More than two weeks after a Delaware family got sick after apparent exposure to a pesticide containing methyl bromide while on vacation at Sirenusa condominiums on St. John, the story is all over the international news.
Territorial residents reported numerous emails and calls from friends and family members alerting them to the news coverage. And since the first local news stories appeared, posters to online travel forums have provided links to stories about the issue.
Tourism Department spokeswoman Luana Wheatley said Monday that the department is aware of the national reports but she doesn’t know of anyone calling with inquiries about the situation.
“But our concerns are with the family,” Wheatley said.
However, Wheatley said, Tourism was closed Monday as well as all but two days last week, so anyone wanting information might not have been able to reach anyone.
She referred further questions to Government House spokeswoman Kim Jones, who said the government was waiting to hear the results of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency testing.
“It’s a horrible tragedy and a terrible accident,” Jones said.
Soon after the four members of the Esmond family got sick, EPA was on the scene. EPA spokeswoman Mary Mears said Monday that EPA continues to test but the results are not yet in. She said investigations like this one take quite a while to complete.
She said EPA is investigating to figure out what happened to the Esmonds. “And to make sure it doesn’t happen to another family,” she said.
Late Monday afternoon, a Google search for the word Sirenusa turned up five mentions of the apparent pesticide poisoning story, with many more listings continuing on subsequent pages.
Many of the stories are generated by national news organizations. For example, an NBC News story online Monday morning with reporter Stephanie Gosk features numerous still shots of Sirenusa, located hillside overlooking Cruz Bay. However, it finishes by noting that “traveling outside the country means that other places don’t have the same laws as we do.”
However, the territory does follow U.S. laws and the EPA is on the job because it St. John is part of a U.S. territory.
Early in the NBC report, a picture of someone walking while spraying a liquid is shown. This type of procedure is used when getting rid of common tropical pests like ants and roaches. The unit at Sirenusa was fumigated using a gas that contained methyl bromide in an effort to get rid of powder post beetles, a bug that turns wood into powder.
This type of procedure requires tenting. The St. Thomas-based Terminix sprayed the pesticide on March 18 in a room at Sirenusa.
According to the EPA, the use of methyl bromide in the U.S. is restricted due to its acute toxicity. Only certified applicators are allowed to use it and it is not authorized for residential use. Health effects of acute exposure to methyl bromide are serious and include central nervous system and respiratory system damage.
This is a story that has grown many tentacles, including a March 30 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission by Terminix’s parent company, ServiceMaster Global Holdings, indicating the U.S. Justice Department had launched a criminal investigation.
The filing indicated the company was cooperating. Kim Chisholm, an assistant U.S. attorney in the St. Thomas office, said the department doesn’t “confirm or deny the existence of any investigation.”
The SEC filing also indicates “the extent of potential fines and other sanctions that the federal and local governmental authorities may impose, and the impact of any judicial, administrative or regulatory proceedings or other issues resulting from or related to the incident, including claims by third parties, investigation costs and reputational harm, is not currently known.”
Stephen Esmond, Theresa Devine and their children, Ryan and Sean, got sick March 20. Family members were rushed to Roy L. Schneider Hospital with seizures before being airlifted to the states.
Efforts to learn how the Esmonds are doing were unsuccessful because the family spokesman, Wilmington, Del., attorney James Maron, did not return phone calls requesting comment. However, Gosk reported that Devine was out of the hospital, her husband was doing better and that the youths were still in critical condition.
Sea Glass Vacations, which manages units at Sirenusa, did not return a phone call requesting comment.