The exterminator Denise Wainwright hired to spray her mobile home 2-1/2 years ago got rid of the roaches, but the chemical left a strong odor and caused her walls and carpet to yellow.
She also noticed dead birds in the yard.
“A moth flew in and fell right to the floor,” she recalled.
The family cat died.
Wainwright herself started vomiting, feeling dizzy and suffering fatigue, but the 45-year-old former bus driver blamed her diabetes.
Now she knows better.
State health experts say Wainwright’s family and dozens of others across southeastern Mississippi were sickened by a cotton-field pesticide that can kill people when used indoors. In fact, it is so toxic that farmers can’t return to their fields for two days after it is sprayed.
Authorities say two unlicensed exterminators sprayed hundreds of homes with the chemical, methyl parathion, which attacks the central nervous system.
There are no reports of anyone being sick enough to be hospitalized, but state health chief Ed Thompson said the death of a child from a respiratory ailment after the youngster’s home was sprayed is under investigation.
So far, 67 families have been moved into hotels while their homes are decontaminated, and authorities have also closed a motel, a restaurant and six day-care centers.
It will take weeks just to figure out the extent of the contamination, and it could be January before anyone can move back home.
The Environmental Protection Agency calls it one of the nation’s worst cases of pesticide misuse and estimated the cost of the cleanup at $50 million. Carpets, drywall and other porous material may have to be replaced.
Health authorities have told people that their symptoms will disappear once they are away from the chemical.
Federal authorities have charged the exterminators, Paul Walls and Dock Eatman, with illegally applying two pesticides. Eatman could get 23 years in prison and $2.3 million in fines; Walls could be sentenced to 48 years and fined $4.8 million.
The 61-year-old men said they never knew the chemical was so dangerous.
Wainwright recalled paying Walls $45 for each of about seven visits, about $15 more than Orkin. “He wasn’t cheaper. He was good,” she said.
A hot line set up for victims is getting about 100 calls daily from people complaining of illnesses ranging from shortness of breath to nervous system disorders.