Two Terminix companies were ordered to pay a total of $10 million in criminal fines on Monday, after their use of illegal pesticides in poisoned a family of four at a luxury hotel in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Terminix International Company and it’s U.S. Virgin Islands operation knowingly used the odorless gas methyl bromide, which the Environmental Protection Agency banned for indoor use in 1984, to fumigate residential units on St. Johns and 13 other locations across the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Justice Department said. As part of their sentencing, Terminix will also have to perform community service in the form of training other commercial pesticide companies safe fumigation practices.
The government opened a criminal investigation into the company after the Esmond family fell gravely ill in 2015. Two Terminix employees fumigated a property below their villa on St. Johns island with the chemical. Soon after checking into their room, the family was airlifted to hospitals in Philadelphia to receive treatment for severe respiratory and neurological damage. Weeks later the EPA still found dangerously high levels of the lethal gas in their unit.
The family’s two teenaged sons suffered the most severe injuries. They were brought to the hospital in critical condition and were placed in medically induced comas for weeks. Months later they still struggled to eat or move without assistance. A year later, their father, Steve Esmond, still struggled to move and speak, while his wife, Theresa Devine, suffered seizures and had to undergo occupational therapy.
"They're extreme fighters, and that's why they're hanging on," said James Maron, the family’s attorney, in 2015.
Six others, including emergency workers who helped the family, also experienced mild symptoms of exposure to the gas, like headache, fatigue, and shortness of breath, CNN reported.
Joycelyn Hewlett, the acting United States attorney for the District of the Virgin Islands, said in a statement that the case demonstrates the the importance of complying with environmental laws and regulations.
“An entire family suffered horrendous and life-altering injuries,” she said. “We will continue to aggressively enforce environmental laws to help prevents something like this from ever happening again.”
Terminix agreed to the $10 million criminal plea last year and volunteered to stop using pesticides that contain the noxious chemical. It’s parent company also agreed to pay the family an $87 million settlement.