Exterminator pleads guilty in pesticide spill

Cypermethrin leaked in Rock Creek last year

up to 150,000 fish killed

November 27, 2001|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

GREENBELT - A prosecutor asked a federal judge yesterday to jail the owner of a Montgomery County pest control firm and fine his company $100,000 because of the damage caused when it spilled pesticide into Rock Creek last year, killing thousands of fish.

He also wants an apology.

Assistant U.S. Attorney James C. Howard asked U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow to require Martin Ira Rhode, 48, of Brookeville to apologize for the spill of cypermethrin - a pesticide used to kill termites and other insects - on May 17, 2000, into a storm drain at Pied Piper Pest Control Inc. in Silver Spring.

Howard made the request at a hearing in which Rhode pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of violating the Clean Water Act, and his firm pleaded guilty to felony violations of the Clean Water Act and federal pesticide laws.

The prosecutor said that he wants Rhode to publish an apology, after he is sentenced Jan. 28, in a newspaper that serves the community harmed by the spill, and to word the apology in a way that acknowledges responsibility "for the nuisance conditions created."

Howard said after the hearing that such an apology is not unprecendented for environmental crimes. "Exxon had to apologize" after the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska, he said.

Stanley J. Reed, Rhode's lawyer, said that the company has been in business for 40 years, and that his client is remorseful and will apologize if the judge requires it.

Chasanow gave no indication yesterday whether she would require an apology. She said that Rhode could be sentenced to up to one year in prison and his company could be fined up to $200,000.

The spill killed up to 150,000 fish over an 8-mile stretch of the creek, a tributary of the Potomac River, and prompted investigations by Montgomery County, state and federal officials.

Rhode and his firm were charged separately after investigators traced the spill to the company's facilities on Garfield Avenue, according to papers filed in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

One of Rhode's employees, Charles Lewis Thomas III, is charged with causing the spill by washing some of the pesticide into a storm drain after it splashed on the ground while he was changing a pump on a truck.

Thomas, 49, of Berwyn Heights, Prince George's County, is charged with misdemeanor violations of the Clean Water Act and federal pesticide laws. His trial has not been scheduled.

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