SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The U.S. government on Tuesday filed complaints against a pest control company in Puerto Rico and two businessmen for the illegal use of a toxic pesticide that nearly killed an American family in the neighboring U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Environmental Protection Agency said the businessmen used methyl bromide to fumigate homes and other unauthorized places in several cities across Puerto Rico from 2013 to early 2015. The men were identified as Edwin Andujar Bermudez with Truly Nolen Pest Control of Caguas and Wilson Torres Rivera of Tower & Son Exterminating Corp. in Bayamon. Tower & Son was named in a separate complaint, but not Truly Nolen.
They face up to $7,500 in civil penalties for each violation as part of a continuing federal investigation in Puerto Rico into the illegal use of methyl bromide, an odorless chemical that can severely damage the brain and lungs. EPA spokesman John Martin said the agency expects to announce more actions in upcoming months.
"Applying methyl bromide products in homes is dangerous and against federal law," said Judith Enck, an EPA regional administrator.
Peter Diaz, a lawyer who represents both Andujar and Torres, told The Associated Press that hundreds of pesticide applicators in Puerto Rico have for decades used products that have recently come under EPA scrutiny.
"After some controversies with the use of these products, both companies voluntarily discontinued its use," he said, adding that he will contest the complaints.
Diaz did not respond to questions, including when the companies stopped using the pesticide. He said the chemical was used only on wood furniture at the companies' workshop and never at homes or other locations. However, the EPA complaint says methyl bromide was used in places such as people's bedrooms and kitchens in cities including the capital of San Juan.
The EPA banned methyl bromide for residential use in 1984. The pesticide is still used in the U.S. mainland for agricultural purposes, but the EPA is phasing out its overall use.
Federal officials began investigating the use of the chemical in Puerto Rico after a Delaware family vacationing in the U.S. Virgin Islands was poisoned in March 2015.
Officials opened a criminal investigation after announcing that Terminix had used methyl bromide at a vacation unit below the one the family had rented at Sirenusa Condominium Resort on the island of St. John. Two teenagers were hospitalized in critical condition while their parents had to undergo therapy.