Although pesticides are intended to harm only the target – the pest – humans are being harmed by overuse, misuse, and even lawful use of these toxic chemicals.
Two days after their home was fumigated for termites, the family was told it was safe to go back inside. Within a few hours, the whole family began vomiting. While the parents and their 7-year-old daughter recovered, their son became worse. According to a family member, he had uncontrollable muscle spasms, impaired speech, and could not stand. Suspecting that he was poisoned by the termite treatment chemicals, the family rushed the child to a local hospital where he spent 10 days in the intensive care unit. An MRI revealed he has brain damage.
The child has since been transferred to another children’s hospital where he has a daily regimen of physical, occupational, and speech therapy. Though there are pauses when he wants to speak, he is beginning to verbally communicate with words and short sentences. He is unable to stabilize his own body to sit or stand on his own, so the child needs 24/7 care as he is a fall risk. Although progressing slowly, the extent in which he will improve is still unknown. He could continue to improve over the next weeks, months, even years or today could be the extent of his recovery.
The State Department of Agriculture issued a “stop work order” against Sunland Pest Control from performing any fumigations while the investigation continues into what made the child sick. Sunland is the subcontractor of Terminix who conducted the fumigation at the family home.
The family has filed a lawsuit against because Terminix and Sunland Pest Control because Terminix has not responded to their questions about what happened. According to the lawsuit, a different chemical from what the family was told was used to fumigate the home. The suit also alleges that the subcontractor put too much of the chemical in the home and failed to ventilate the house before the family was told they could return.
This is not the first time Terminix has faced accusations involving fumigation injuries; it is also not the first lawsuit. Earlier this year, a Delaware family vacationing in the U.S. Virgin Islands was hospitalized after they were exposed to the toxic chemical methyl bromide at their resort. The chemical was applied to a vacant unit directly beneath the family’s unit at the resort. The use of the pesticide, which can cause damage to the central nervous system and respiratory system, is banned for residential use in 1984. The EPA, Justice Department, and authorities in the Virgin Islands are investigating how and why banned methyl bromide was used by the Terminix at the resort.
All four family members were taken to a Philly hospital; two teen boys suffered seizures. A doctor said that all though a “meaningful recovery” is still possible for the teens, “the potential for meaningful survival and living independently is going to become less and less likely as time passes—it ultimately comes down to how much of the poison they breathed in, and for how long.”
The same week the Florida family filed their lawsuit, a 27-year-old woman from West Palm Beach filed a lawsuit against Terminix. She alleges that while working as a security guard for New Bay Club, she was sprayed by an insecticide being used to spray for ants in the attic. The woman said she experienced chemical burning from the insecticide which has left her in a wheelchair and unable to walk on her own. She also lost most feeling in her legs and suffers from neurological problems. The New Bay Club and BASF, the manufacturer of the pesticide are also named as defendants.
For years, pesticides have been linked to a wide range of human health hazards, ranging from short-term impacts such as headaches and nausea to acute poisoning, cancer, neurological damage, birth defects, suppressed immune systems, lung damage, and dysfunction of the immune systems. Yet, these dangerous toxins are still used in our schools, parks, homes, and more. Children are more vulnerable to pesticide poisonings because they spend more time close to the ground or floor where pesticides are applied and their developing bodies may not break down some chemicals as effectively as adults. There is now considerable scientific evidence that the human brain is not fully formed until the age of 12, and childhood exposure to some of the most common pesticides on the market may greatly impact the development of the central nervous system. Because they have not developed their immune systems, nervous systems, or detoxifying mechanisms completely, children are less capable of fighting the introduction of toxic pesticides into their systems.
According to the EPA, by their very nature, most pesticides create some risk of harm. So what is the solution? The first step is to determine if you really need a pesticide. Like humans, pests need food, water, and shelter to survive. The “Citizen’s Guide to Pest Control and Pesticide Safety” teaches consumers how to:
- Control pests in and around the home.
- Find alternatives to chemical pesticides.
- Choose pesticides.
- Use, store, and dispose of them safely.
It also discusses how to reduce exposure when others use pesticides, how to prevent pesticide poisoning and how to handle an emergency, how to choose a pest control company, and what to do if someone is poisoned by a pesticide.
If you or someone you know becomes ill from pesticide exposure, call 9-1-1, seek medical help, or call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 immediately. Tell them that you may have been exposed to a pesticide and include as much information as possible about what happened. To report possible pesticide misuse, contact your County Agricultural Commissioner’s office.
Attorney, certified civil mediator, and award-winning author of the Zachary Blake Betrayal Series. Mark Bello is also a member of the State Bar of Michigan, a sustaining member of the Michigan Association for Justice, and a member of the American Association for Justice.