Worker died from pesticide exposure after fumigation, Broward medical examiner finds

2 found dead, 1 sickened after April fumigation in Pompano Beach

Pesticide company team members die in South Florida

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. – At least one of two pest control workers found dead in April after conducting a fumigation at a Pompano Beach warehouse died of pesticide exposure, according to newly-obtained reports from the Broward County Medical Examiner’s Office.

One report alludes to the possibility of “mishandling” of poisonous gas canisters.

Leon Johnson, 64, who was found dead outside of his Hollywood home, died of exposure to sulfuryl flouride, his autopsy states. The toxic gas is used to kill a variety of insects and rodents, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Tests found the chemical in the Anderson Pest Control worker’s system and on his clothes. The medical examiner ruled his death an accident.

Autopsy report:

According to an investigative report, just before 9:45 a.m. on April 22, a neighbor found Johnson unresponsive in his truck, which contained a sign that read “DANGER DEADLY POISON.” Hollywood Fire Rescue crews later pronounced him dead.

Local 10 News is still awaiting findings from the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner’s Office regarding the second worker, Jason Lambert, who was found dead in Boynton Beach.

Cris Anderson, who owns the Palm Beach County-based company, was also sickened and later hospitalized following the fumigation at the Baer’s Furniture Warehouse, located at 1589 NW 12th Ave.

According to the report, investigators later spoke to Anderson while he was in the hospital. He said the three started to fall ill while they were standing inside of their truck parked outside the warehouse. It states Anderson saw Johnson and Lambert vomiting and eventually sent them home.

Anderson explained the fumigation process in his interview with investigators.

“When fumigating, they are not inside, they are outside the whole time,” the investigator said Anderson explained. “They run hoses from the outside to the inside as part of the process. Once everything is in place and secured, they attach the sulfuryl flouride canisters to a hose and turn them on.”

Investigative report:

Anderson told investigators that he thought he and the two workers feeling sick because they were “dehydrated and tired” from working for about 32 to 36 hours straight.

“At approximately 9:30 am, Jason started not feeling well and was vomiting, Cris told him to go home,” the report states. “Around 10:30 am, Leon started not feeling well and vomiting and Cris told him to go lay down in the truck. Leon slept for about 2-3 hours. Leon woke up later and he was still a little sick but continued to work. Cris states they finished the job around 2-3 p.m.”

Anderson then fell ill and told Johnson to “take his truck home” and that he would “have someone pick him up,” the report states. Anderson would then go to the hospital after coming back home.

On April 25, the investigator wrote that he received a call from an investigator with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Service “to advise us that the chemical company who sold Anderson Pest Control Inc. the gas had returned over 100 canisters back to them with the valves still open and wanting to report the possibility of mishandling of the canisters.”

That same agency ordered Anderson Pest Control to halt fumigations in the aftermath of Johnson and Lambert’s deaths.

In April, an FDACS spokesperson said the agency was conducting its own investigation into the incident.

About the Authors:

Liane Morejon is an Emmy-winning reporter who joined the Local 10 News family in January 2010. Born and raised in Coral Gables, Liane has a unique perspective on covering news in her own backyard.

Chris Gothner joined the Local 10 News team in 2022 as a Digital Journalist.