BULAWAYO – Three children aged seven, five and one died from inhaling phosphine gas found in a common pesticide, police said on Thursday.
The children’s parents aged 42 and 27 have also been treated for acute inhalation exposure to phosphine which is found in aluminium phosphide, a pesticide commonly used in the fumigation of stored grain to kill small verminous mammals such as moles and rodents.
National police spokesman Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said the family, from Jowa Village in Inyathi, Matabeleland North, applied aluminium phosphide 560TB tablets on their shelled maize which was stored in a storeroom next to the main bedroom on Christmas Day.
“During the night, the victims’ parents developed some health complications and when they checked on their children they discovered that they had already died,” Nyathi said.
“The victims’ parents later received medical attention through the assistance of neighbours. Members of the public are urged to be cautious when using pesticides.”
The dead children were all girls, Nyathi said.
Aluminium phosphide 560TB tablets are sold over the counter at most shops selling farming implements, averaging US$10 per kilogramme.
Phosphine gas is highly toxic, and fatality is expected even several hours after continuous exposure, although intensive supportive treatments may be lifesaving in some cases.
Phosphine gas is colourless, flammable, and explosive at room temperature. The primary exposure route is through inhalation and absorption by the lungs. Scientists advise against occupying closed spaces for too long after applying the pesticide.