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Pakistan

February 23, 2019

Exclusive: Inhalation of deadly toxic ‘Phosphine’ gas, instead of food-poisoning killed five children, their aunt at Qasr-e-Naz: chemical experts

Pakistan

Sat, Feb 23, 2019

Karachi: Inhalation of a highly toxic gas ‘Phosphine’ produced by a deadly fumigant ‘Aluminium Phosphide AlP’, instead of food poisoning, most likely resulted in the deaths of five children and their paternal aunt at the room of Qasr-e-Naz State Guest House on night between Thursday and Friday, forensic experts told The News on Saturday.

“A large number of pellets or tablets of the deadly fumigant Aluminium Phosphide had been placed in the room to get rid of insects and rodents. The chemical produced Phosphine gas and it is highly likely that the gas was inhaled by the children and their aunt, who died as the phosphine gas is highly toxic and lethal”, said Dr. Shakeel Ahmed, Incharge of the Industrial Analytical Center of HEJ Research Institute of Chemistry, University of Karachi.

Five children ageing between 18 months to nine year had died at a room of Qasr-e-Naz on late Thursday night or early Friday morning while their 28-year old aunt had died a few hours later at Aga Khan University Hospital in mysterious circumstances.

Initially, police and the head of the ill-fated family, Faisal had suspected food poisoning as the likely cause of death after consuming Biryani from a restaurant in Saddar but when chemical experts and investigators found the deadly fumigant in the room, they ruled out food poisoning as the possible cause of children and their aunt’s death.

A team from the HEJ Research Institute led-by Dr. Shakeel Ahmed as well as Chemical Lab of Sindh government collected over 40 samples from Qasr-e-Naz and chemical experts from both the institutions suspected that use of Aluminium Phosphide could be the most likely cause of children and their aunt’s death.

“We have started analysing the samples collected from the Qasr-e-Naz and its report would be submitted only to authorities while actual cause of death can only be ascertained after completion of autopsy and lab results. But the most apparent cause of death now appears to be inhalation of toxic gas produced by fumigant used by the guest house administration”, Dr. Shakeel Ahmed said.

He claimed that they also found heavy amount of Aluminium Phosphide from another room at Qasr-e-Naz but also found empty bottles of the insecticide from the store of the guest house and deplored that instead of cleaning the room after using the deadly fumigant, the administration gave the room to the guests, which led to the tragedy.

Eminent paediatrician and Director National Institute of Child Health (NICH) Karachi Prof. Jamal Raza said Aluminium Phosphide could be the ‘most likely cause’ of deaths of children and their aunt as compared to food poisoning.

“Food poisoning can lead to deaths but it takes time and if patients are shifted to the hospital, their lives can be saved. But in this case, by the time children were shifted to the hospital, they were already dead or died on the way to the health facility, which indicates the likelihood of poisoning”, Prof. Jamal Raza added.

An official of the Chemical Laboratory of Sindh government also confirmed that Aluminium Phosphide tablets had been used in the rooms of Qasr-e-Naz for fumigation, and one of the room was given to Quetta family without cleaning it properly, which led to inhalation of deadly gas by the children and their aunt and resulted in their immediate deaths.

“We were also part of the team that collected samples from the Qasr-e-Naz along with police and we found usage of banned fumigant which is likely cause of deaths of Mr. Faisal’s children and his sister”, an official of Sindh Chemical lab told The News.

How fumigant AlP killed children?

“Aluminium Phosphide pellets or tablets had been placed in the room of Qasr-e-Naz, which reacted with moisture in the air and produced phosphine gas. This gas is denser than air so it remained near the floor. Children were placed on the carpet and they slept immediately after eating Biryani. Phosphine gas was there in abundance, which was inhaled by the sleeping child and they died as their respiratory system collapsed”, the expert from Sindh Chemical Lab informed.

He said Aluminium Phosphide was not a household fumigant and is only used to disinfect grain in silos or in the transportation vessels, adding that it is widely used for committing suicides in the rural India while it has also caused several accidental deaths around the globe.