Starbucks was slapped with two lawsuits in New York City on Tuesday, which claim that the coffee giant “intentionally and wantonly exposed its customers to toxic chemicals” in the form of pest-control strips — and then fired a concerned store manager, a pest control technician and his supervisor who complained.
PEOPLE obtained a copy of a class-action suit filed in Manhattan state court, in which 10 Starbucks customers allege they were exposed over a three-year period to Dichlorvos (or DDVP), a poisonous and potentially deadly pesticide emitted into the air by Hot Shot No-Pest Strips.
The strips, according to its website, are used to eliminate bugs like cockroaches, maggots, and flies through “a clean, odorless vapor.” Each strip will treat a 900-1,200 cu ft. space, and are not to be placed “in the food/feed areas of food/feed processing or food/feed manufacturing or food/feed service establishments,” Hot Shot No-Pest Strips’ manufacture Spectrum Brand Holdings warns.
Yet the lawsuit alleges Starbucks placed the strips adjacent to air vents, near food-prep equipment, under counters, and in enclosed food cases, “coating coating the bakery items therein with a dangerous amount of poison.”
A second lawsuit, also filled Tuesday but in Manhattan’s federal court and obtained by PEOPLE, claimed that a Starbucks employee, store manager Rafael Fox, was fired in February 2018 after complaining about the strips’ misuse.
That same suit alleges that a pest control technician and his supervisor, Paul D’Auria and Jill Shwiner, complained that the strips were being misused in multiple Manhattan Starbucks locations from 2016 through 2018. Their contract was terminated by Starbucks in June 2018 — a move the lawsuit claims was to silence the technician’s “repeated reports and complaints about the foregoing risks to health and safety.”
Reps for Starbucks did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment, but spokesman Reggie Borges told USA Today the lawsuits “lack merit and is an attempt to incite public fear for their own financial gain.“
“We go to great lengths to ensure the safety of customers and employees,” he said, adding that local leadership team removed the products that violated those standards and that products used in Starbucks stores must meet corporate safety guidelines.
Additionally, Borges said that experts assured Starbucks employees and customers were not exposed to any health risks.
Nearly two dozen photos of examples of the Hot Shot No-Pest Strip alleged violations in Starbucks stores were provided in the lawsuit’s papers, including a shot of the strips in a display case next to a tray of bagels.
The court documents claim the problem started when the company refused to deal with standing water, spills, and rodent droppings promptly under sinks and in food-prep areas, which led for a breeding ground for mold and pests like cockroaches, maggots, flies, fruit flies, silverfish and other pests.
“Starbucks stores throughout Manhattan have for many years been permeated with a toxic pesticide called Dichlorvos, which is highly poisonous and completely unfit for use in proximity to food, beverages and people,” the lawsuit alleges. “These customers were completely oblivious to the fact that every second they remained in Starbucks brought with it additional exposure to a dangerous poison in the air they breathed and in the products they consumed.”
“New Yorkers deserve to know what they are putting in their bodies,” attorney Douglas H. Wigdor added in a statement. “We call upon Starbucks to explain, as we allege in the complaint, its failure to take appropriate care for its customers’ well-being.”
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The United States Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease warns that humans should not come into contact with DDVP, explaining that dichlorvos poisoning can lead to “nausea, anxiousness, restlessness, teary eyes and heavy sweating.” Further symptoms can include “loss of bladder control, muscle tremors, and labored breathing,” while the most server poisoning can result in “coma, inability to breathe, and death.”
Plaintiffs in both lawsuits are seeking an unspecified amount of damages.
Starbucks claimed more than $22 billion in annual revenue in 2018. The company boast more than 27,500 stores in nearly 80 countries.