VI Dept of Justice Files Civil Suit in Wake of Pesticide Calamity

ST. CROIX — The attorney general of the Virgin Islands announced the launching of a civil lawsuit against Terminix USVI. Attorney General Claude Walker announced the legal action at a press conference held Feb. 13 on St. Croix.

The civil suit charges business operators with violations of the Criminal Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act and violations of the Pest Control Act. Walker said the Justice Department is taking this action in response to a March 2015 incident where four vacationers to St. John were harmed by exposure to a restricted pesticide.

Walker said the VI government is seeking injunctive relief and civil penalties from Terminix. The attorney general said investigators uncovered longstanding practices that created the circumstances leading to the near fatal exposure of visitors to the Sirenusa Condominium Resort.

The attorney general also said it appeared that Terminix workers who applied the banned pesticide were not properly trained or given adequate equipment before fumigating Sirenusa.

“AG Walker pointed out that for nearly a decade and on at least 70 occasions, the pesticide company has been engaged in a longstanding pattern and practice of illegally and unsafely using methyl bromide in residences across the Virgin Islands and deceiving Virgin Islands residents about those practices,” said Justice spokesperson Corliss Smithens.

Methyl bromide is classified as an acute toxin by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It is approved only for restricted use and never indoors or in residential areas.

In addition to the four visitors rushed to the Roy L. Schneider Hospital in critical condition in March 2015, an EPA investigation uncovered 18 more individuals who were also sickened by methyl bromide exposure at Sirenusa in March 2015 and October 2014. Most of those documented ailments lasted three weeks or less.

Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dawn Henry joined Walker at the Feb. 13 press conference. DPNR is the government agency that regulates pesticide use. She expressed support for the notion that Terminix be held accountable for any and all violations of the pesticide code.

As the investigation into the company’s practices progressed DPNR found Terminix had two canisters of methyl bromide stored on St. Croix and one canister on St. Thomas. “DPNR immediately issued a stop work order to Terminix that required for them to quarantine the methyl bromide,” the commissioner said.

After that the agency seized the banned pesticide and shipped the canisters off island for disposal.

Henry said those who misuse dangerous pesticides not only put themselves and their customers at risk, but their families as well. “These pesticides are to be applied only by applicators who have the necessary training and equipment,” to protect the public.