Although the use of pesticides containing methyl bromide was discontinued for residential use about 10 years ago because of its impact on the ozone layer, the St. Thomas-based Terminix pest control company was able to buy it in Puerto Rico, Planning and Natural Resources spokesman Jamal Nielsen said Wednesday.
He said they used it in an attempt to eradicate powder post beetles at Sirenusa condominium resort on St. John. Powder post beetles are a type of bug that can turn wood to powder.
Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp said in a Wednesday news release that Planning issued a Stop Use Order to the company which used the pesticide. The entire inventory of the pesticide was placed under quarantine, while local authorities and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency personnel collaborated to determine how to remove and store it appropriately.
The news release indicated there is an investigation underway to determine how and where the product was used elsewhere in the territory.
The pesticide was used to fumigate a room at Sirenusa on March 18. On March 20, members of a vacationing Delaware family suffered seizures and were rushed to Schneider Regional Medical Center with apparent chemical poisoning. Efforts to get updated information on the condition of Steve Esmond, Dr. Theresa Devine and their two children, Ryan and Sean, Wednesday were unsuccessful. Wilmington, Delaware, attorney James J. Maron, who is serving as the family spokesman, did not return two phone calls requesting information.
Maron is an attorney with Maron, Marvel, Bradley, and Anderson, a firm that specializes in “complex mass toxic tort and environmental litigation,” its website indicates.
The Government House news release said the family continues to undergo treatment after suspected exposure to methyl bromide. Initially, the family members were treated and stabilized locally before being transferred to medical facilities on the U.S. mainland, where Mapp said their conditions are described as critical but stable.
“The people of the U.S. Virgin Islands pray for the full recovery of the Esmond family. We will continue to do all that is possible to determine how this unprecedented event occurred, and to prevent it from ever happening in the future,” Mapp said. “Our residents and visitors can remain confident in the quality and readiness of our healthcare services. For that we are thankful.”
Methyl-bromide is listed as a significant ozone depleting substance, considered to be much more harmful to the ozone layer than chlorine. Pesticides containing the substance are no longer allowed for residential use and are scheduled to be completely phased out in the United States by 2017.
When it is used, stringent precautions must be taken, according to Todd Roskin, a licensed pesticide operator on St. John. The building must be evacuated and if the whole building is involved, it must be tented. In the case of smaller areas, a tent must be put up around it.
“They did not tent. It was obviously a clear misuse of the pesticide,” Nielsen said.
He said there was some attempt to seal off the Sirenusa unit, which he said was on the bottom floor of the building where the Esmonds were vacationing.
EPA remains at the site doing air testing. EPA spokesman Elias Rodriquez said the crews will also do wipe sampling to determine if there’s any residue left from the fumigation.
“We are working to ensure that human health and the environment are protected,” Rodriquez said.
He said he expects the crew to be there the remainder of the week.
As for what, if any, punishment Terminix will face, Rodriquez said he couldn’t speculate. However, he sent a 39-page list of possible actions that range from warnings to hefty fines and license suspensions.