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Op-Ed: Knowing the risks of pesticide poisonings

Author Judith Enck is regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2, which covers Puerto Rico, New York, Eight Indian Nations, New Jersey, and the USVI.

Author Judith Enck is regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 2, which covers Puerto Rico, New York, Eight Indian Nations, New Jersey, and the USVI.

One year ago, a family on vacation on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands was poisoned by methyl bromide, a harmful pesticide that was illegally applied below their rental condo. Last week, Terminix, the company who applied the pesticide, agreed to pay $10 million in fines and restitution for its actions.

Although the federal government has held this company accountable for its actions, no amount of money can make up for the harm they caused. Today, this family’s father and two teenaged sons still suffer greatly from the effects of this pesticide poisoning.

While the EPA and other federal agencies continue to investigate the misuse of pesticides in the USVI, we continue our efforts in Puerto Rico as well. Earlier this month, the EPA issued legal complaints to two Puerto Rico pest control companies who were improperly applying pesticides. The EPA expects to take similar actions against other pest-control companies in the future.

Although the EPA is taking action against those improperly using pesticides, people are still at risk. Every year, thousands of pesticide poisoning cases are treated in health care facilities throughout the United States. The effects of pesticide exposure range from skin and eye irritation, to more serious effects, such as neurological damage and cancer. Even when used properly, traditional pesticides can pose risks.

Fortunately, there are alternative methods to dealing with pests that can reduce exposure and prevent people from getting sick. In many cases, pests can be eradicated using either nontoxic or less toxic alternatives. Integrated Pest Management (“IPM”) is a process that can be used to solve pest problems anywhere— in urban and agricultural settings, in homes and businesses— while reducing the use of pesticides, minimizing risks to people and the environment.

The IPM approach focuses on long-term prevention of pests– instead of simply killing the pests you see right now, you take actions to keep pests from becoming a problem in the first place. By looking at environmental factors that affect the pest and its ability to thrive, you can create conditions that are unfavorable for the pest.

Just by taking some simple steps to improve home maintenance, you can reduce the number of pests and rodents in your home or place of business. Some examples: making sure windows and doors have screens and no holes to keep out mosquitos; installing door sweeps; and keeping dumpsters and garbage cans at a distance from buildings.

On April 6, the EPA and the Puerto Rico Department of Agriculture will host a conference at the InterAmerican University in Hato Rey at Calle Federico Costa #170 to educate hotel owners, hospitality workers, pesticide applicators, business operators and the general public on how they can reduce the use of pesticides.

The conference will feature pest control experts who will share ways to address pests with fewer or less toxic chemicals through the use of IPM, and will include a discussion on ways to protect children, farm workers, pesticide workers and others who regularly work with pesticides.

This event is open to the public and will provide valuable information on how to better protect your family and others in your community. To sign up for this free event, please click HERE.

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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