DPNR is the EPA for the U.S. Virgin Islands, and is funded and regulated by the U.S. EPA.


So how do you know if a commercial pesticide company is using safe products and applying them correctly? When choosing a company, be sure that it has both a Commercial Pesticide Applicator's License and a Pesticide Contractor's License. Both are required by the state of Georgia, and are obtained through the Georgia Department of Agriculture. When verifying that a pesticide company has the requisite licenses, it is also a good idea to inquire about a company's membership in any trade or professional organizations. Ask for a list of local references to find out about the company's past jobs, and check with the local Chamber of Commerce and Better Business Bureau for additional information.

To determine if the pest control company you are thinking of hiring uses safe products, the place to start is with the labels of the products themselves. A pesticide company must provide the labels of the products it uses upon request. The labels provide detailed information, and the company should be able to answer any additional questions about their use and impact on humans and the environment. Integrated Pest Management, an approach to pest control that incorporates cultural, mechanical, biological, and chemical means that are effective, safe and environmentally friendly, is something to consider and discuss with a prospective company.


If you think you have been harmed by exposure to pesticides, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free evaluation of your legal rights.

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Thomas Law Firm
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