A 10-year-old boy suffered brain damaged and his family fell ill after their family home in Florida was fumigated for termites. The gas fumigant sulfuryl fluoride was the ‘restricted use pesticide’ used to fumigate the McCaughey home.
Terminix subcontractor Sunland Pest Control sprayed Peyton McCaughey’s home on August 14, and the family was told it would be safe to return on August 16. As soon as they returned, they began to feel sick, according to Peyton’s uncle, Ed Gribben. Gribben said that everyone was vomiting, but Peyton was in even worse shape.
The young boy had trouble standing and speaking, so the family took him to a local clinic where a doctor began to suspect the fumigation was the cause of his illness.
Peyton’s parents, Lori and Carl McCaughey, recovered, as did their 7-year-old daughter, but after two weeks in three different hospitals, Peyton can barely speak. The youngster has lost 90% of his motor skills, his uncle says.
“He has traumatic brain injury and loss of motor skills,” Williams said. “The rest of the family is fine, thank God. The little boy is not fine.”
According to Gribben, the child is able to smile and laugh, but he can’t get the words out that he wants to say, and that he “can’t move the way he wants to move, and frustration sets in.”
The family is especially concerned about the results of a CT scan on Peyton’s brain.
A source familiar with the incident says the Department of Justice has opened a criminal case. On Friday, the Florida department of Agricultural and Consumer Services said it was collaborating with the DOJ in the investigation.
“While our investigation is ongoing, we are issuing a Stop Work Order prohibiting (Sunland Pest Control) from conducting any fumigations at this time,” the agricultural and consumer services department said in a statement.
In a statement, Terminix said: “We were saddened to learn of this and our hearts are with the family. We are carefully reviewing the matter.”
This is not the first time that a Terminix fumigation has harmed people. A family vacationing on St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands were sickened in March after a suspected pesticide exposure. Methyl bromide showed up on preliminary tests conducted on the villa where the family was station. The substance is not legally permitted for indoor use in the United States.
The family in that case, Delaware residents, are recovering, but a source close to the family says the father and two sons have also lost much of their motor skills.
The DOJ and the Environmental Protection Agency are investigating the case.
According to the Fluoride Action Network, a 1998 study compared the effects of sulfuryl fluoride on workers who used either that substance or methyl bromide. Investigators found that sulfuryl fluoride workers suffered “subclinical effects on the central nervous system” as well as observable “cognitive deficits.”
The organization also noted that severe and rare brain effects were observed in all animals (rats, mice, rabbits, dogs) that were exposed to sulfuryl fluoride in experiments conducted by DowAgroSciences. Dow petitioned the EPA in 2001 for an Experimental Use Permit to spray the gas on raisins and walnuts.