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February 24, 2019

Inhalation of deadly toxic ‘Phosphine’ gas likely cause of death of children, their aunt at Qasr-e-Naz: chemical experts

National

February 24, 2019

KARACHI: The Inhalation of a highly toxic gas ‘Phosphine’ produced by a deadly fumigant ‘Aluminium Phosphide AlP’, instead of food poisoning, "is most likely" to have 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 were placed in the room to get rid of insects and rodents. The chemicals produced lethal and very toxic Phosphine gas and it is highly likely that the gas was inhaled by the children and their aunt and they died due to it”, said Dr. Shakeel Ahmed, Incharge of the Industrial Analytical Center of the HEJ Research Institute of Chemistry, University of Karachi.

Five children aging between 18 months to nine years had died at a room of Qasr-e-Naz on late Thursday night or early Friday morning while their 28-year old aunt also died a few hours later at the Aga Khan University Hospital Initially, police and the head of the family, Faisal suspected food poisoning after consuming Biryani, from a restaurant in Saddar, as the likely cause of death but when the chemical experts and investigators found the deadly fumigant in the room, they ruled out food poisoning as the likely cause of the death of the children and their aunt. A team from the HEJ Research Institute led-by Dr. Shakeel Ahmed and Chemical Lab of Sindh government collected over 40 samples from Qasr-e-Naz. The experts from both the institutions suspect that the use of Aluminium Phosphide could be the most likely cause of death. “We have started analysing the samples collected from the Qasr-e-Naz and its report would be submitted to the authorities while the actual cause of death can only be ascertained after completion of autopsy and the lab results. But the most apparent cause of death now appears to be the inhalation of toxic gas produced by fumigant used by the guest house administration,” Dr. Shakeel Ahmed said.

He claimed finding a heavy amount of Aluminium Phosphide from another room at Qasr-e-Naz and empty bottles of the insecticide from the store of the guest house and criticised that instead of first cleaning the room after fumigation, the administration gave the room to the guests, which led to the tragedy. The Director National Institute of Child Health, Karachi Prof. Jamal Raza, said Aluminium Phosphide could be the ‘most likely cause’ of deaths and not perhaps food poisoning. “The food poisoning can lead to death 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, which indicates the likelihood of poisoning,” Prof Raza added.

An official of the Chemical Laboratory of Sindh government also confirmed that Aluminium Phosphide tablets were used in Qasr-e-Naz for fumigation, and one of the rooms was given to the family without cleaning it properly, which led to inhalation of the deadly gas by the children and their aunt which in all likelihood resulted in their immediate deaths. “We were also part of the team that collected samples from the Qasr-e-Naz and we found the 'banned fumigant'”, an official of Sindh Chemical lab told The News.

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

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