Issues with a Terminix subcontractor’s use of the highly regulated chemical have already led to a $10 million settlement in a federal civil action in March 2016.
The pesticide was used to fumigate a room at Sirenusa condominiums on St. John in March 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.)
In December, the V.I. Department of Justice began an enforcement action against Terminix and in February, V.I. Attorney General Claude Earl Walker announced the V.I. government’s 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 previously.
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 at the time the suit was filed.
ServiceMaster, Terminix’s parent company, filed a motion to dismiss the V.I. charges, arguing it does not have enough contacts with the U.S. Virgin Islands to be sued in V.I. court under V.I. law.
Wednesday, the Department of Justice filed its motion opposing dismissal, arguing that company documents clearly demonstrate ServiceMaster controlled and managed the Terminix operations in the territory and reaped substantial revenue from Terminix USVI. The Justice Department also argues that ServiceMaster directed their national marketing website to the Virgin Islands and consumers here.
The V.I. filing also argues Terminix violated V.I. consumer protection laws, which prohibit what it calls deceptive marketing tactics used by Terminix in promoting and selling its fumigation services.
The Justice Department alleges that Terminix deceived V.I. consumers by concealing and misrepresenting facts and information that impact public health and safety, including: in many cases:
– That it was using methyl bromide;
– That it was using methyl bromide illegally;
– That its use of methyl bromide was illegal due to the chemical’s acute toxicity;
– That its personnel on the Virgin Islands was not trained and not competent to perform fumigations safely; and
– That it did not have proper equipment to perform fumigations safely in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The territory is arguing it was correct to make civil claims against Terminix under the V.I. Criminally Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, because they allege that for years Terminix colluded with its pesticide distributor to illegally import pesticides containing methyl bromide into the territory to sell fumigation services using methyl bromide.
The federal government settled alleged violations against the distributor but the territory has an independent, sovereign interest and obligation to ensure that Terminix is also held to account for its alleged violations of V.I. laws, according to the V.I., Department of Justice.