Members of a Delaware family of four remain seriously ill after possibly being exposed to a pesticide, methyl bromide, on their vacation in the U.S. Virgin Islands in March.
The pesticide allegedly was sprayed in an apartment below them to fix a bug problem the same day the family arrived at their vacation rental condominium unit at the Sirenusa resort on St. John, according to Judith Enck, administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency's Region 2 Office, which covers the U.S. Virgin Islands.
By that night, Enck said, the entire family "started having adverse health effects." Both boys had seizures, according to Enck.
Paramedics responded and took the family to a hospital on neighboring island St. Thomas. Three of the family members were put on ventilators, Enck said. The family was then airlifted to hospitals in the U.S.
What is methyl bromide?
Methyl bromide is a potent neurotoxin that affects the nervous system.
The EPA banned methyl bromide for indoor residential use in the 1980s, Enck said, but the product still is on the market for agricultural use. It's commonly used in California on strawberries, Enck said.
"Decades ago, we established rules saying that pesticide applicators cannot use this toxic pesticide indoors because we were afraid of an outcome just like this one," Enck said.
Enck said it's important to educate the public about alternatives to very toxic pesticides.
"There's something called integrated pest management where you can look at lesser toxic or non-toxic ways to deal with bug problems," she said.
Why is methyl bromide dangerous?
According to the EPA, methyl bromide exposure can cause short-term and long-term problems including severe lung injuries and neurological impairment.
"Exposure to methyl bromide is quite serious," Enck said, "And it can really damage your nervous system."
Exposure can cause brain damage and comas, Enck added.
"There are a number of serious health impacts that anyone applying this would know about once they looked at the label on the product and then looked at the supporting documentation that talked about health impacts," she said.