Criminal investigation launched in Amarillo pesticide deaths

Investigators with the State Department of Agriculture are trying to find out where an Amarillo homeowner got a hold of some highly toxic industrial pesticide. It’s believed the misuse of that chemical created a toxic gas that killed four children

There are many different brands of pesticide available for homeowners. However, quick and easy can lead to big problems according to Bobby Jenkins with ABC Pest Control.

"The right product in the wrong hands can cause a tragic occurrence is what we are witnessing in Amarillo. I mean I can't think of anything worse that I've seen in all my years than this kind of misapplication … and the results that occurred from this ... it is absolutely heartbreaking."

Monday morning 10 people inside a home in Amarillo were exposed to a poisonous gas, four children died. It’s believed the gas was caused by a toxic pesticide that was put under the home by a family member, who later tried to wash it away.

The emergency management coordinator for the City of Amarillo said Tuesday they are now trying to find a way to decontaminate the home.

"He didn't know enough about the chemical. The chemical is sold to only people that have a license to apply it, and he got this black market,” said Lt. Josh Whitney with the Amarillo Fire Department

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has hired a private contractor to help with the decontamination job. It’s not known when the home will be safe for the family to return.

The Chemicals that make up the pesticide are not for the novice according to Jenkins.

"Oh this is, this is as far away from a novice doing this as anything that I can possibly think of, this is as far out there as anything that a homeowner could do which should be the last thing that a homeowner should be using."

There are nearly 30 pages to the application manual for the pesticide which was identified as Weevil-cide. It is designed to killed insects and burrowing pest. It’s usually applied in silos and rail cars according to Jenkins.

"When used properly it’s a good product, but very specialized, no way in the world should this product have been able to be used by a consumer,  and not only by a consumer but in this manner, this is nowhere in the realm of a plausibility that this product should have been used in this manner."

In Texas, the pesticide is regulated by the Department of Agriculture. Two Inspectors with the agency are now helping authorities in Amarillo to track down where it came from. As the investigation moves forward, officials say it’s important to understand the threat is certainly not limited to just commercial grade pesticides.

Exposure cases are tracked by the National Pesticide Information Center. In 2015, more than 800 inquiries about pesticides came from Texas; the number of calls was second only to California. The center documented almost 35-hundred accidents nationwide which resulted in 2 human deaths and 47 animal deaths. The majority of the exposures, 82%, involved misapplications and most of the cases were caused by a homeowner.

"It’s always about over application, we use if one glub is good, two glubs must be twice as good, and that’s just not the case at all. It’s all about a very prescriptive, exact measurement of the product to be used in the areas being treated, and professionals know that,” said Jenkins.

For those determined to do it themselves, Jenkins says reading the directions must always be the first step.

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