Exposure to a harmful pesticide at a luxury villa in the U.S. Virgin Islands may have caused a Delaware family to get very sick.
The family, which includes father Steve Desmond, mother Theresa Devine, and their two teenage sons, Sean, 16, and Ryan, 14, were vacationing at the SIRENUSA Condominium Resort on the island of St. John when they become ill.
Paramedics were called to the villa last week, where they found Steve unconscious and Theresa, Sean, and Ryan suffering seizures. The family was airlifted to separate hospitals in Philadelphia, suffering major respiratory trauma, reports The Daily Mail.
Sean and Ryan are in critical condition and unresponsive in a coma. Steve is conscious but unable to move or talk. Theresa was treated and released from the hospital, and is currently undergoing occupational therapy.
The Environmental Protection Agency was alerted on March 20 of the illness and began an investigation.
The presence of methyl bromide, a pesticide not authorized for use indoors, was found at the villa.
"Our preliminary results do show that there was a presence of methyl bromide in the unit where the family was staying," said EPA spokesperson Elias Rodriguez.
Methyl bromide is an odorless pesticide that can cause serious damage to the central nervous system and respiratory system. In certain cases, it can be fatal. It is restricted in the United States to only certain agricultural settings because of its acute toxicity, reports CNN.
"It's an ongoing investigation; we're still on the island doing our assessment," Rodriguez said. "We have been doing different types of air sampling and wipe sampling."
The EPA is investigating whether a March 18 fumigation at the resort caused the family to become ill.
There will be a determination as to whether any environmental regulations were violated.
"Pesticides can be very toxic, and it is critically important that they be applied properly and used only as approved by EPA," said Judith A. Enck, a regional administrator for the EPA. "The EPA is actively working to determine how this happened and will make sure steps are taken to prevent this from happening to others at these vacation apartments or elsewhere."
According to Sea Glass Vacations, a rental agent for properties at SIRENUSA, the unit directly below the one where the family stayed was treated for pests recently, but their unit was not fumigated.
Terminix is the company that provides fumigation services for the resort.
"Sea Glass Vacations does not treat the units it manages for pests but instead relies on licensed professionals for pest control services," the company said in a statement.
A criminal investigation has been opened by the U.S. Department of Justice involving Terminix.
A spokesperson for Terminix sent a statement via email to CNN saying that the company is “committed to performing all work … in a manner that is safe for our customers, employees, the public and the environment” and is “looking into this matter internally, and cooperating with authorities.”
"We're thinking about the family, and we join the community in wishing them a speedy recovery," Terminix wrote.
According to James Maron, the family’s lawyer, the two teenage boys are in “rough shape.”
“The family are all fighters,” Maron said. “They're fighting for everything right now. I understand it's a long recovery.”