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Mystery Illness in Paradise Blamed on Toxic Pesticide

American family of 4 seriously sickened on St. John
By Polly Davis Doig,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 5, 2015 8:45 AM CDT
Updated Apr 5, 2015 9:30 AM CDT
Mystery Illness in Paradise Blamed on Toxic Pesticide
In this 2005 file photo, a sign, required by law, warns of a pesticide application of methyl bromide on a field near Watsonville, Calif.   (AP Photo/Rita Beamish, file)

(Newser) – A Delaware family of four looking to unwind in the US Virgin Islands was instead felled by a mysterious sickness that the EPA thinks was caused by a heavily regulated pesticide, reports CNN. Two weeks after Steve Esmond was found unconscious at the villa his family had rented on St. John—his wife and two teenage sons both suffering seizures—he's still unable to move or talk, his two sons are in critical condition in a coma, and his wife has been released from the hospital and is in occupational therapy. "The boys are in rough shape," says the family's lawyer. "They're fighting for everything right now. I understand it's a long recovery."

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The family was airlifted to American hospitals after they were found on March 20. An EPA rep says that initial findings "do show that there was a presence of methyl bromide in the unit where the family was staying." Methyl bromide is prohibited in the US from indoor use, and is only permitted to be used in certain agricultural applications by professionals; it is acutely toxic and has been shown to cause central nervous system and respiratory damage. Meanwhile, the Justice Department is getting involved via a criminal investigation, per an SEC filing made by the parent company of Terminex, a pest control company that treated a neighboring villa two days before the family fell ill. "It's an ongoing investigation; we're still on the island doing our assessment," says the EPA rep. "We have been doing different types of air sampling and wipe sampling." (Read more Virgin Islands stories.)

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