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Monday, September 17, 2018

Terminix Virgin Islands Branch Manager Pleads Guilty to Four Counts of Illegally Applying Restricted-Use Pesticide to Multiple Residences in the U.S. Virgin Islands

Jose Rivera, 58, former Branch Manager of TERMINIX INTERNATIONAL USVI LLC (TERMINIX USVI), pleaded guilty today to four counts of an indictment charging violations of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) for illegally applying fumigants containing methyl bromide in multiple residential locations in the U.S. Virgin Islands, including the condominium resort complex in St. John where a family of four fell seriously ill in 2015, after the unit below them was fumigated, the Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today.  

According to the plea agreement, defendant 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, the defendant 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.

“Toxic pesticides can have devastating human health consequences, and that’s why those who are certified to apply them must do so responsibly and lawfully,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.  “The facts in this case show that the defendant, despite his training and experience, knowingly applied the pesticide methyl bromide in an illegal and unsafe manner, which tragically exposed a family of four to profoundly debilitating injuries.”

“This prosecution demonstrates the importance of complying with environmental laws and regulations,” said United States Attorney Gretchen C.F. Shappert for the District of the Virgin Islands. “Tragically, the defendant’s failure to do what was required of him resulted in catastrophic injuries to the victims and exposed many others to similar harm. Here in the Virgin Islands, the United States Attorney’s Office is committed to the enforcement of environmental laws. We will take all necessary steps to hold those who violate these laws criminally accountable and to protect residents and visitors of the Virgin Islands.”

“When you break a law that protects public health, there are real victims and real consequences, as this case tragically shows,” said Assistant Administrator Susan Bodine for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance at EPA. “This incident illustrates how important it is for EPA to enforce environmental laws and hold violators accountable for endangering human health and the environment.  Today’s guilty plea should send a clear message to those entrusted with handling dangerous chemicals to take necessary steps to ensure this can’t happen again.”

In 1984, EPA banned the indoor use of methyl bromide products. The few remaining uses are severely restricted.  Pesticides containing methyl bromide in the U.S. are restricted-use due to their acute toxicity, meaning that they must 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. These pesticides can be very toxic, and it is critically important that they be used only as approved by EPA.

After the government began its investigation, TERMINIX LP voluntarily ceased its use of methyl bromide in the U.S. and in U.S. territories, except for one remaining supervised government contract.

On March 23, 2017, the companies TERMINIX LP and TERMINIX, USVI, Rivera’s employer, pleaded guilty and were sentenced on four counts charging violations of FIFRA. The companies paid a total of approximately $10 million in criminal fines, community service, and restitution payments. In addition, TERMINIX LP has discontinued using pesticides containing methyl bromide in the United States and U.S. Territories.

EPA worked cooperatively with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the Department of Justice in its investigation. 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 prosecuted the case with the assistance of Patricia Hick, EPA Region II Regional Criminal Enforcement Counsel.

For more information about EPA’s pesticide program and its requirements, visit www.epa.gov/pesticides/.

Press Release Number: 
Updated September 17, 2018