Methyl bromide is a pesticide gas released from pressurized canisters, above, with strictly limited uses.
CRUZ BAY — As the Delaware family of four poisoned by their exposure to a highly toxic chemical gas on St. John in late March continues to deal with their on-going medical crisis, the government investigation into the lax controls on the toxic fumigant is confirming initial St. John Tradewinds reports on the incident.
Federal and V.I. officials have been conducting a high-profile investigation of methyl bromide usage and storage by exterminating companies in the region while withholding the names of some of the companies investigated for their use of the highly-regulated pesticide. Authorities are investigating the handling and sales of the pesticide in Puerto Rico —specifically sales to Virgin Islands exterminating companies — and the storage, handling and application of the highly-toxic chemical in the USVI.
Shortly after the tragic exposure of the family to the highly toxic Methyl Bromide gas, St. John Solutions owner Todd Roskin predicted what federal investigators would find when they traced the source of the gas used in a neighboring unit of the condominium project where the family had rented.
“My guess is that it came from Puerto Rico,” the pest control professional said in late March of the highly toxic methyl bromide which is “banned” from use in structures but has industrial and agricultural fumigation applications.
“My guess is they have a lot,” Roskin added presciently.
EPA Announces Findings
“A federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) investigation has determined that the pesticide used in the U.S. Virgin Islands came from licensed distributors in Puerto Rico,” EPA officials announced April 17. EPA notified the Puerto Rico Department of Agriculture, which has direct enforcement authority for pesticide use violations, according to an EPA press release.
“The Puerto Rico Department of Agriculture and EPA are gathering information from pesticide suppliers and applicators of methyl bromide products in Puerto Rico regarding their distribution or use of the products,” the EPA statement continued.
“That investigation has revealed evidence that methyl bromide has been used improperly in Puerto Rico,” the report added. “Documents suggest that methyl bromide may have been improperly applied at various locations in Puerto Rico. EPA is working closely with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry to follow up on any possible health effects.”
Warnings and Restrictions
In response to the initial public concern over the Sirenusa poisoning, Roskin had come forward to explain that the use of methyl bromide and other “replacement” fumigants — gases which are “released” not “sprayed,” he elaborated — is replete with warnings and restrictions on its usage.
A specific warning on the label of one of the products which replaced Methyl Bromide for use in structural applications cautions against use in multi-unit buildings such as the Sirenusa condominiums with shared air conditioning or ventilation systems.
The condition of school administrator Stephen Esmond and his wife, Dr. Theresa Devine, improved after the family members, repeat visitors to St. John, were airlifted back to Delaware for treatment. Dr. Devine was released from the hospital in early April and at last report Esmond was still hospitalized but conscious. The couple’s two teenage sons, 14 and 16, were reported still to be in induced comas in mid April.
The family’s representative, Delaware Atty. James Maron, also a longtime St. John visitor, has asked that the family’s privacy be respected during their difficult recovery from what he called a “tragedy.”
The poisoning has been the subject of national reports on CNN and Fox television news channels.
Even Gov. Kenneth Mapp revealed to the media that he was informed that he may have been exposed to Methyl Bromide while staying at a rental property on St. Croix.