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Feds Go After Two Businessmen, One Puerto Rico Company That Used Methyl Bromide

PR pest

SAN JUAN — The U.S. government on Tuesday filed complaints against a pest control company in Puerto Rico and two businessmen for the illegal use of a toxic pesticide that nearly killed an American family in neighboring St. John.

The Environmental Protection Agency said the businessmen used methyl bromide to fumigate homes and other unauthorized places in several cities across Puerto Rico from 2013 to early 2015.

The men were identified as Edwin Andujar Bermudez with Truly Nolen Pest Control of Caguas and Wilson Torres Rivera of Tower & Son Exterminating Corp. in Bayamon. Tower & Son was named in a separate complaint, but not Truly Nolen.

They face up to $7,500 in civil penalties for each violation as part of a continuing federal investigation in Puerto Rico into the illegal use of methyl bromide, an odorless chemical that can severely damage the brain and lungs. EPA spokesman John Martin said the agency expects to announce more actions in upcoming months.

“Applying methyl bromide products in homes is dangerous and against federal law,” said Judith Enck, an EPA regional administrator.

Peter Diaz, a lawyer who represents both Andujar and Torres, said that hundreds of pesticide applicators in Puerto Rico have for decades used products that have recently come under EPA scrutiny.

“After some controversies with the use of these products, both companies voluntarily discontinued its use,” he said, adding that he will contest the complaints.

Diaz did not respond to questions, including when the companies stopped using the pesticide. He said the chemical was used only on wood furniture at the companies’ workshop and never at homes or other locations.

However, the EPA complaint says methyl bromide was used in places such as people’s bedrooms and kitchens in cities including the capital of San Juan.

The EPA banned methyl bromide for residential use in 1984. The pesticide is still used in the U.S. mainland for agricultural purposes, but the EPA is phasing out its overall use.

Federal officials began investigating the use of the chemical in Puerto Rico after a Delaware family vacationing in St. John was poisoned in March 2015 using chemicals purchased in San Juan.

Officials opened a criminal investigation after announcing that Terminix had used methyl bromide at a vacation unit below the one the family had rented at Sirenusa Condominium Resort on St. John.

Their two teen-aged sons were hospitalized in critical condition while their parents had to undergo therapy.


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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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