Family of poisoned 10-year-old: 'This can never happen to another family'

Exclusive Contact 5 Investigation:
 
Peyton McCaughey, 10, suffered brain damage from toxic gas after his family's Palm City home was fumigated in August. His parents now say pest control practices need to change. 
 
A state investigation determined a number of things went wrong in order for Peyton to be poisoned. In fact, Florida's Department of Agriculture revoked the license of Sunland Pest Control, the company sub-contracted by Terminix to do the job.  
 
The Commissioner of Agriculture, Adam Putnam, also has his inspector general reviewing all safety practices in the fumigation industry. The Contact 5 Investigators went a step further.        
 
 
"His head would flop side to side," said Carl.
 
"He couldn't stabilize his eyes. He asked if he was going to die at one point," said Lori.
 
Now, three months later, Lori and Carl say their son's recovery is just beginning.
 
"From the time he gets up, to the time he goes to bed, he needs one of us there," said Carl.
 
Lori and Carl say they would gladly trade places with their 10-year-old son if they could.
 
"If there's one thing that comes out of this, if there's one thing people should know, what do you think that is?" asked Contact 5 Investigator Jared Werksma.
 
"There's got to be something done to where this can never happen to another family," said Carl.
 
That starts by assuring fumigated homes are clear of the toxic gas sulfuryl fluoride.
 
The investigation done by the Florida Department of Agriculture after Peyton was injured revealed gas monitors used by Sunland Pest Control to ensure the McCaughey's home was safe to reenter were dilapidated.
 
In fact, an expert said, "It's our opinion neither of these (devices) have been working properly in the last year."
 
"Do you think a third party should actually come in and check the work of the contractor?" asked Werksma. "That's one idea," said Carl.
 
Another idea is taking an entirely different approach to in home pest control.
 
"Is thermal pest control as dangerous as sulfuryl fluoride?" asked Werksma.  "Not to humans no, absolutely not. It's just clean heat," said Scott Gosney of Advanced Pest Control.
 
Gosney says his crews can heat a house, apartment or even a single room to 160 degrees to kill any pests by simply blowing hot air into the home.
 
"That's what people need to know. There are alternatives to fumigation," said Gosney.
 
California's Department of Consumer Affairs touts fumigation and heating as, "The only options that ensure eradication" of termites. However, in Florida the heating process is virtually unheard of. 
 
"Why do you suppose that is?" asked Werksma. 
 
"It's not cookie cutter, easy pest control," said Gosney. "For an (average house) we would have four or five people here all day for about 10 hours at least."
 
Gosney says it has its price.
 
"Sulfuryl fluoride is a cheaper process?" Werksma asked.  
 
"It tends to be just because of competition," said Gosney, who says as thermal pest control becomes more established in Florida, prices will equalize as they have in California.
 
Right now Gosney says he charges around $1,000 more to kill termites with heat in an average size house than it would cost if you hired most fumigators. 
 
Gosney adds, however, "The good news is you can sleep in your own bed the same night." 
 
Gosney said his crews are in and out of your home the same day.  This could add up to big savings because if your home is fumigated, you may need to eat the cost of a hotel for several nights.
 
Dr. Bill Louda, an environmental chemist from Florida Atlantic University, says cost should not be the only factor when considering to use sulfuryl fluoride.
 
"This is an extremely, extremely strong poison. It's not only used for termites, but it's also used for rodents, rats and mice. If it's going to kill a rat and a mouse, it will also kill people," said Louda.
 
But Louda says there's also a larger issue every time the gas is used.
 
"When you vent it, where are you venting it? You're venting it out into the atmosphere," said Louda.
   
In 2009, an MIT study determined sulfuryl fluoride was a greenhouse gas "about 4,800 times more potent a heat trapping gas than carbon dioxide." 
 
"Is one house enough to hurt the environment, probably not, but a thousand (homes)?" said Louda.
 
The Contact 5 Investigators have learned the numbers in Florida are much higher. According to the Department of Agriculture, there were 10,535 reported sulfuryl fluoride fumigations in 2010.  By 2014 that number exploded to 63,491.
 
"This happens every day. You see houses tented everywhere," Lori McCaughey says it lulled her family into a false sense of security.
 
"There was no concern," said Lori.  
 
It's a distant memory now as Lori and Carl watch Peyton struggle daily with brain damage."  
 
"Anger, frustration but then hope that he's definitely going to get better."
 
"But they have told you not to expect that?" asked Werksma.
 
"Some of the doctors have, but they can't really say for certain," said Carl.
 
In fact, right now there's only one question the McCaugheys can answer for certain.
 
"Do you think you'll ever have your home fumigated again?" asked Werksma.
 
"No. Absolutely not," said Carl.
 
The Contact 5 Investigators spoke with Commissioner Putnam at the end of September about Peyton McCaughey, fumigation and the action the Department of Agriculture is taking.
 
"I've asked our inspector general to look at the statutes that govern (fumigation) and the process that was undertaken in reaction to this tragedy to see if there are ways to improve upon it. I think in the wake of a tragedy like this, it is important to review the whole system," said Putnam. "Unfortunately termites are a big part of living in Florida, so these fumigations are necessary and will continue to occur in Florida, but let's make sure that the right processes are in place," he added.
 
Putnam never mentioned alternatives to fumigation when we spoke in September and his inspector general has not yet released any recommendations to improve safety in the fumigation industry.
 
We have shared the results our Contact 5 Investigation with Putnam.  
 
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services released this statement:

The incident involving Peyton is heartbreaking, and in addition to taking administrative action against Sunland Pest Control, we have been aggressively reviewing this case and all pest control companies’ fumigations in order to identify enhancements in this regulatory area. We look forward to working with the Legislature this legislative session in order to strengthen laws that relate to fumigations.

 

Print this article Back to Top