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Pesticide That Likely Sickened Del. Family On Vacation Reportedly Being Used In Large Amounts In Our Area

By Alexandria Hoff

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Two teenage boys remain in critical condition after their family was exposed to a pesticide while vacationing in the U.S. Virgin Islands last month.

The U.S. Justice Department is now looking into if Terminix used a pesticide illegally to fumigate the condo below where the Esmond's were staying.

As Eyewitness News reporter Alexandria Hoff found out, that very pesticide is being stored and used right here in our area.

In 2004, OSHA cited Terminix Commercial in Pennsauken after a group of employees were hospitalized due to a chemical exposure.

According to a Terminix spokesperson, it happened while workers were removing a tarp that was put over coco beans that had been treated with with Methyl Bromide.

The company adds that the building that they were tasked with fumigating was 500,000 sq. ft.

Methyl Bromide is the same chemical pesticide that officials say made the Esmond family critically ill. It is illegal for residential use.

Jay Feldman, of the D.C.- based advocacy group Beyond Pesticide, adds that technically Methyl Bromide has been banned altogether since 2005 due to adverse health and environmental effects, but he adds there are ways around that.

"They are called 'Critical Use Exemptions," he said Monday in a Skype interview.

As of March of this year, USDA records list 167 industrial facilities where Methyl Bromide is being used to treat produce. Thirty one of them are in the Delaware Valley.

This might give an idea of why that is – according to data provided to the USDA, 40 percent of all Chilean produce that comes into the United States does so through Philadelphia-area ports. Ninety percent of the Methyl Bromide used is used to treat those imported grapes.

That's because grapes are especially vulnerable to pests and diseases that, if left untreated, could devastate domestic crops and cut off imports.

"We have in this country a huge chemical dependent system of agriculture," adds Feldman.

While the Esmond's story hit the headlines, another one here at home didn't.

Several years ago the Philadelphia-based Martin Law represented a group of dock workers. Attorney Joseph Huttermann told Eyewitness News that they believe their clients were caught downwind of a Methyl Bromide fumigation site near Marcus Hook.

"The results are drastic and have completely disabled some of the people we have represented,' Huttermann said.

One of the men, he says, lost his teeth.

As recovery continues for the Esmond family, who live outside Wilmington, one family member shared that they hope their story makes others aware of a chemical they didn't even knew existed.

According to the USDA, the level of Methyl Bromide used on produce is not harmful for human consumption, even opponents of the chemical share that general thought due to how quickly the vapor dissipates, but there are those who are concerned with how the fumigation process is impacting the Earth's ozone.

A spokesperson with Terminix added that following the 2004 incident the company enrolled employees in an intensive re-training program.

In a statement they said, "We always strive to follow proper procedures and follow safety measures in everything we do."



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