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Family suffers seizures at Virgin Islands resort; toxic pesticides suspected

Officials are investigating whether a toxic pesticide sickened a Delaware family during their vacation in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Attorney James Maron, who spent time with the family on the island of St. John, told The News Journal on Monday that they were being airlifted from the islands.

The four family members -- Steve Esmond, an administrator at The Tatnall School in Wilmington; his wife, Dr. Theresa Devine; and their two teenage sons -- were exposed to a "highly toxic chemical" at their rental condominium, Maron said.

They were hospitalized on Friday after they began having seizures during the night. Maron said the father and two sons were critical condition.

Local authorities and investigators from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are looking into whether they were sickened by methyl bromide, a pesticide which may have been used to fumigate a room at the Sirenusa Condominium Resort in Cruz Bay, St. John, where the family was staying. Methyl bromide is banned for use in dwellings in the U.S. due to its toxicity.

The EPA warns that exposure to methyl bromide can cause dizziness, headache, nausea and vomiting, weakness and collapse. Those initial symptoms can be followed by a buildup of fluid in the lungs and heart irregularities, which can be fatal.

"Pesticides can be very toxic and it is critically important that they be applied properly and used only as approved by EPA," Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator, said in a statement. "The EPA is actively working to determine how this happened and will make sure steps are taken to prevent this from happening to others at these vacation apartments or elsewhere."

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