Two children are dead after their mother accidentally exposed the family to phosphine, a highly toxic insecticide.
The mother of five children illegally imported phosphine from Pakistan after a family vacation. She was attempting to combat a bed bug infestation in the apartment where the family lived. However, phosphine is not meant to be used in areas where humans live, work, or breathe.
Phosphine is a colorless gas that can be manufactured in tablet form. In its pure form, phosphine is odorless. Depending on the additive, phosphine can have a slight smell of garlic or decaying fish.
When the tablets are moistened the gas is released. The toxicology and damage done to the nervous system of phosphine is comparable to that of sarin. Sarin is an illegal chemical weapon that is catagorized as a weapon of mass destruction. It may sound familiar as it was used in 2013 on civilians during the Syrian Civil War.
Phosphine is equally toxic to children and adults, but it is classified as a heavy gas. Meaning that the fumes sink, putting the fumes closer to the floor. Children tend to be closer to the floor. As a result, they are at greater risk of inhaling larger concentrations and quantities of phosphine. Additionally, children are generally more sensitive to their environments, thus increasing their risk factor.
Regulations in Canada and the USA
In Canada, phosphine is registered in the most toxic group of chemicals. In the USA, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies phosphine as a Restricted Use Pesticide (RUP).
In both countries, pest companies use phosphine for fumigation purposes. However, phosphine fumigation is not allowed for any buildings used for human inhabitation. All structures must be ventilated afterwards. Additionally, all applicators must be licensed. They must have extensive, special training in the handling and use of phosphine.
Phosphine should never be used without proper training and supervision. The strict regulations are meant to help prevent the types of tragedies that happened in Alberta, Canada from happening.
This tragedy is unfortunately a crucial example of why you should consult an expert prior to any pest management treatments, especially do-it-yourself treatments. If you are planning on applying treatments yourself, make sure you research the treatment and all of its guidelines and regulations.
Treatment instructions for insecticides should be carefully followed and only be used according guidelines. Failure to follow guidelines can result in injury or death. If you aren’t sure, do not apply treatment! Contact a trained professional or refer to the EPA and CDC’s websites for additional information.
CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) has the original story, along with updates here.