The investigation continued Tuesday into how four Delaware residents on vacation at Sirenusa condominiums on St. John came to suffer what appears to be chemical poisoning. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spokesman Elias Rodriquez said the company that used the pesticide containing methyl bromide was identified as the St. Thomas-based Terminix.
The Terminix office was closed for the day late Tuesday afternoon.
The EPA said Monday that the pesticide may have been used to fumigate a room at the resort on March 18. The Delaware family got sick on March 20, and was rushed to Roy L. Schneider Hospital on St. Thomas after suffering from seizures.
The News Journal, a Delaware newspaper, said in its Tuesday story that the four remain in critical condition at unidentified stateside hospitals.
The four are Steve Esmond, his wife Theresa Devine, and their two children, Ryan and Sean.
Rodriquez said the EPA crew took air samples on Tuesday in the Sirenusa unit occupied by the family. They were sent to an EPA-approved laboratory for testing.
“They’re taking more samples tomorrow,” Rodriquez said.
According to the EPA website, methyl bromide is an odorless, colorless gas that has been used as a soil fumigant and structural fumigant to control pests across a wide range of agricultural sectors.
Because methyl bromide depletes the stratospheric ozone layer, the amount of methyl bromide produced and imported in the U.S. was reduced incrementally until it was phased out in Jan. 1, 2005, to meet the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer Protocol and the United States Clean Air Act.
There are some exceptions to the ban on using methyl bromide but they deal with pest control in agriculture.
St. John resident Todd Roskin, a licensed pesticide operator who owns St. John Solutions, said that while pesticides containing methyl bromide were phased out, an equally hazardous chemical called Vikane is now in use.
He said it’s not the toxicity that may have caused the problem at Sirenusa, however, but the application. He said instructions for using those chemicals call for evacuating the entire building when it’s a multi-unit building. He said if it’s a small area that needs attention, the pesticide operator is supposed to construct a tent around the area. Large areas called for the entire building to be tented, he said.
“The gas stays there for 48 hours,” he added. After that, the fumigated building or area needs to remain vacant for another day.
“It’s about a three-day procedure,” he said.
Roskin said it’s possible for the fumigation gas to travel from room to room through the electrical conduits.
He said that while many people exterminate for insects like roaches and ants, when pesticides containing methyl bromide and Vikane are used, it’s because the wood in the building is infested with dry wood termites or powder post beetles that live inside the wood and destroy it.
“It’s not routine pest control,” he said.
Roskin also pointed out that there is a difference between fumigation and extermination. He said fumigation is when a gas like the pesticide containing methyl bromide and Vikane are used. Extermination is when a liquid is spread on areas where insects live or leave trails.