Fumigation Company and Two Individuals Pled Guilty in Connection With Illegal Pesticide Application Resulting in Injuries to a Minor
Sunland Pest Control Services, Inc. (Sunland), Grenale Williams, 53, of South Bay, and Canarie Deon Curry, 40, of Riviera Beach, pled guilty today in federal court in Fort Pierce before United States District Court Judge Jose E. Martinez in connection with the illegal application of a pesticide that resulted in injuries to a minor child.
Wifredo A. Ferrer, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and Andy Castro, Acting Special Agent in Charge, United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Criminal Investigation Division, Atlanta Area Office, made the announcement.
Sunland, Williams, and Curry, pled guilty for their involvement in the illegal application of sulfuryl fluoride (a pesticide), contrary to the label’s safety requirements, in violation of Title 7, United States Code, Section 136i(b)(1)(B). Sunland also pled guilty to making false statements in connection with the investigation, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1001. Williams and Curry face a statutory maximum sentence of up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000, to be followed by and a period of supervised release. In addition, Sunland faces up to five years of probation and a $500,000 fine for the false statements conviction. Sentencing is scheduled for May 11, 2016 at 12:00 p.m. in Fort Pierce.
According to court documents, the federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) regulates the use of pesticides, including those designated for restricted use due to their potential adverse effects, including serious injury. Application of restricted use pesticides is limited to certified applicators or those under the direct supervision of certified applicators. Sulfuryl fluoride, a commonly used antimicrobial in structural fumigations for termites, is one such restricted use pesticide that is registered with the EPA. At the heart of the safe use of such pesticides is compliance with the product label, which includes the written, printed, or graphic matter associated with the pesticide. Under FIFRA, the label is the law, and strict compliance with it is critical to the safe application of the restricted use pesticide. Federal law also prohibits the making of material false statements in a matter within the jurisdiction of the EPA.
Court records and a joint factual statement indicate that in June 2015 residents contracted with Terminix for a home fumigation for termites under an existing warranty. Terminix, without warning or approval, subcontracted the job to Sunland. The fumigation occurred over a weekend and the residents returned to their home on Sunday, August 16, 2015 to find a clearance tag on the front door indicating that it was safe to enter. During the evening several family members became ill, and medical attention was sought for their nine year old son. It was determined that the family’s symptoms were consistent with pesticide poisoning.
A subsequent investigation revealed that contrary to the label requirements for use of the potentially deadly gas, the defendants failed, among other violations, to: provide the Fact Sheet for the pesticide being used; have the required number of properly trained personnel on site following the application of the pesticide; properly aerate the fumigated space; and conduct clearance testing with an approved and calibrated Low Fumigant Level Detection Device. In addition, a clearance tag was left at the premises indicating it was safe to enter when in fact the requisite procedures had not been completed. The family was falsely assured by Terminix and Sunland that the aeration and clearance requirements had been met. Additionally, Sunland representatives misrepresented the specific brand of pesticide that was used and indicated that the fumigation, aeration, and clearance of the home was in accordance with the law when in truth and fact, the defendants were not in compliance.
United States Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer stated, “Federal regulations are in place to ensure that the public is protected. Individuals and corporations who knowingly side-step the safety protocols that have been instituted expose others to potentially dangerous consequences. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to hold those accountable who violate the law.”
“The preventable toxic poisoning of a young boy is a stark reminder of why pesticides must be used properly and responsibly,” said Andy Castro, Acting Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Florida. “EPA’s investigation revealed numerous FIFRA violations before, during, and after the defendants’ fumigated the victims’ home. These charges demonstrate that those who knowingly misuse pesticide products threaten the most vulnerable among us, and can expect to be prosecuted.”
Mr. Ferrer commended the investigative efforts of the EPA, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Bureau of Pesticide and Incident Response, and the Florida Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement. The case was prosecuted by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Jodi A. Mazer and Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Watts-FitzGerald of the Economic & Environmental Crimes Section.