Exterminator fined after children fell ill at Ottawa school

An Ottawa pest control company has been fined $130,000 after pleading guilty to improperly spraying a pesticide that made several teachers and about 50 children at Charles H. Hulse school ill in April 2015.

Rentokil, employee pleaded guilty Thursday under Pesticides Act for 2015 at elementary school

Teachers and children at Charles H. Hulse Public School fell ill after the building was sprayed for cockroaches in April 2015. (CBC)

An Ottawa pest control company has been fined $130,000 after pleading guilty to improperly spraying a pesticide that made several teachers and about 50 children at Charles H. Hulse school ill in April 2015. 

One of the company's technicians, Luc Lortie, also pleaded guilty under the province's Pesticides Act and was fined $2,400. An Ontario Court justice gave both Lortie and the company, Rentokil Pest Control Canada Limited, 60 days to pay the fines. 

According to the agreed statement of facts, the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board has also been "substantially reimbursed by Rentokil Pest Control Canada Limited and its insurer for all expenses incurred as a result of the April 11, 2015 incident." 

Cockroach infestation

The school had been dealing with a cockroach infestation since the fall of 2013, and hired Rentokil to apply pesticides several times between then and March 2015. 

Gardex 1% Baygon residual insecticide was used over the Christmas holiday in December 2014, according to the court documents, because it was not recommended "for maintenance treatments within occupied spaces due to its very aromatic formulation." 

The cockroach problem persisted, and the OCDSB requested another application from Rentokil in the spring of 2015. 

Lortie came to the school April 11, 2015 and applied both the Gardex pesticide and another one called Konk 400 Residual Insecticide spray. The application to the children's daycare and two nearby washrooms took two hours to complete.

The custodian at the school said Lortie advised him "to mop up some excess pesticide on the floor of the daycare with hot soapy water," according to the documents. "The custodian passed this information on to the evening custodian who mopped up the areas where the pesticide had been applied. He describes observing an oily substance on the floor of the daycare area."

Lortie also asked the custodian to leave a staff washroom door open at the end of the day to ventilate the washroom, but the custodian didn't, according to the documents.

Principal noticed smell

The next day, a Sunday, the principal noticed a smell and advised the chief custodian in an email. The principal remained in the school with her window open, but noticed all the other windows were closed. 

The chief custodian arrived at the school early Monday and opened the windows, then called Rentokil. Lortie returned to the school at about 10 a.m. and told the custodian and principal the smell would dissipate if all the windows were left open. 

However throughout the day, children and staff began to report symptoms such as itching, watery eyes, sore throats, dizziness and headaches. 

On the Tuesday, the school notified Ottawa Public Health. OPH then called in the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change. Lortie returned that night with additional Rentokil staff and wiped the areas where the pesticides had been applied.

On the Wednesday, with the odour continuing, OPH asked OCDSB staff to scrub affected areas with soap and water. The daycare kids were moved to the gymnasium and kindergarten students were relocated to a different classroom. 

Students moved out

The school was closed Friday, April 17, while workers removed carpeting, drywall and repainted areas where the chemical had been sprayed. All the students were temporarily moved to an empty school in the west end of Ottawa.

According to the agreed statement of facts, the school's daycare had to be partially demolished and rebuilt as a precaution. 

Both the Ministry of the Environment and Health Canada determined:

  • There was inadequate ventilation of the treated area.
  • Pooled liquid and staining suggested excessive application of the pesticides.
  • Excess pesticide was not cleaned up quickly.
  • The pesticide was applied with the wrong kind of nozzle.

Crown counsel stated that a review conducted by OPH concluded the symptoms reported were likely caused by solvents found in the pesticide rather than the pesticide's active ingredient, proxopur.

Court also learned that the pesticides in question have been re-classified by authorities and are no longer approved for use in schools and daycare facilities.