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news releases

June 7, 2006


Contact: Darlene Yuhas (609) 984-1795
Elaine Makatura (609) 292-2994



(06/43) TRENTON -- Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Lisa P. Jackson today announced an $80,000 settlement with Terminix International stemming from a botched cocoa-bean fumigation that exposed nine employees to the pesticide methyl bromide.

"We found it disturbing that Terminix put employees to work with one of the world's most hazardous pesticides without appropriate oversight or training," Commissioner Jackson said. "What should have been a routine warehouse fumigation went badly awry, and only by sheer luck did the employees survive."

Terminix dispatched nine employees on May 12 and 13, 2004, to fumigate cocoa beans stored on pallets in a 500,000 cubic-foot area of the Lyons & Sons Inc. warehouse in Pennsauken.

The Terminix crew covered rows of the 18-foot stacks of cocoa beans with plastic tarps and sealed them. The crew's supervisor, who was licensed to perform commercial fumigations, then wrongly inserted a hose into the side of each covered stack and pumped in a total 1,037 pounds of "Meth-O-Gas 100," which contains the active ingredient methyl bromide.

When done properly by following explicit directions on the methyl bromide label, as required by law, the liquid pesticide is applied either with a vaporizer or into evaporation pans positioned at the top of the stack so it is evenly distributed as a gas. The tarps should remain sealed for 12 to 24 hours to eradicate any infestations of insects or other pests. The law also requires employees to wear self-contained breathing apparatus during certain phases of the application and to test the air before allowing employees to re-enter the area to remove the tarps.

Instead, under their supervisor's direction, the untrained Terminix crew - none of whom wore the required safety gear - began removing tarps at least four hours too early and were immediately overcome by the toxic fumes. The DEP's Pesticide Control investigators determined that the fumigation, from start to finish, represented a gross misapplication of methyl bromide, and all safety requirements for protective equipment and air testing had been ignored.

Two of the employees suffered severe injuries. Three others also required medical treatment following the mishap.

Methyl bromide can irritate and burn the eyes and skin on contact, and exposure can permanently damage the nervous system. Overexposure can cause headache, nausea, vomiting, tremors, slurred speech, dizziness and convulsions. Very high levels can result in rapid loss of consciousness and death.

Soon after the incident, the DEP's Compliance and Enforcement investigators cited Terminix for a host of pesticide-control and air-pollution violations. Further, the warehouse fumigation prompted the DEP to conduct an overall assessment of the fumigation industry in New Jersey. Also, as a result of the Terminix case, the DEP set a national precedent by regulating the release of air toxics from transient fumigation processes. Future fumigation licenses will include air-pollution-control requirements.

In addition to the $80,000 payment, the settlement agreement prohibits Terminix International and any of its subsidiaries and franchises from participating in New Jersey's commodities-fumigation industry for at least a year. After the suspension has lapsed, Terminix can request the DEP's permission to again perform these commercial fumigations - provided the company hires a consultant to review its operations and ensure its ability to comply with all regulatory requirements.




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Last Updated: June 7, 2006