The U.S. Virgin Islands has filed a lawsuit against Terminix over the company’s use of methyl bromide in the territory, which has already led to a $10 million settlement in a federal civil action in March 2016, V.I. Attorney General Claude Earl Walker announced Monday.
The pesticide was used to fumigate a room at Sirenusa condominiums on St. John, in March of 2015. Two days later, on March 20, members of a vacationing Delaware family were hospitalized for chemical poisoning after suffering seizures.
In March 2016, Terminix International Co. LP and its U.S. Virgin Islands operation Terminix International USVI LLC agreed to pay $10 million in fines after being charged with multiple violations of the federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act. (See Related Links below)
Walker announced the new, territorial lawsuit at a press conference in Department of Justice offices on St. Croix.
This suit, filed with the V.I. Superior Court on St. Croix, is separate from the federal charges that the pesticide company faced
Investigations found the company used a pest control spray containing the highly-toxic chemical, methyl bromide. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has banned methyl bromide for indoor use since 1984.
While Terminix has settled with the federal government, the USVI is not seeking relief for violations of federal law but for violations of local law and for repeated use of the product all over the territory for a number of years, Walker said.
“The complaint alleges a civil violation of the Virgin Islands Criminally Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a law that seeks to end sophisticated unlawful activity in the Virgin Islands. The complaint also alleges a violation of the Territory’s Pesticide Control Act. The complaint alleges that Terminix violated the Virgin Islands’ consumer protection laws,” he said.
The poisoning of the Delaware family prompted the V.I. Justice Department and DPNR to launch an investigation, which Walker said uncovered “extremely troubling” conduct by Terminix. Walker said the company had used the product illegally on at least 70 occasions over nearly a decade.
The complaint specifically lists 35 dates and locations the Justice Department alleges the chemical was used in the territory between 2012 and 2015. [DOJ Terminix Complaint]
The suit also asserts that Terminix personnel in the Virgin Islands had no idea how and when to use the toxic chemical, which was labeled with a warning that the product is a “restricted-use pesticide” as well as a“commodity” or “quarantine” fumigant and is “for quarantine/regulatory use only.”
“What we uncovered was extremely troubling. As our complaint alleges it was by pure luck that we did not have more injuries in the Virgin Islands,” Walker said.
While the company has settled with federal officials, the company’s actions affected the territory, Walker said.
“We have to deal with it, not D.C. They were not spraying in D.C.,” he said.
The DOJ’s lawsuit also alleges that the parent companies are complicit in these illegal practices, in that they knew and approved the use of methyl bromide to fumigate residences in the Virgin Islands, AG Walker said.
The territory also alleges senior safety managers at Terminix’s parent company knew for years that the Terminix employee who fumigated at Sirenusa lacked proper training and basic safety equipment to fumigate those units using methyl bromide.
Henry took the microphone and said DPNR found out that Terminix had one canister of methyl bromide on St. Thomas and two canisters on St. Croix.
“DPNR immediately issued a stop-use order to Terminix that required for them to quarantine the methyl bromide. DPNR later seized that methyl bromide and shipped all the containers off-island for proper disposal,” Henry said.
Henry also warned Virgin Islanders not to order restricted-use pesticides online.
“We’re getting information into DPNR that certain individuals are ordering restricted-use pesticides from the Internet,” Henry said.
“Folk are able to get these pesticides into the Territory and … trying to apply these restricted-use pesticides on your own, you are not only putting the community at danger, but you are also putting your personal family, individuals in your homes at severe risk. These pesticides are to be applied only by applicators who have the necessary training and equipment to protect … the applicator and the individuals staying in the home,” she said.
The government is seeking the maximum fine for each of seven charges. The conspiracy charges carry maximum penalties of $1 million, while the other charges have much smaller maximum fines.
Reached for comment Monday, a spokesman for Terminix said the company does not comment on pending litigation.