Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–September 15, 2013. A federal grand jury in Macon, Georgia allege that Steven A. Murray and his company, Bio-Tech Management wrongly used pesticides in multiple nursing homes across the state of Georgia. This misapplication is particularly egregious as the elderly are especially vulnerable to pesticide exposure and the resulting adverse effects. Since 2008, Beyond Pesticides has worked with health care and elder care facilities to eliminate the use of toxic pesticides at their institutions. Hospital administrators typically recognize that the population served by their facilities have elevated risk factors with weakened immune and neurological systems, respiratory illness, cancer, and other pre-existing conditions or illnesses that make them especially vulnerable to pesticide exposure. However, hospitals regularly contract for pest control services from vendors and do not independently evaluate practices and product choices of the companies they hire.
The indictment states that from October 2005 to June 2009, “[Bio-Tech] repeatedly misapplied the registered pesticide Termidor SC in nursing homes in the state of Georgia and falsified documents to conceal the unlawful use.” The indictment goes on to allege that Bio-Tech applied Termidor SC more than twice a year indoors. Termidor SC’s label clearly states that the pesticide can only be used outdoors and no more than twice a year. Termidor SC contains the active ingredient fipronil, which has been linked to several acute and chronic health effects.
Fipronil, a broad spectrum insecticide, was first introduced in the U.S. in 1996. Even when fipronil is used correctly according to label instructions individuals who are exposed can still experience negative health effects. Acute symptoms of exposure to fipronil include headaches, nausea, dizziness, and weakness. It may also cause mild irritation of the eyes. Once absorbed fipronil is rapidly metabolized and residues are widely distributed in tissues where significant amounts of residues remain, particularly in fat. Fipronil is also a neurotoxin and an endocrine disruptor. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies fipronil as a Group C (possible human) carcinogen based on rat carcinogenicity studies.
The ten counts of unlawful use of a pesticide were part of the 51 counts listed in the federal indictment. The other chargers included one count of conspiracy, ten counts of making false statements twenty counts of falsifying records, and ten counts of mail fraud. The mail fraud, falsifying records and false statement charges alone carry potential penalties of up to 650 years in prison and $10 million in fines.
The indictment alleges that after Mr. Murray was told that the Georgia Department of Agriculture was investigating his company for illegal use of pesticides he instructed co-conspirators to falsify service reports. The co-conspirators allegedly falsified service reports to say that they used CyKick T, which is a non-existent pesticide. The indictment goes on to allege that Bio-Tech sent invoices through the U.S. Mail to their clients to solicit payment for the unlawful pesticide applications.
Bio-Tech had contracts with a network of nursing homes that span the state of Georgia from Chattanooga to near the Florida border. The two dozen nursing homes that were involved in the charges were primarily private nursing homes, but also included the Georgia Veterans Home in Milledgeville. According to the indictment the nursing homes were unaware of the pesticide misuse.
The pesticide misapplications are particularly disturbing as they took place in nursing homes. The elderly are more susceptible to the health effects of certain pollutants, such as pesticides, than other age groups. Health care facilities such as nursing homes have a special obligation to demonstrate leadership in instituting effective and safer pest management in keeping with the medical profession’s basic tenet of “first, do no harm.”
In 2008 Beyond Pesticides, Maryland Pesticide Network, and leading Maryland health and elder care facilities released, Taking Toxics out of Maryland’s Health Care Sector: Transition to Green Pest Management Practices to Protect Health and the Environment, a report that documented practices and policies to eliminate toxic pesticide use. Since this report Beyond Pesticides and Maryland Pesticide Network have worked with hospitals in Maryland to move away from using toxic pesticides and implement a strong Integrated Pest Management strategy (IPM) in their facilities.
For more information on Beyond Pesticides Healthy Hospital program please visit our Healthy Hospitals page.
All unattributed positions and opinions in this piece are those of Beyond Pesticides.