Four children die in Texas gas poisoning; six injured

© The Associated Press 4 children die in Texas pesticide poisoning; others injured.
4 children die in Texas gas poisoning; others injured

AMARILLO, Texas — A poisonous gas believed to have been released when someone tried to wash away a pesticide that had been sprayed under a Texas home killed four children and left six other people hospitalized, officials said Monday.
Phosphine gas was likely released when water mixed with the pest control chemical, Amarillo fire officials said. A specific cause of death had not been released for the four children Monday afternoon. The other six people who were in the home are "not out of the woods yet," fire officials said.

Crews who responded to a 5 a.m. call to the home originally thought it was related to carbon monoxide poisoning, Amarillo fire Capt. Larry Davis said in a statement. One child died at the scene and three others died at a hospital.

Officials didn't release any identifying information, including the children's ages or whether they were related. Davis said all four people who died were residents of the home.

Davis told the Amarillo Globe-News he wasn't sure how long the residents had been exposed to the phosphine gas before a visitor arrived Monday and found everyone sick and called 911. Phosphine gas can cause respiratory failure and in severe cases can cause a pulmonary edema, which fills the lungs full of fluid, he said.

Davis said about 10 first responders from the police, fire and medical response departments were also taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure, but none had shown symptoms of illness.

Father uses potent chemical to kill rodents, accidentally poisons entire family; 4 dead

AMARILLO, Texas, Jan. 2 (UPI) -- In an effort to rid his family's home of rodents, a father inadvertently exposed his entire family to a deadly gas emitted by a powerful pesticide restricted to professional and industrial use.

Four children died Monday, and their parents and four other siblings were hospitalized, in Texas because of exposure to the lethal gas phosphine, which seeped into the family's manufactured home overnight after it was applied under the home to keep rodents away.

Police said they responded to what they thought was a call for carbon monoxide poisoning but started looking for other causes after encountering an entire family sick in their own home and no evidence of carbon monoxide.

After applying a dry product called Weevil-Cide, Peter Balderas reportedly went back under his home to wash some of it away with water. What he didn't know is that when the chemical is exposed to water, it produces phosphine gas -- which causes respiratory failure.

According to the manufacturer, Weevil-Cide is used to kill insects and rodents in commercial and farm storage areas. Though it is dry, moisture in the air reacts with the product to release the deadly phosphine gas. A label warning strictly prohibits its use within 100 feet of any building occupied by humans, pets or livestock.

"They were already getting an odor and they were trying to suppress the vapors. He didn't know enough about the chemical," Amarillo Fire Department Lt. Josh Whitney, told KFDA-TV. "The chemical is only sold to people that have a license to apply it, and he got this black market. He applied it yesterday, and then so over the night is whenever all the toxic gasses were leeching to inside the house "

Police and paramedics were called to the home after a neighbor stopped by and found the family of 10, parents and eight children, were all sick. By the time paramedics arrived, one of the children was already unconscious and unresponsive.

Police sent the other nine family members to the hospital three more of the children were pronounced dead. Balderas' wife Martha is in critical condition, Peter and their other four children are listed as in stable condition. Two police officers, seven firefighters and a paramedic were also taken to the hospital because of possible exposure to the gas as a precaution, though they showed no signs of exposure.

Police said they still need to verify that phosphine gas exposure caused the four children's deaths, and autopsies are scheduled for Tuesday, but they say the story is a cautionary tale for people who search out the strongest chemical available but aren't properly trained to use them.

"We knew something bad had happened," said James Compton, one of the Balderas' neighbors about seeing the crowd of emergency vehicles and crews. "It's crazy, we had no idea what was going on. It's just sad, it's a sad thing."

4 children dead from suspected pesticide poisoning


Four children died after someone at their home sprayed water on a previously applied pesticide, causing a reaction that produced toxic phosphine gas, officials in Amarillo, Texas, said.

At least five other people were hospitalized in Monday's incident.

Fire Capt. Larry Davis said a family member had used water in an attempt to wash away the pesticide -- aluminum phosphide -- which had been applied under the home.

The incident preliminarily has been ruled an accidental poisoning, Davis said.

There were 10 people inside the mobile home at the time, according to Davis. Crews arrived at the scene just after 5 a.m. after receiving a call that something was wrong and that people at the address were sick.

First responders treated for possible exposure
The children who died ranged in age from 7 to 17. One died at the scene. Three died after being taken to the hospital, CNN affiliate KVII reported.

First responders also went to the hospital for treatment for possible exposure to the gas. Several were held some time for observation, according to KVII.

Aluminum phosphide is listed in the Toxicity Category I by the Environmental Protection Agency -- the highest and most toxic category. Specifically, the EPA points to the "acute effects via the inhalation route."

The substance is used to kill insects and burrowing rodents, especially in grain stores. When mixed with water it produces toxic phosphine gas.

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