By NAN Contributor
News Americas, WASHINGTON, D.C., Tues. Sept. 18, 2018: The former branch manager of Terminix International USVI has copped a guilty plea in the 2015 pesticide poisoning of Delaware family on vacation in the Caribbean island of St. John.
Jose Rivera, 58, pleaded guilty Monday to four counts of an indictment charging violations of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act, (FIFRA), for illegally applying fumigants containing methyl bromide in multiple residential locations in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The spraying included in the condominium resort complex in St. John where the Esmond family of four fell seriously ill in 2015, after the unit below them was fumigated.
Two children in the family were put under medical-induced comas for several weeks and sustained permanent neurological damage, but everyone survived the poisoning.
Rivera admitted he knowingly used banned pesticides containing methyl bromide at several locations in the Virgin Islands, according to a Justice Department statement.
This included the Sirenusa condominium resort in St. John where Steve Esmond, then-head of Tatnall’s middle school; his wife, Dr. Theresa Divine; and their two sons were staying for eight nights.
Rivera had sprayed the banned pesticide on March 18, 2015 in the condominium beneath the unit rented by the Esmond family, according to authorities. After becoming ill, the couple and their sons were rushed to Virgin Islands hospitals and then airlifted back to the United States on March 23, 2015.
Months later, the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands said Esmond and his sons were in serious to critical condition and had suffered neurological damage.
The Environmental Protection Agency, in 1984, banned the indoor use of methyl bromide products, which in high concentrations can cause failure in the central nervous system and respiratory system. It can also harm the lungs, eyes and skin.
Rivera’s guilty plea comes just five months after he was indicted and months after Terminix was sentenced to pay $9.2 million in criminal fines tied to the company’s use of the pesticides that caused the Esmond family to become ill.
According to the plea agreement, Rivera was certified as a pesticide applicator by the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources and received pesticide applicator training from the University of the Virgin Islands.
Based on his training, he knew that he was required to read the pesticide label and follow all instructions when using any pesticide. In short, he was instructed that federal law requires applicators to follow the pesticide use instructions on the label.
The label on methyl bromide states that its use is restricted to the location and manner on the label, and the label does not authorize application of methyl bromide in a residential unit.
Rivera applied methyl bromide, a registered restricted-use pesticide, in a manner inconsistent with the use instructions on the label at the residences named in the counts of conviction, the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said.
After the US government began its investigation, TERMINIX LP voluntarily ceased its use of methyl bromide in the U.S. and in U.S. territories, except for one remaining supervised government contract.
On March 23, 2017, the companies TERMINIX LP and TERMINIX, USVI, Rivera’s employer, pleaded guilty and were sentenced on four counts charging violations of FIFRA. The companies paid a total of approximately $10 million in criminal fines, community service, and restitution payments.
The company also later settled a civil lawsuit with the family that was poisoned and agreed to pay $87 million.
In addition, TERMINIX LP has discontinued using pesticides containing methyl bromide in the United States and U.S. Territories.