Delaware Headmaster, Family Remain in Hospital After Possible Pesticide Poisoning in Virgin Islands

The head of a Delaware middle school and his wife are slowly recovering but their children remain critical more than a week after they were sickened, possibly by a pesticide, during a vacation in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Stephen Esmond, his wife Dr. Theresa Devine and their two teen sons were staying at the Sirenusa Condominium Resort in Cruz Bay, St. John, on Friday, March 20 when they suddenly became ill, suffering major respiratory trauma.

The family was eventually taken to hospitals in the Philadelphia area. Esmond and his wife are in serious condition while their two sons are in critical condition.


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Esmond is the headmaster of Tatnall’s Middle School in Wilmington while Dr. Devine is a local dentist. Their two teen sons attend Tatnall's high school. 

Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are investigating whether the family was sickened by a pesticide called methyl bromide. EPA officials say the pesticide may have been used to fumigate a room at the resort back on March 18, the same day the family checked in.

The use of methyl bromide is restricted in the United States because of its acute toxicity, according to the EPA. The pesticide is not authorized for use in buildings and only certified applicators are allowed to be used in certain agricultural settings.

Exposure to methyl bromide can cause damage to the central nervous system and respiratory system.

“Pesticides can be very toxic and it is critically important that they be applied properly and used only as approved by EPA,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. “Protecting people’s health in the U.S. Virgin Islands is of paramount importance. The EPA is actively working to determine how this happened and will make sure steps are taken to prevent this from happening to others at these vacation apartments or elsewhere.”

Charlie Tierney, the head of School at Tatnall, also released a statement on Esmond and his family.

“The Tatnall School family is sending its well-wishes and love to the Esmonds,” Tierney wrote. “We will continue to offer our prayers and positive, healing thoughts and support them in any way we can.”

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