ST. THOMAS — An anticipated penalty was handed down by a federal court to a V.I. exterminating franchise and its corporate parent last week. As a result, that company — Terminix International — will pay more than $10 million for violating a law that regulates the use of toxic chemicals.
Terminix International Company LP and Terminix International USVI LLC (Terminix, USVI) were sentenced Nov. 20 for violating the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act. The prosecution stemmed from a 2015 incident where a family from Delaware became seriously ill when exposed to pesticide fumes at the Sirenusa Condominium Resort.
Together the two entities will pay over $10 million in criminal fines and restitution, according to a statement issued from the Environmental Protection Agency headquarters on Nov. 20. “ Under the agreed recommendation, the TERMINIX companies will pay $4.6 million in fines each and $1,242,449.80 million in restitution to the EPA for response and clean-up costs at the St. John resort,” the statement said.
The local company and its parent corporation were also ordered to perform community service.
Prosecutors with the U.S. Justice Department told District Court Judge Curtis Gomez that Terminix, USVI illegally applied fumigants containing methyl bromide in multiple residential locations in the U.S. Virgin Islands, including Sirenusa.
Federal authorities banned the indoor use of methyl bromide products in 1984. Health effects of acute exposure to methyl bromide are serious and include damage to the central nervous and respiratory systems.
According to the factual basis of the plea agreement, Terminix, USVI provided pest control services in the Virgin Islands including fumigation treatments for powder post beetles. Treated areas are supposed to be sealed off from the rest of the structure with plastic sheeting and tape prior to the introduction of the fumigant. Customers are advised to avoid the treated areas for two to three days.
According to an investigation carried out by the EPA in 2015, up to 31 more people were exposed to methyl bromide during two fumigations carried out at the St. John location. Eighteen of the 31 were contacted and surveyed. Among those who reported falling ill were reported symptoms lasting a couple of days to three weeks. None were as serious as the near-fatal exposure in March 2015.
Documents filed in the case against Terminix showed the defendants knowingly applied restricted-use fumigants at the Sirenusa resort in St. John for the purpose of exterminating household pests on or about October 20, 2014, and on or about March 18, 2015. The companies were also cited for unapproved use of methyl bromide in 12 residential units in St. Croix and one additional unit in St. Thomas between September 2012 and February 2015.
A top official of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division said the judgement and sentencing in this case serves as a warning to those using pesticides and fungicides as part of their business.
“Businesses using these products must take appropriate precautions to safeguard the public, or else the consequences can be devastating. We trust that the result in this case shows how imperative it is that users of these products take the time to review, understand, and employ appropriate techniques and uses,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood.
Acting Virgin Islands U.S. Attorney Joycelyn Hewlett said her agency will continue working aggressively to enforce environmental laws. “An entire family suffered horrendous and life-altering injuries. We will continue to aggressively enforce environmental laws to help prevent something like this from ever happening again,” Hewlett said.
The case was investigated by EPA Criminal Investigation Division working cooperatively with Virgin Islands emergency responders, the V.I. Justice Department and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.