DELAWARE, United States, Thursday May 7, 2015 – Two American teenagers remain in critical condition more than six weeks after they fell into a coma after being sickened by a banned pesticide that was sprayed at the resort in St John, US Virgin Islands, where they were staying.
Sean and Ryan Esmond and their parents fell ill after an applicator working for Memphis, Tennessee-based pest control firm Terminix used methyl bromide at the luxury resort.
A statement, which provided the first update on the family’s medical condition in a month, said that the teens are hospitalized in Philadelphia and their parents, Stephen Esmond and Theresa Devine, continue to undergo therapy.
“The Esmond Family thanks the nation for its outpouring of support and concern for the family’s recovery from this unthinkable tragedy of pesticide poisoning during their family vacation,” the statement said.
“The family is confident that those responsible will be brought to justice,” it added.
The incident is under investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Department of Justice and authorities in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
Last month, the EPA said that its probe had found the toxic pesticide was used at the Sirenusa Condominium Resort in St John several times in the past, and may also have been used improperly in Puerto Rico. The agency banned the chemical for residential use in 1984 over health concerns.
Methyl bromide, an odourless and highly toxic gas, can severely damage the brain and lungs. The chemical was applied to a vacant unit directly beneath the Esmonds’ unit at the upscale resort overlooking Cruz Bay, according to environmental regulators.
Stephen Esmond is head of a private middle school in Wilmington, Delaware, and Devine is a dentist in the Philadelphia suburbs. At the time of the incident, the family was vacationing in the Virgin Islands with several other families from Wilmington’s private Tatnall School.
The teenagers’ prognosis depends on how long they were exposed and how much they breathed in, according to Dr Reynold Panettieri, deputy director of the Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology at the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school.
“The potential for meaningful recovery is still there,” Panettieri, who is not involved in the teens’ care, told The Associated Press. “As you get farther and farther out, the potential for meaningful survival and living independently is going to become less and less likely.”
Pest control firm Terminix said it was cooperating with investigators and conducting its own internal inquiry.
Meanwhile, the Terminix applicator’s license has been suspended by the Virgin Islands’ Department of Planning and Natural Resources.