On 23rd February, a chemical spill in a family’s apartment located in Fort McMurray, Alberta Canada took the life of an eight-month old baby. Four other children were in a critical condition after exposure to Phosphine, a pesticide used to kill bed bugs.
The residents living in the third floor of the apartment building were safely evacuated by the emergency crews after they rushed the four children to hospitals.
Two of the children, aged two and six years old, were accompanied by their father via air ambulance towards the Stollery Children’s Hospital in Edmonton. The two other children, aged four and seven years old, were taken in a hospital in Fort McMurray along with their mother, who was also under observation.
The two families were taken to the hospital along with a chemical sample that critically affected the children’s condition. After a series of testing and identification, the hospital called in the fire department that consequently called the RCMP and dangerous goods team.
After performing an air quality test in the affected apartment, it was found that there was a higher level of phosphine in the area which measured 3.8 to 4.0 parts per million – which was actually more than the considered acceptable level of 1 ppm for a short-term exposure. Nevertheless, the emergency crew officials had confirmed that the other family apartments in the building were safe.
Sandy Mijajlovic, the building’s property manager, prayed and hoped that the four children would be alright.
The Chemical Composition
Phosphine is a deadly chemical often used for pest control. A phosphine molecule typically consists of a phosphorus atom and three hydrogen atoms. But the deadliest part of it is greatly contributed by the phosphorus component.
Phosphine usually takes the form of a colorless heavy gas in its natural state but it can also be bought in powder and tablet forms. Its solid and compacted form is made possible by combining it with aluminum or calcium. To be used as a pesticide, water is added to release the lethal phosphine gas. According to Keith Solomon, a toxicologist from the University of Guelph, phosphine gas is toxic to any animals.
Once this colorless gas is inhaled, it starts to affect every tissue of the lungs, causing damage to the individual cells which can lead to death just like what happened to the eight-month old baby. Exposure to phosphine gas does not only attack the lungs but it can consequently affect one’s nervous system. Persons affected will show symptoms of labored breathing, chest tightness, numbness, convulsions and tremors.