October 22, 2020

Poisoned Del. dad, 2 sons still critical from pesticide


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B9316723758Z.1_20150324174658_000_GFVAA8QDK.1-0By Cris Barrish, The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal From USA Today

WILMINGTON, Del. — Three members of a Delaware family, including two teenagers who remain unconscious, are still in critical condition from poisoning by a banned pesticide last month at their luxury condo in the U.S. Virgin Islands, their spokesman said Wednesday.

Steve Esmond, a top administrator at the private Tatnall School in Greenville, Del., has regained consciousness at Christiana Hospital, but sons Ryan and Sean, both Tatnall students, are in a Philadelphia hospital where they still have not awakened, said James J. Maron, a Wilmington, Del., attorney who has been authorized to speak on their behalf.

Their mother, Dr. Theresa Devine, has been released from the hospital, said Maron, whose family was vacationing on the Caribbean island of St. John along with other Delaware families, including the Esmonds, when they were stricken March 20.

Maron said the Esmonds “are great fighters and we continue to be vigilant and optimistic” that they will fully recover. Esmond, 49, is head of Tatnall’s Middle School and his sons are in the ninth and 11th grades. Devine is a dentist who practices in Broomall, Pa., about 25 miles northeast of Wilmington.

The Esmonds were poisoned by the pesticide methyl bromide, which was sprayed by employees of Terminix on March 18 in the condominium beneath the unit rented by the Esmond family at the $800-a-night Sirenusa resort overlooking Cruz Bay, a resort official said.

Methyl bromide, an odorless fumigant, can be fatal or cause serious central nervous system and respiratory system damage, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Because of the chemical’s “acute toxicity,” methyl bromide is now banned indoors and permitted only for limited agricultural uses by trained applicators, the EPA said.

Despite the ban, the pesticide was applied inside units at the Sirenusa resort “to deal with indoor bugs,” said Judith Enck, administrator for EPA’s region 2, which includes the Virgin Islands, a U.S. territory.

While the Edmonds struggle to recover, the U.S. Department of Justice has launched a criminal investigation into Terminix’s use of the pesticide at the resort, according to a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filing Monday by ServiceMaster Global Holdings Inc., the parent company of Terminix.

Meanwhile, environmental regulators in the Virgin Islands have issued a “stop-use order” against Terminix for using “Meth-O-Gas” indoors at the Sirenusa resort in October and again on March 18, two days before the Esmond family began having seizures and had to be hospitalized.

After becoming ill, the couple and their sons were rushed to Virgin Island hospitals, and airlifted back to the United States by March 23. U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a close friend of the family, helped get the EPA involved.

Maron said he can’t comment further on the cause of the family’s poisoning “because it’s a criminal investigation.”

Peter Tosches, senior vice president for Terminix, issued a statement Monday that said the company was conducting an internal investigation and cooperating with investigators.

“We’re thinking about the family, and we join the community in wishing them a speedy recovery,” Tosches’ statement said.

IMAGE: Steve-Esmond-040215 (Photo: Courtesy of Tatnall School)

For more on this story go to: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/04/02/delaware-family-poisoned-caribbean/70828400/

Related stories:

Delaware family poisoned in Caribbean condo

By Cris Barrish, (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal 7 From USA Today

WILMINGTON — A Tatnall School administrator and his family poisoned by a banned pesticide at a luxury resort in the U.S. Virgin Islands “have stabilized and are showing improvement” after returning to the United States, their spokesman said Tuesday.

Steve Esmond, the head of Tatnall’s middle school; his wife, Dr. Theresa Devine; and two teen sons were sickened during a vacation in the Caribbean island of St. John.

The boys, who are in 11th and 9th grade, respectively, at Tatnall, remain in critical condition but all four are getting “tremendous medical care stateside,” said Wilmington lawyer James J. Maron, who is acting as the family spokesman. Maron would not say where the family is being treated, citing their need for privacy while recuperating.

Meanwhile, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency investigators are conducting air samples of the $800-a-night unit at Sirenusa resort, officials said Tuesday.

The EPA said they suspect the family was exposed to the pesticide methyl bromide after it was used to fumigate a room at the complex on March 18, four days after the Esmonds arrived for an eight-night stay. The family began showing ill effects on Friday, when they began having seizures, Maron said.

They were taken to island hospitals and airlifted back to America by Monday, Maron said.

Methyl bromide is an odorless pesticide that can be fatal or cause serious central nervous system and respiratory system damage, according to the EPA.

Because of its “acute toxicity,” the pesticide is restricted in the United States and its territories, which include the Virgin Islands, to outdoor use only by certified applicators in certain agricultural settings, the EPA said Monday. Methyl bromide liquid and vapors do not irritate the skin and it can take a couple of days before symptoms ranging from mild to serious appear, according to the EPA.

Investigators have confirmed that methyl bromide was applied inside units at the Sirenusa resort “to deal with indoor bugs,” and that the agency knows who applied the chemical, said Judith Enck, administrator for EPA’s region 2, which includes the Virgin Islands.

Investigators will be “working backward” to determine if other tenants have become ill at Sirenusa or other places where the contractor has fumigated rooms, she said by phone Tuesday from St. Thomas. “It’s possible people have fallen ill and not known it.”

The agency is taking the Esmonds’ poisoning “very seriously,” Enck said. “We’ve got resources on the ground and we need to find out exactly what happened and we’re also focused on ensuring that this doesn’t happen again.”

The Capri is one of 22 Sirenusa villas, many managed and marketed by Sea Glass Vacations.

David Adams, manager of St. John operations for Sea Glass Vacations, issued a written statement Tuesday that said the Esmond family, which he did not name, rented the Capri for nine days, from March 14 through March 22, which was Sunday.

The condo below the Esmonds’ villa “was recently treated for pests by Terminix, however, Villa Capri itself had not been so treated,” Adams wrote.

Adams wrote that Sea Glass “does not treat the unit it manages for pests but instead relies on licensed professionals for pest control service,” and referred all questions to Terminix.

Mary Clare Jensen, a spokeswoman for Memphis, Tenn.-based Terminix, said Tuesday in a statement that “we are cooperating fully with local and federal officials to determine the cause of the incident reported in St. John. At this time, we have limited details so we cannot comment further.”

While Maron credited U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, of Delaware, a close friend of the Esmond family, for getting the EPA involved, Enck said her agency would have been done the same for anyone stricken in the United States or territories within its jursidiction.

“We would have handled this exactly the same whether or not it was a prominent family,” Enck said, adding that EPA staffers visited the family at the hospital in the island of St. Thomas on Sunday and connected doctors there with federal medical experts.

Esmond and Devine are both 49, and their sons are high school students at Tatnall – a prestigious private school in Greenville. The Esmonds lives in Wilmington. Esmond has been at Tatnall for 26 years, and has been a high school history teacher and head football coach.

Maron said that “as the EPA investigation proceeds I await their results. The family went down there for quality time and obviously it’s just devastating.”

Maron said the chemicals “bio-accumulated and metabolized until it became an acute poisoning.” Over the weekend, he said, the family “began having seizures in the middle of the night and their lungs stopped working. They all had to be intubated. This is serious stuff.”

Charles A. Tierney, Tatnall’s head of school, sent out a notice Sunday to families at the school about the Esmonds’ misfortune, and said the community has offered whatever support the family needs.

Tierney described Esmond as a “great school person” who has been head of the middle school, which serves about 130 fifth- to eighth-graders, for the last decade.

“In many ways this is hard to fathom,” Tierney said Monday. “It’s really so unbelievable. We are all rallying together behind the Esmonds and sending them our prayers and healing wishes.”

For more on this story go to: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/03/24/delaware-family-poisoned-caribbean/70379208/

The bug spray that felled a family

From The Daily Beast

Two Delaware boys remain unconscious after accidentally inhaling a pesticide in their Caribbean vacation rental. What the tragic story reveals about the bug-killing business.

A Delaware family of four has been devastated by a severe neurologic illness reportedly related to insecticide sprayed into rooms they had rented in the Virgin Islands.

The story is nightmarish. Two parents rented a stunning beachfront property at Sirenusa on St. John, in the U.S. Virgin Islands (presumably) for their sons’ spring break. Soon after arriving, they fell ill—so quickly, it seems, that none of them had a chance to warn the others away.

The simultaneous pace of the illnesses—which reportedly involved seizures—suggests toxins, not infection, were the cause. All four were found in various degrees of distress, evacuated to the U.S. mainland, and now face an extremely uncertain and possibly tragic future.

Two teenage sons, Sean and Ryan Esmond, are said to be in a coma; the father, Stephen, is reportedly alert but paralyzed. The mother, Theresa Devine, seems to be doing the best of the group—in physical therapy but home.

Right now, all evidence points to a pesticide, methyl bromide, also referred to as bromomethane, as the cause of the neurologic problems. Methyl bromide is one harsh chemical. It’s effective at killing vermin but so toxic to people and the ozone that it was banned last decade by the U.S. and most other Western countries from routine use.

It is described as odorless and colorless so no one would know whether it was recently sprayed. One can imagine the scene of a cheerful clutch of tourists entering a glorious room excitedly and energetically then soon fading into a state of neurologic decomposure.

Methyl bromide’s neurotoxic effect is not fully understood. In exposed animals, cells in the central nervous system die after exposure. Likely there is a similar direct toxicity in humans as well. Indeed, methyl bromide and other so-called fumigants (used to super-sterilize soil pre-planting) are considered “highly acutely toxic,” alluding both to the rapidity and severity of the illnesses they cause. Symptoms range from headache to convulsions, dizziness, and tremors, as well as clumsiness and confusion. In addition, the lungs and kidneys may fail—a profile that, all in all, makes methyl bromide among the most toxic substances in use.

Methyl bromide not only is good at poisoning human neurologic systems; it also is extremely effective at killing bugs. Indeed, the same neurotoxin that is catastrophically affecting the Delaware family makes it a first-rate bug spray.

And methyl bromide is not the only toxic toxin that kills bug and man alike: The recent deaths of Canadian sisters in a Thai hotel are being blamed on phosphine, an unrelated chemical increasingly used in a post-methyl bromide world—though it too is poisonous.

Symptoms range from headache to convulsions, dizziness…to kidney failure—a profile that, all in all, makes methyl bromide among the most toxic substances in use.

The U.S. Department of Justice is investigating Terminix, that familiar anti-termite company in the bug-killing business. According to reports, they are the ones responsible for fumigating the room at Sirenusa where the Delaware family stayed. And presumably using chemicals outlawed in the U.S. but just-fine-thank-you in the Territories.

Terminix is playing it close to the vest, wishing the family a speedy recovery and promising to cooperate. Their track record, for a company that essentially traffics in chemicals does, not seem too awful. They’ve had the occasional slap on the wrist for shady business practices like skipping annual inspections, but no unusually horrific stories readily found by a serious Google search.

Much remains up in the air—the fate of the family involved; the confidence with which methyl bromide can be proclaimed the cause; the DOJ investigation. What is certain though is the problem the story has exposed. Poison is really handy stuff when you need to get rid of bed bugs and boll weevils and tomato fungus and all of the other natural but annoying (and even life-threatening) infections and infestations that bedevil the animal and plant kingdoms. Not to mention malaria and countless worms and parasites living in soil and water. For example, DDT was a great chemical—killed off mosquitoes and all sorts of trouble—but just happened to kill off everything else as well.

Our uneasy coexistence with nature creates these big messes every few years. Organic farmers who were pure and anti-chemical saw infections relating to their spinach and cantaloupe sicken thousands, killing some. Not to mention the German bean sprout E coli outbreak from a few summers ago.

The trade-off is the oldest one around: the disease (gnarled and discolored vegetables, bugs in your hotel room, higher wheat prices) or the treatment (such as toxins sometimes injurious to man). Stated another way—is the chemical-laced life worth living?

The answer in this case is pretty simple. The fact that these illnesses occurred outside the contiguous United States shows that the government, when left to use common sense, walks the tightrope between the opposing threats of too much unfiltered nature and too much brutal chemical pretty well. The Delaware family, sad to say, is a tragic example of just why regulation is so very necessary.

For more on this story go to: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/04/07/the-bug-spray-that-felled-a-family.html

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