New Zealand’s 60 Minutes has investigated the mysterious case of Sarah Carter, a young tourist who died while visiting Thailand. Journalist Sarah Hall believes they have evidence Carter was killed by the overuse of the insecticide Chlorpyrifos, which was applied to treat bed bugs in her hotel.
60 Minutes consulted an expert who said the symptoms in the case and the levels of Chlorpyrifos that Hall found present in the room and others nearby after three months had passed (and after the rooms were apparently scrubbed clean), suggest Chlorpyrifos poisoning.
According to 60 minutes, seven tourists have recently died in Chiang Mai hotels under mysterious circumstances, most with remarkably similar symptoms including myocarditis (inflammation of the heart), and four of these (Carter, an English couple, and a Thai travel guide writer) died after staying in the same Downtown Inn hotel within the space of two months.
According to Hall, Thai authorities have raided the pest control firm involved. The World Health Organization is now investigating, according to this 3 News video report from Monday. You can watch the detailed 60 Minutes piece on this case which aired Sunday (approximately 15 minutes long), or read an article on the story from 3 News. 60 minutes journalist Sarah Hall talks more about the investigation in this video, and The Daily Mail (UK) also has coverage of this story.
Although Chlorpyrifos, an organophosphate, is still in use domestically in some countries, it is banned for domestic use in New Zealand, and also banned under the EU Biocidal Products Directive, and by South Africa. In the US, it is restricted to outdoor use in mainly agricultural settings (see the EPA’s Chlorpyrifos Facts).
Some US pest control professionals speak fondly of the effectiveness of this product against bed bugs; we’ve also heard from Bedbugger Forums users whose homes were treated with Chlorpyrifos in Sweden in 2009, and Russia in 2008.
Even if a particular pesticide can be used safely, this story reminds us that misapplication and overapplication can be deadly. My heart goes out to the families and friends of Sarah Carter and the other tourists who have died, and I hope the authorities are able to verify the cause of death and take the steps needed to avoid further tragedies.