The McCaughey family had been told it was safe to reoccupy their Palm City house.
It wasn’t, as the reports cited below show.
The chemicals used to eradicate termites by Sunland Pest Control Services Inc. of West Palm Beach — a subcontractor of Terminix International Co. — had not dissipated from their home.
Consequently, after the McCaugheys returned home the evening of Aug. 16, three family members got sick.
Ten-year-old Peyton McCaughey suffered brain damage.
The tragedy that has befallen the McCaugheys is a cautionary tale for every homeowner who contracts with a pest-control company. It also underscores the need to review — and strengthen — state rules and regulations governing fumigation.
When the fumigation process is done improperly, people’s health and lives are put at risk.
State Rep. MaryLynn Magar, R-Tequesta, has filed a bill that would increase regulation of fumigation companies. Among other things, House Bill 1205 would authorize the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to require safety procedures for the clearance of residential structures before reoccupation after fumigation.
It also would allow the agency to place additional conditions on fumigant registration, including:
- Requiring registrants with the state to train distributors and end users in safety measures, proper use, safe storage and the management of fumigant materials.
- Obtaining approval for continuing education and training programs.
- Conducting quality-assurance reviews.
“The bill will improve safety by ensuring that pest control operators are correctly trained,” Magar said. “Properly using the fumigant and following clearance procedures is the key to safety.”
If Magar’s proposals had been in place before Aug. 16, they might have spared the McCaugheys from a real-life nightmare.
Days after the incident, the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services conducted an investigation. The agency found Sunland had poorly maintained devices for checking that the house was clear for people to re-enter.
On Sept. 4, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services issued Sunland a stop-fumigation order “based on Sunland’s failure to have two clearance devices” checked properly.
“Neither of these (devices) was in working order,” state investigators concluded.
Magar’s proposal addresses this issue.
“These devices should be calibrated according to the manufacturer’s requirements by trained technicians,” Magar said. “We seek to require pest control companies to certify to the department that their devices are calibrated according to manufacturer’s requirements at the time they submit a fumigation notification.”
The Florida Department of Health said in a report that three McCaughey family members had confirmed cases of pesticide-related illness and injury.
“Sulfuryl fluoride exposure was the most likely cause of illness,” the report states.
The courts now are dealing with the fallout of the Aug. 16 event.
The McCaugheys have filed a lawsuit against Terminix International and Sunland Pest Control Services.
On Jan. 15, federal authorities filed criminal charges against Sunland and Grenale Williams, the company’s owner, and employee Canarie Deon Curry. The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court (Southern District of Florida), alleges the defendants used a restricted-use pesticide in a manner inconsistent with its labeling and made false statements during the investigation with respect to the type of pesticide used and the fumigation, aeration and clearance of the house.
Sadly, it took a tragedy to focus attention on an issue that potentially affects tens of thousands of Florida residents each year.
The state’s Office of Inspector General issued a report this month on “Structural Fumigation Regulations and Processes.” It noted there are 137 pest control businesses actively performing structural fumigations in the state and “these businesses performed approximately 66,700 structural fumigations in fiscal year 2014-15.”
Equally noteworthy is the fact, cited in the report, that sulfuryl fluoride is the most common pesticide used in structural fumigations. It was used 99.92 percent of the time in the previous fiscal year. Sulfuryl fluoride also is classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a “restricted use pesticide” because of its high toxicity.
Since January 2010, 166 calls were received by the Florida Poison Information Center Network related to sulfuryl fluoride exposure, the report states.
Magar, who has familiarized herself with the fumigation issue in recent months, offers the following advice for homeowners:
- Always do your homework and look for properly licenses companies.
- Determine whether the company you choose is doing the work itself or subcontracting the actual tenting and fumigation.
- If the company is employing a subcontractor, request the subcontractor’s information and track record.
- Ask for references from people you know who have had work done by the company.
- Visit the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ website (FreshFromFlorida.com) for information on pest control and pest control companies.
Every homeowner needs to be aware of the inherent dangers of fumigating your house.