"I would absolutely not harm my customers at all. That is the first thing on my mind," Cary Buck said.
Buck has owned and operated AAA Accredited Pest Control out of his home in North Clarendon for 28 years. Buck says his customers are his top priority, but his business is the focus of a state investigation. Buck allegedly used Chlorpyrifos to spray homes for bugs-- a chemical that has been banned for indoor use by the Environmental Protection Agency since 2001.
"It can cause excessive salivation, diarrhea, urination, vomiting, and then affect your respiratory system on an acute basis," said Dr. Harry Chen, the commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health.
Chen says of the 61 homes tested in the Rutland region so far, 20 came back positive for the illegal pesticide. On Thursday afternoon, detectives from the attorney general's office and members from the Vt. Agency of Agriculture executed a search warrant at Buck's residence. Officials say Mr. Buck's violations may have surpassed the Agency of Agriculture's pesticide regulation and he may face criminal charges.
"It's the same thing as a sour milk container. You can rinse it out 50 times, but you are still going to smell it," Buck said.
Buck says he could have been spraying the banned pesticide unintentionally. His 50-gallon spray tank is made of plastic, and could have residue from when he legally used the chemical decades ago. He also says Chlorpyrifos has a shelf life of more than 20 years, and if any homes that tested positive were a result of his spray, he never had knowledge of the banned chemical being in his tanks. But that's not what his customers say.
"I asked him what he did, and he said I sprayed this chemical that had been banned since 2001-- I went out and purchased as many cases as I could before it got pulled from the shelves. And that he used-- I don't remember if he said five or six cans-- but he said he really sprayed a good amount of this chemical," customer Richard Neuman said.
Neuman says after a wasp infestation, he called AAA Accredited Pest Control to help. He says Buck didn't tell him the chemicals used were illegal until after he sprayed. Neuman says his family only lives in Vermont part time, but says he worries for those 20 families who were exposed to the chemicals for extended periods of time.
"I've heard stories of people actually being sprayed with the chemical. Couches have been doused with this type of chemical. Beds have been doused with this chemical. And then when it dries, it still doesn't matter-- it stays around for 20 years. So people have been sleeping in it," Neuman said.
The health department says they have contacted 150 additional families that may have been exposed to the illegal pesticide. At this point, 10 families have already been asked to relocate within a week. As for who will pay for the cleanup, that is a big question for these families that isn't being answered. Neuman says his insurance company will not cover any costs, and that other families are being told the same. The health department says they are working with the EPA to see what funds are available.
If you have questions about health effects, protective actions, or to have your home tested call the Department of Health at 800-439-8550 (VT only) or 802-652-0357.
If you feel sick after pesticide has been used in your home call your doctor or the Northern New England Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222 or chat online at www.nnepc.org.
If you have questions, dial 2-1-1 to call Vermont 2-1-1, United Ways of Vermont.