Jose Rivera, 59, former Branch Manager of TERMINIX INTERNATIONAL USVI LLC (TERMINIX USVI), was sentenced on Jan. 17, 2019, to 12 months in prison for illegally applying fumigants containing methyl bromide in multiple residential locations in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today. Two of the applications were at the Sirenusa condominium resort complex on St. John where a family of four fell seriously ill in March 2015, after the unit below them was fumigated. In September 2018, Rivera pleaded guilty to four-count of the counts charged in an indictment charging violations of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) for application of a restricted-use pesticide in a manner inconsistent with its label.
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, Rivera knew that he was required to read the pesticide label and follow all instructions when using any pesticide. In short, the defendant 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.
In November, 2017, the companies TERMINIX LP and TERMINIX, USVI, Rivera’s employer, were sentenced for violations of FIFRA, based on their earlier guilty pleas. Terminix USVI, was sentenced to pay $4.6 million in fines and $1.2 million in restitution to the EPA for response and clean-up costs at the St. John resort. Terminix International Company LP was sentenced to pay a fine of $4.6 million and will perform community service related to training commercial pesticide applicators in fumigation practices and a separate health services training program.
In 1984, the EPA banned the indoor use of methyl bromide products. The few remaining uses are severely restricted and largely limited to commodity applications for quarantine and pre-shipment purposes. Pesticides containing methyl bromide in the U.S. are restricted-use due to their acute toxicity, meaning that they may only be applied by a certified applicator. Health effects of acute exposure to methyl bromide are serious and include central nervous system and respiratory system damage. Pesticides can be very toxic and it is critically important that they be used only as approved by EPA.
The case was investigated by EPA Criminal Investigation Division working cooperatively with the Virgins Islands government and, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.
Senior Litigation Counsel Howard P. Stewart of the Department of Justice, Environmental Crimes Section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim L. Chisholm of the District of the Virgin Islands are prosecuting the case with assistance of Patricia C. Hick, EPA Region II Regional Criminal Enforcement Counsel.
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