A pest-control company has agreed to pay $10 million in penalties for using a dangerous pesticide at a U.S. Virgin Islands resort where a Delaware family fell critically ill, federal prosecutors said Tuesday.
Terminix International Company LP and its U.S. Virgin Islands operation agreed to plead guilty to four counts of violating federal pesticide law in a deal with prosecutors that still needs to be approved by a judge.
According to information filed Tuesday in federal court in the U.S. District Court of the Virgin Islands, the Wilmington family was staying at the Sirenusa resort in St. John last March when they were exposed to methyl bromide, which had been sprayed in an adjacent unit.
Stephen Esmond, an administrator at the Tatnall School in Wilmington, his wife, Theresa Devine, a dentist, and their two teenage sons, were hospitalized. The sons spent weeks in medically induced comas.
The family was blessed by Pope Francis at a brief meeting at Philadelphia International Airport as the pontiff was leaving the city following his weekend visit in September.
Methyl bromide can cause convulsions, coma, and cognitive deficits. The indoor use of products containing the chemical was banned by the federal government in 1984 and the remaining uses are highly restricted.
As part of the plea deal, Terminix agreed to make good faith efforts to cover medical expenses for the family through a separate civil proceeding. If the expenses are not resolved, prosecutors said they may reopen the sentencing proceedings.
The four criminal counts cover the illegal use of methyl bromide twice at the St. John resort, once in St. Croix, and once in St. Thomas.
“The facts in this case show the Terminix companies knowingly failed to properly manage their pest control operations in the U.S. Virgin Islands, allowing pesticides containing methyl bromide to be applied illegally and exposing a family of four to profoundly debilitating injuries,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden.
ServiceMaster Global Holdings Inc., the parent company of Terminix, filed a notice Tuesday to investors about the plea agreement. Citing the judge’s pending decision on the plea deal, a company spokesman declined to comment.
[ServiceMaster Global Holdings Inc. owns Terminix, Merry Maids, Furniture Medic, American Home Shield, AmeriSpec, ServiceMaster Clean and ServiceMaster Restore.]
The $10 million in penalties include $8 million in fines, $1 million in restitution for the government’s response and cleanup at the St. John resort, and $1 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to fund training for pesticide applicators in the U.S. Virgin Islands.