Pesticide that poisoned tourists in USVI still a danger in Caribbean

(Caribbean360) San Jaun, Puerto Rico – Nine months after a visiting American family nearly died from exposure to methyl bromide in St John in the US Virgin Islands, authorities have concluded that the use of the banned pesticide was not an isolated event and its use has grave consequences.

Two teenage sons from the family poisoned in March, Ryan and Sean Esmond, remain hospitalized in Delaware. They and their father, Stephen, an administrator at the private Tatnall School in Wilmington, suffered neurological damage and are paralyzed. Esmond is conscious but unable to move, his lawyer told CNN.

Esmond’s wife and the boys’ mother, Dr Theresa Devine, was discharged from hospital in April, and was “doing well,” family spokesman James J. Maron told CNN at the time.

A criminal investigation into the poisoning at the Sirenusa Condominium Resort continues, and the Esmond family is in settlement talks with Terminix, the company that used the chemical on insects in a vacation rental unit adjacent to theirs.

A separate investigation by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and local officials into the broader use of methyl bromide in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico is also still active.

Few details have been released to date, but the federal government and the Virgin Islands recently held a conference for pesticide companies, resort operators, and hospitality workers to warn them about the dangers of methyl bromide and other pesticides.

Judith Enck, the EPA’s regional administrator, said she and Puerto Rico’s agriculture department have found several other examples of prohibited chemicals being used at hotels.

Methyl bromide “is one of many pesticides being used illegally and inappropriately in the Caribbean” and more local oversight and regulation of pesticide companies is needed, Enck said.

A federal investigation after the Esmond family poisoning revealed that methyl bromide has been widely used in the Virgin Islands, according to Governor Kenneth Mapp.

The territorial government has said it will regulate pest control companies more closely and require new permits for the sale and purchase of restricted-use pesticides.

Experts say some companies in the Caribbean still use methyl bromide because of lax governmental supervision and because it kills pests in just one application.

That level of toxicity, however, has serious consequences for humans, causing headaches, dizziness, fainting and even paralysis and death.

According to officials, methyl bromide has been used at hotels in Puerto Rico, but it is not known if any action has been taken. The territory’s agriculture department which is responsible for monitoring pesticide companies did not respond to questions on illegal uses of methyl bromide on the island, according to an AP report.

A couple of incidents involving toxic pesticides have also been reported in the Dominican Republic, where at least one hospital issued a bulletin alerting doctors and nurses about the symptoms of pesticide poisoning.

Methyl bromide is still used on the US mainland for agricultural purposes, but the EPA banned the chemical for residential use in 1984 and is phasing out its use overall.

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