Commissioner-designee Henry Defends DPNR’s Pesticide Supervision Before Poisoning

0
585

ST. THOMAS — The prior management of Terminix St. Thomas exterminating company by the father of a top V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) official for almost a decade into sometime in 2014 has no impact on the DPNR investigation into the company’s pesticide poisoning of a visiting family of four on St. John in March 2015 with a banned agricultural insecticide, according to V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) Commissioner-designee Atty. Dawn Henry Esq.

A Terminix St. Thomas employee confirmed in a telephone call from St. John Tradewinds in July that Hans Oriol, father of DPNR Coastal Zone Management director J.P. Oriol, had left the St. Thomas Terminix company sometime in 2014. The connection, listed on a professional web site, was reported in the July 20 St. John Tradewinds after DPNR spokesperson Jamal Nielson did not return a telephone request for comment.

“Terminex (sic.) International USVI, LLC will be held fully accountable for its actions in exposing the community to substances that it knows or should have known were banned from use in the Territory,” Commissioner Henry stated in a press release shortly after the poisoning incident. “Our prayers and thoughts are with the Esmond family and we pray for their full recovery.”

Atty. Henry, who is among the recently-confirmed Mapp Administration cabinet members, was extremely professional and courteous in responding to questions from St. John Tradewinds in a protracted telephone interview on August 7 concerning her department’s role in the supervision of the use of toxic pesticides by V.I. exterminating companies which preceded the near-fatal poisoning of a visiting family of four in a St. John condominium in March.

“It had no consequence in how Terminix was treated,” the DPNR commissioner-designee averred. “Terminix did not receive preferential treatment.”

“It is of no importance; it is of no consequence,” Atty. Henry reiterated. “The department did not act any differently” because of the Oriol familial connections, according to the commissioner-designee.

“Terminix was not being treated any differently,” Atty. Henry re-emphasized. “The public should have no concern that Mr. Oriol’s dad used to be” the general manager of Terminix St. Thomas.

Abusive DPNR Spokesperson
St. John Tradewinds contacted Atty. Henry after DPNR spokesperson Nielson harangued this reporter for questioning the role of DPNR CZM director J.P. Oriol, who served temporarily as acting DPNR Commissioner in 2014 while his father was manager of Terminix St. Thomas.

Nielson, a self-professed “close personal friend” of J.P. Oriol failed to return a telephone request for information on the familial connection from St. John Tradewinds before the story was published.

“DPNR inspected the Terminix offices on St. Thomas on March 23, 2015, and interviewed the employees of Terminex (sic.) International USVI, LLC,” according to a DPNR press release issued by Nielson shortly after the poisoning. “DPNR confirmed that Terminix possessed Methyl Bromide and learned of other locations where Terminex used the banned Methyl Bromide products. Consequently, DPNR issued a Stop Use Order to Terminix in St. Thomas and on St. Croix.”

In light of the on-going DPNR and federal Environmental Protection Agency investigations into the poisoning, St. John Tradewinds did not seek additional comment from Commissioner-designee Henry on the poisoning incident itself, including DPNR supervision of the Terminix possession of what Nielson’s press release at the time referred to as a “banned” agricultural pesticide.

Family Attorney Asks Privacy
Shortly after the family was exposed to the heavily-regulated, toxic agricultural pesticide, the attorney for the family, James Maron of Maryland, informed St. John Tradewinds that he would have no further public comment on the incident or the condition of family of four, a doctor, school administrator and their two teenage sons and asked that their privacy be respected.

The mother, a physician, was reported to be undergoing physical therapy after suffering the least serious exposure to the toxic agricultural pesticide when it was used in an adjoining condominium at the Sirenusa condominium complex in disregard of the explicit warnings about use of the controlled toxic chemical on residential facilities specifically those with conjoined ventilation systems.

The father, a private school administrator, suffered more severe exposure while the couple’s two teenage sons were heavily exposed to the toxic pesticide and reported to be in comas after the family was airlifted to Maryland for treatment.

Professional Response from Commissioner
Commissioner-designee Henry professionally acknowledged the legal constraints imposed by the investigation into the near-fatal poisoning of the visiting family of four in a St. John condominium as she addressed questions from St. John Tradewinds about the inference of any connection between DPNR Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Director J.P. Oriol and his father, Hans Oriol, who was manager of the Terminix St. Thomas exterminating company for more than nine years according to his professional profile on the internet.

A Terminix employee confirmed in a telephone call from St. John Tradewinds in July that Hans Oriel had left the St. Thomas Terminix company sometime in 2014.

Commissioner designee Atty. Henry down played the importance of DPNR monitoring of the use of heavily-controlled substance prior to the poisoning of the family vacationing on St. John.

“You can use it for some agricultural uses,” Commissioner-designee Henry told St. John Tradewinds of the hazardous chemical. “It is not illegal.”

The DPNR official confirmed that the agency had “confiscated” the toxic agricultural chemical from a ”number” of exterminating companies in the territory after the poisoning on St. John.

DPNR Has “No Liability”
“We have no liability,” the Commissioner-designee reiterated.

Commissioner-designee Henry confirmed that on March 20, 2015, the department received a call from the Virgin Islands Department of Health of a possible Methyl Bromide release at Sirenusa Residences on St. John, which caused a family vacationing in one of the units to be transported to the Roy Lester Schneider Hospital on St. Thomas, which was acknowledged in the March DPNR release.

DPNR’s Division of Environmental Protection (DEP) immediately responded to the complaint and deployed staff to St. John to begin its investigation, according to the DPNR release. Consecutively, Jeff Garrison, Environmental Protection Agency-Region II, local representative was in contact with DPNR Commissioner Designee Henry, to launch a joint investigation, according to the DPNR statement from long-time spokesperson Jamal Nielson after the incident.

“During the preliminary stages of the investigation, DPNR learned that the suspected Methyl Bromide release was connected to fumigation activities which Terminix International USVI, LLC, (Terminix) conducted in Unit J Lower at Sirenusa Residences on March 18, 2015,” the DPNR release continued. “On March 20, 2015, DPNR-DEP contacted Terminix to inquire about the fumigation activities on March 18, 2015, and confirmed that Terminix used Meth-O- Gas ® Q to fumigate the kitchen area in Unit J Lower at Sirenusa Residences on March 18, 2015.”

DPNR officials ordered Terminix to “immediately stop using pesticides containing Methyl Bromide in the Territory” and to “ provide DPNR with all documentation relating to the purchase, use, and application of pesticide products containing Methyl Bromide over the last twelve months, to quarantine the subject pesticides, and to refrain from moving, destroying, altering or affecting the subject pesticides,” according to the DPNR March press release.

Subsequently, DPNR and EPA took custody of the quarantined Methyl Bromide canister on St. Thomas and were collaborating to secure the quarantined canisters on St. Croix, according to the March statement.

“During the weeks of March 23, 2015, and March 30, 2015, DPNR performed inspections at the other pest control companies throughout the Territory to determine whether those companies are using Methyl Bromide,” according to a DPNR press release. “As part of that inspection, DPNR conducted an inventory of the pesticide products in storage and requested that the companies provide Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) pertaining to all the pesticides used, stored or sold in the Territory containing Methyl Bromide.“

“DPNR discovered that two extermination companies on St. Croix were in possession of Methyl Bromide and one other company on St. Thomas,” DPNR reported at the time. “DPNR will determine from the companies’ records whether they have used the banned substance and, if so, when and where.”

 “This unfortunate incident poses a threat to the residents and visitors to the territory,” Commissioner Henry stated in a press release prepared by Nielson shortly after the poisoning incident. “It will not be treated lightly and the Department will take appropriate enforcement action.