West Palm Beach, FL — CBS12 Investigates found the fumigation chemical that severely injured Peyton McCaughey has also killed and injured dozens of other people in Florida.
One of those victims lived in West Palm Beach. Brittany Anderson died just months before Peyton was poisoned and made headlines.
“I miss her. I see a picture of her every day on my phone,” said her father James Smith.
It’s the last photo ever taken of Brittany. It’s how her parents will always remember her.
“She was just bubbly. She just liked to have fun,” said her mother Angela Smith.
Brittany was found dead in her boyfriend’s house on January 16, 2015.
The 24-year-old died of sulfuryl fluoride poisoning, a pesticide used to exterminate pests, like termites.
“It was rough,” said Brittany’s step-dad James. “It was rough, and it’s still rough,” added her mother.
The toxic gas that killed Brittany was the same chemical that brain damaged ten-year-old Peyton McCaughey months later.
The owner of the fumigation company, Sunland Pest Control pleaded guilty for the faulty fumigation and admitted using the wrong chemicals.
THE VICTIMS OF SULFURYL FLUORIDE
CBS12 Investigates uncovered many other untold stories of victims of sulfuryl fluoride poisoning.
Records we obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) show 33 cases of death and 199 cases of injuries since 1990.
The Florida Department of Health reports 43 confirmed sulfuryl fluoride incidents since 1999 with only two documented deaths in 2002 and 2014.
But, those statistics are just the tip of the iceberg because states are not required to report sulfuryl fluoride poisonings to the government.
The EPA collects this data from state agencies on a voluntary basis.
So, CBS12 Investigates looked through news reports and government records and found 15 deaths involving sulfuryl fluoride in Florida, including Brittany’s.
FUMIGATION SAFETY LAWS
In more than half of the 33 deaths reported nationwide, we found the person was inside or somehow entered the building during the fumigation process, despite safety requirements in place to keep people out.
“You can walk into and not realize it’s there, and it can kill you,” said Physician and Toxicologist Dr. Ernest Chiodo.
According to Florida state law:
“All exterior doors and entrances to the fumigated structure(s) Shall be posted with a warning sign on or at each door or entrance prior to the release of the fumigant, locked, and secured with a secondary locking device(s) Or barred or otherwise secured against entry until the end of the exposure period, then opened for ventilation and relocked, barred or otherwise secured against reentry, including the reinstallation of the secondary locking device(s), until declared to be safe for reoccupancy by the person exercising direct and personal supervision of the fumigation operation as required by subsections 5e-14.113(1) And (2), f.A.C. A door or entrance, that, once locked from the interior with a lock that is not accessible from the exterior, does not require a secondary locking device or barricade.”
Dr. Chiodo has served as an expert witness in thousands of toxic death cases. He said secondary locks and warning signs aren’t enough to keep people safe.
“This is dangerous enough a material that it may make sense to have a security guard there to watch and make sure somebody doesn’t get in,” he said.
In Brittany’s case, she was able to crawl through a side window.
Police statements from the fumigant worker on the scene states:
“The window on the back southwest corner leading to the bedroom was probably left open, but the lawn chair that was up against it was not there was the house was tented/covered for fumigation.”
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services investigation found no wrong doing on part of the fumigation company.
“I don’t think that someone from the outside that’s not certified to do that should get inside,” said Brittany’s mother.
RE-ENTERING A DANGER ZONE
Not all poisonings are from people entering closed-off or tented buildings.
In fact, most of the reported injuries occurred when families re-entering a home after it was fumigated.
Injuries included insidious viral pneumonia, chronic pulmonary disease, cardiac arrest, and pulmonary edema.
Even neighbors or passersby were exposed to the toxin and became ill.
- In one case, a woman developed a chronic-respiratory condition after her neighbor’s home was fumigated.
- A fumigation tent from a neighbor’s home leaked into enclosed patio and the woman’s speech and memory were affected.
- A child next door to a tented house experienced nausea, burning eyes and a “chemical taste in mouth.”
- A woman walking 50 feet from a tented home experienced a scratchy throat from inhaling the fumes.
“This is a nasty gas, we treat it with a great deal of respect,” said Dr. Tom Kodadek, Professor of Chemistry and Cancer Biology.
Dr. Kodadek uses sulfuryl fluoride in a highly controlled setting in his lab at the Scripps Research Institute as part of his cancer research.
He sais one single molecule released into the air is a safety risk.
“Even sublethal doses of this really have long lasting neurological effects,” he said.
So with the deaths and injuries, we questioned why no one has taken action.
Turns out, the EPA tried to phase out sulfuryl fluoride as a pesticide.
The agency announced the proposal in 2011, but corporate interests later thwarted those efforts.
According to government records, Dow Chemical spent millions on lobbying legislation that included the Farm Bill.
Open Secrets shows Dow Chemical lobbied more money in 2014 than any other year, and they were the top lobbying group in 2014.
We reached out to Dow Chemical for comment. This is their statement:
“Dow AgroSciences’ finalized the sale of its post-harvest and structural fumigant business, sulfuryl fluoride, to Douglas Products on July 7, 2015.”
We spoke to the EPA about the legislation and their efforts to address fumigation safety.
They declined our request for an on-camera interview, but a spokesperson sent us this statement:
“Consistent with that legislation, EPA has been working on new acute and chronic dietary risk assessments for sulfuryl fluoride. The assessments are in the final stages of being completed. Once the assessments are complete, we plan to release them for public comment along with a draft final decision regarding the fluoride tolerances. After reviewing public comments received on the draft risk assessments and the draft tolerance decision, EPA will issue final risk assessments and a final decision on the tolerances for sulfuryl fluoride.
EPA does not advocate for legislation. However, EPA is concerned about incidents of inadvertent exposure. To prevent these the Agency is working with the States and fumigant registrants to ensure that people only use sulfuryl fluoride and other fumigants in accordance with label directions and precautions.
In August EPA proposed revisions to the certification and training rule which would, among other things, require additional specialized certifications for people using high-risk application methods including fumigation. EPA plans to finalize the rule in 2016.”
CAUSE FOR CHANGE
“These tragedies happen, and they’re all preventable,” said Dr. Kodadek.
Here in Florida, Peyton’s story was a cause for some change.
A bill to take effect in July, will allow the Florida Department of Agriculture to strengthen current fumigation notification requirements and safety procedures.
As for Brittany’s death, her case is closed. but, there was no closure for her family.
Her mother and step-father want justice for their daughter, and they hope more will be done to stop this poison from hurting anyone else.
“Who wants to have another death, from that toxic, those toxic fumes,” asked Brittany’s mother.
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