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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

EPA Called In After Banned Pesticide Forces Families From Rutland Homes

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Six Rutland households have had to relocate after an exterminator used a banned pesticide and hundreds of other Rutland County residents may also have been exposed.

State officials say the situation presents a serious health danger and they’ve called the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for help.

The story began last April when a Rutland family discovered it had bed bugs.  The family hired AAA Accredited Pest Control of North Clarendon.  Owner Cary Buck, a state licensed exterminator, allegedly used several insecticides to get rid of the bugs - unfortunately one was chlorpyrifos.

Chlorpyrifos will definitely kill bed bugs, but Cary Giguere, an agrichemical expert with Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture, says its been banned for more than a decade.

“It was canceled in 2001 because it’s an organophosphate,” says Giguere, “and there were human health concerns and that pesticide is what we were finding on our swab samples at very, very high levels.”

He says finding high levels of Chlorpyrifos in the home Buck treated for bedbugs was alarming because the insecticide can cause nervous system and developmental disorders and is especially dangerous to pregnant women.  Because of that, Giguere says the state needed to find out exactly how many homes Buck may have contaminated.

“We didn’t know how large this was going to get,” says Giguere. “We collected all the invoices for this company and we ended up finding chlorpyrifos use in other non bed bug jobs as well.”

The state has identified 262 potential homes and apartments that need to be tested - all in Rutland County.

So far, he says 92 samples have been sent to the state’s lab.  “There are a number of folks who are not in their houses,” says Giguere. “There are folks that are displaced.  The number changes on a daily basis - but we’re finding about a 30 percent positive hit rate of the houses that we do sample.”

Meaning they’ve found traces of the banned pesticide in three out of every ten homes they test.  Giguere says the severity of the contamination varies, but he says some buildings are so bad he’d compare them to Superfund sites.

It’s a situation that’s been frightening and traumatic for the affected homeowners.  State public health nurses have been going door to door with the testing teams to help address any health concerns. And four families qualified for the state’s temporary emergency housing assistance program.

Vermont health commissioner Harry Chen says his department has tried to stay in constant communication with the families affected.

“We actually have case managers to work with them to try and answer their questions about what they should do about their belongings and what some of them should do about cleaning up their houses,” he says.

Chen says the health department has just released clean up guidelines for the 11 households currently identified with very low levels of contamination.  He says he’s hopeful that the state and EPA will be able to clean those homes with high levels.

While Chen thinks the most serious contamination has already been found, he says it’s important for the state to continue testing.

Cary Giguere of Vermont’s Agency of Agriculture agrees, but says its put a tremendous strain on his department.  “It’s overwhelmed us completely- there are a lot of other things we’re not working on that are important to Vermonters.” 

Dominique Golliot is the department’s senior field agent in Rutland.  He says in 20 years as an inspector, he’s never seen anything like this.

“My job for the last three months is 100 percent for this case.”  Golliot says. “Inspectors from other territories all over the state have had to help with this matter too because it’s too much for me alone.”

Because of the serious health implications, the state has asked for federal help and just this week about a dozen field officers from the EPA’s Boston Bureau arrived in Rutland.  The Center for Disease Control and Prevention  also sent a field agent who has expertise in toxic substances.

The state suspended Cary Buck’s exterminator’s license, but it remains to be seen what if any criminal charges he may face.  Both the EPA Criminal Division and the state's attorney general’s office would only confirm that the matter is under investigation.