EPA investigating illegal pesticide fumigation case

Last month a Delaware family fell seriously ill while staying at their rented villa in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Theresa Devine, Steve Esmond and their two children suffered seizures and were quickly hospitalized. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched an investigation when it became apparent that a harmful pesticide may have been the cause of the illness.

The agency discovered that methyl bromide had been used to fumigate the family's villa. Severe exposure to the chemical can result in serious health effects, including central nervous and respiratory system damage, says the EPA. The use of this pesticide is restricted in the United States due to its toxicity and is not allowed to be used indoors. 

Sea Glass Vacations, which acts as a rental agent for several units at the resort the family was staying at, said that they had licensed an outside company for the pest control services called Terminix.

The EPA recently announced that, working with the Virgin Islands government, they are expanding their investigation after it came to light that the pesticide had come from licensed distributors from Puerto Rico. The EPA has notified the Puerto Rico Department of Agriculture, which has enforcement authority for pesticide use violations. 

"Pesticides can be very toxic, and it is critically important that they be applied properly and used only as approved by EPA," said Judith A. Enck, a regional administrator for the EPA. "The EPA is actively working to determine how this happened and will make sure steps are taken to prevent this from happening to others at these vacation apartments or elsewhere."

Theresa Devine has been released from the hospital and is undergoing occupational therapy, while Steve Esmond is conscious but unable to speak or move. The two boys remain in comas.

Fumigation companies should work with environmental consultants to ensure that they are complying with all state and federal regulations in the type of fumigant they use.