A mother trying to kill bed bugs in her Fort McMurray apartment used an imported pesticide that fatally poisoned her infant and left her other children critically ill.
The substance used in the apartment was a pellet form of phosphine, an agricultural pesticide that is strictly controlled in Canada and requires special training to use.
When exposed to the air, the pellets react with moisture and release phosphine gas, said James Kehrer, a toxicologist at the University of Alberta. As a gas, it’s often used to fumigate large batches of grain.
“It will kill the bed bugs, but it’s nasty stuff,” said Kehrer. “Children are more susceptible to these things … It should only be used by a professional.”
The pellets were mainly spread around one bedroom, but fire crews detected the substance throughout the unit, said Brad Grainger, deputy chief of operations for the Fort McMurray fire department.
“It’s airborne, but it’s low to the ground,” he said. “You can imagine children crawling on the ground.”
Crews found readings of 4.0 parts per million in the bedroom. It’s immediately lethal at 50 parts per million, but can be harmful at 1.0 parts per million after just 15 minutes, he said: “There was significant exposure.”
The family brought the bottle of phosphine pellets to the hospital when the children fell ill. Authorities were able to contact the woman’s family in Pakistan to check what the substance was, and then test further to confirm the contents.
It will kill the bed bugs, but it’s nasty stuff
The mother used a pesticide to fumigate her apartment last Tuesday that she brought back from Pakistan during a recent trip, said her sister, Shazia Yarkhan.
The woman’s five children started showing signs of illness Saturday night. They all vomited and one of them had diarrhea, Yarkhan said.
On Sunday morning, their mother took them to the Northern Lights Regional Health Centre.
One of the children, an eight-month-old, died in hospital that afternoon.
Wood Buffalo RCMP said two children, ages two and six, were taken to the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton by air ambulance on Sunday.
The other two children, ages four and seven, remained in hospital Monday in Fort McMurray. All the children were reported to be in critical condition.
“She says she can’t talk now because she is very upset,” Yarkhan said of her sister, who is in hospital in Fort McMurray under observation.
She says she can’t talk now because she is very upsetThe father is in Edmonton with the other children. Their names will not be released at the family’s request, police said.
RCMP spokesman Cpl. George Cameron said the incident appears accidental.
Police received a call shortly after 3 p.m. Sunday from firefighters who requested help evacuating the main floor of a four-storey apartment building at 81 Fraser Ave. Tenants were allowed to return to their apartments at around 6:30 p.m. Sunday after air quality tests determined there was no threat to the rest of the building.
Phosphine was also implicated in the 2012 deaths of two Quebec sisters, Audrey and Noemi Belanger, in Thailand. Days after they arrived at a popular tourist destination, a maid found the sisters dead in their hotel room.
In January 2014, a family in Jerusalem was poisoned from phosphine after a section of their apartment was fumigated for pests, and two young children died from the poisoning.