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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of Florida

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Fumigation Company and Two Individuals Sentenced 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, were sentenced 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 was senetenced to five years of probation.  Williams and Curry were sentenced to one year in prison. 

Sunland, Williams, and Curry, previously 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. 

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, “Today’s sentencing sends an important message to both corporations and civilians regarding the importance of federal pesticide regulation compliance and the criminal penalties that will be imposed upon the violators.  Everyone must abide by established safety protocol in order to protect the public from potential harm.” 

“We have environmental laws in place to ensure that pesticides are applied safely and responsibly,” said Andy Castro, Acting Special Agent in Charge of EPA’s criminal enforcement program in Florida.  “When a fumigant is applied illegally, families can become victims of a serious and preventable crime. EPA continues to work in close partnership with the Justice Department to bring cases against those that knowingly threaten the health and safety of the American public.”

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.

Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.

Updated May 12, 2016