St. John Tradewinds News

Terminix accepts responsibility for misused pesticides

ST. THOMAS – A plea deal was reached in District Court, St. Thomas, in the case involving misuse of a restricted pesticide. A top executive of Terminix International, representing the franchise in the U.S. Virgin Islands, accepted responsibility by pleading guilty before a federal judge.

District Court Judge Curtis Gomez accepted the guilty pleas from Thomas Campbell, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel for Service Master Global Holdings, Inc. Campbell admitted guilt to four violations of the United States Code, Title 7, Section 136.

That portion of federal law deals with the proper application of a pesticide.

Service Master Global Holdings is the parent company for Terminix. A trial was scheduled to begin in District Court during the week of March 27.

Campbell admitted that agents of the company, doing business as Terminix USVI, LLC, sprayed methyl bromide inside residential buildings on St. Thomas and St. Croix, a recreation center on St. Croix and a condominium resort on St. John.

Prior to formal acceptance of the deal by Gomez, Senior Justice Department Litigation Counsel Howard Stewart recited a list of offenses the government would have proven had the case gone to trial. Stewart serves as a counsel for the U.S. Justice Department Environmental Crimes Division.

If the government’s case against Terminix had gone to trial, he said, it would have proven that an agent of Terminix USVI, identified as Employee A, regularly purchased methyl bromide, a highly toxic pesticide.  Also that between 2012 and 2015, Employee A and other Terminix workers improperly applied methyl bromide in ways that were prohibited by federal law. This in spite of Employee A’s having completed a certification program with the Planning and Natural Resources about the proper handling, application and storage of pesticides.

Stewart added that the government could prove these improper applications took place on St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John. Three of the four counts listed in charging documents corresponded to violations found on each respective island.

Stewart said the government could also prove the method by which the illegal applications of methyl bromide occurred in attempts to eradicate a destructive bug, the powder post beetle.

In one instance, at the Sirenusa Condominium Resort on St. John, the government could prove that a Terminix representative told property managers methyl bromide was the best way to get rid of the beetle.

Prosecutors also told the court they could prove that the company’s exterminators fumigated a residential unit at Sirenusa, not knowing that a family from Delaware was occupying a second floor unit.

And that as a result of their exposure to methyl bromide, four people in the second floor dwelling developed severe symptoms of toxic exposure and were transported to the Roy L. Schneider Hospital on St. Thomas. Two of the four people developed breathing difficulties to the degree that they had to be aided by a breathing machine.

Stewart also listed the addresses of all residences on St. Croix where methyl bromide was misused. Locations included homes in Judith’s Fancy, Cotton Valley, Elias Retreat and Garden View. The Louis E. Brown Community Center, South Gate Condominiums and Villa Madeline. There was also a separate count for the one location on St. Thomas, in Estate Solberg.

After the recitation, the judge turned to Campbell and asked how Terminix plead to each count.

“Guilty, Your Honor,” he said.

Gomez also asked if Campbell understood that pleading guilty carried a cost. “Do you understand that pleading guilty will result in a penalty of $4.6 million on each count?” Gomez said.

“Yes,” said Campbell.

Sentencing in the case was set for July 27 at 9 am.

Documents used in the charge of plea proceeding made reference only to the four members of the Esmond family from Delaware as the persons who were harmed by Terminix. No mention was made of the 18 people whose illnesses were documented in an investigative report prepared by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency following the March 2015 incident at Sirenusa.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Chisholm, a spokesperson for the Justice Department in the Virgin Islands, declined to comment about what recourse those who were affected by methyl bromide exposure might have if they should get sicker, later on.

Methyl bromide is a known carcinogen.