by: Daniel Barker
Steve Esmond, Theresa Devine and their two teenage sons, Sean and Ryan, became gravely ill after being exposed to a pesticide that was used illegally at the Sirenusa resort on St. John while the Esmonds were staying there.
During their stay, two Terminix employees fumigated the villa beneath the one the Esmonds were residing in, using methyl bromide – a restricted-use pesticide which was banned by the EPA in 2005 except for agricultural use.
Father and two sons may be affected for the rest of their lives
After the Esmonds were exposed to the odorless but highly toxic pesticide, the entire family began experiencing severe symptoms, and more than a year later, Steve Esmond and his two sons are still struggling to recover from the incident, which may affect them for the rest of their lives.
The family has now been awarded an $87 million settlement from the parent company of Terminix, which has also been ordered to pay another $10 million in criminal fines.
The court found that Terminix “knowingly” used the banned pesticide at the resort on two occasions. The Department of Justice is conducting its own criminal investigation and a hearing is likely to take place later this month.
The effects of the exposure were horrendous; 16 months after the incident, Steve Esmond is still paralyzed, suffers from tremors, cannot speak and must be strapped into a sitting position.
The two teenage sons, who both had to be placed into medically-induced comas for several weeks, are still struggling with numbness and paralysis, and can barely move.
Dr. Reynold Panettieri Jr., deputy director for the Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology, said:
“I would say the prognosis, at best, is guarded. As we know the victims have been off ventilators and they’ve been improved. But if that dose, even though it appeared to be acute, was over (a period of) hours, the damage to the nerves and to the brain itself may render it irreversibly damaged.”
Theresa Devine has made a better recovery, and is now spending her time taking care of the rest of the family.
Six months after the Esmond family was poisoned, testing of samples taken from the villa still showed high levels of methyl bromide. Six other people were also treated for exposure to the pesticide, including four emergency workers who treated the family, but their symptoms were reportedly mild.
‘We need much more control over how these chemicals are allowed into the environment’
The incident has raised questions about the use of methyl bromide and how it is regulated.
Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, said:
“It’s highly acutely toxic. At very low levels it has chronic effects.
“The bottom line here is that just because EPA slapped a label on a product, and told the pest control industry you shall not use this in residences, doesn’t mean that the law will be followed. We need much more control over how these chemicals are allowed into the environment.”
Although the case of the Esmond family is an extreme example of the damage that pesticides can cause to humans – and one which involved a product not normally used in residences – everyone should be concerned about chemical pesticide use.
Even those pesticides approved for residential use can be toxic to humans, though the immediate effects may not be so dramatic.
The basic rule of thumb is: if it kills bugs, it’s probably bad for humans, too.
Rather than killing pests with chemicals, it’s far better to use natural pest repellents or natural pesticides such as diatomaceous earth.
Mother Nature can almost always provide a better solution than chemistry, and chemical pesticides are no exception to the rule.