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May 30 2007 - Lawsuit blames death on insect control firm

Fred Kolbeck sued Eugene Oregon-based Swanson's Pest Management on Thursday, claiming that the company is responsible for the death of his wife, Florence, after its technician sprayed pesticide chemicals in their home two years ago.

Kolbeck said, among other things, that a state investigator found that the company's technician wasn't licensed to treat homes - and had failed his licensing test seven times. The employee also used three times the allowed amount of a chemical in treating the house, according to findings cited in an affidavit filed by a federal agent.

Florence Kolbeck died of cardiac arrest after she and her husband returned to their home after it was fumigated. Fred Kolbeck was hospitalized for respiratory distress, and several paramedics who came to the house also experienced symptoms.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Lane County Circuit Court, seeks more than $2.5 million in damages. Swanson's operations manager, Joan Jensen, declined to comment on the case, saying there's "nothing new to report."

Kolbeck's lawsuit is based on the state Department of Agriculture's investigation of the case, which concluded that the company violated federal law in several ways when technician Bill Granstrom sprayed the home for bugs on June 29, 2005. The state hasn't made its report public, but Eric Martenson, a special agent with the Environmental Protection Agency, referenced that investigation in a search warrant affidavit he filed last fall in U.S. District Court.

Among the state's findings, according to the affidavit:

• Granstrom, while licensed as a commercial pesticide applicator by the state of Oregon, was not licensed to treat homes for general pests. He had failed the tests to acquire that license seven times before spraying the Kolbecks' home for bugs, and he failed it again after Kolbeck died. Only on Granstrom's ninth try did he pass. "Label interpretation" and "label comprehension" are a part of the exam. His supervisor, Swanson's former general manager David Ottovich, told investigators that he thought Granstrom's "directly supervised commercial pesticide trainee" license was in effect on the day Kolbeck died. But it had expired six months earlier.

• The two chemicals Granstrom mixed to spray the Kolbecks' home - "Conquer Residential Insecticide Concentrate" and "ULD BP-100 Contact Insecticide" - contained three times the allowable percentage of "esfenvalerate," the pyrethroid chemical that ultimately caused Florence Kolbeck's death.

• Granstrom did not ventilate the Kolbeck house before he left, despite requirements to that effect on the labels of both of the chemicals he used. Granstrom also did not tell the Kolbecks to ventilate their home before re-entering, he told investigators.

• Granstrom also misused the chemicals he sprayed at the Kolbecks, according to investigators, by misapplying his mixture to window frames, window sills, baseboards, below sinks and in kitchen cupboards. Conquer is to be used to treat voids in equipment and structures, not other areas, the EPA agent said.

Kolbeck's lawsuit adds that the two pesticides applied in his home weren't on the contract he signed, and that Conquer contains a naturally occurring form of pyrethrin - which is eight times more toxic than the synthetic form - along with chemicals intended to increase its effect.

Kolbeck is suing Swanson's for alleged negligence, trespass, nuisance and infliction of emotional distress.

Neither Kolbeck nor his Eugene attorney, Ralph Bradley, returned phone calls seeking comment on the lawsuit on Friday.

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