DALLAS – A criminal investigation is underway in an apparent accidental poisoning with a professional pesticide that left four children dead and an Amarillo woman is in critical condition, police said Tuesday.
The authorities are looking for the reason why the family had the pesticide pellets, called Weevil-cide, which should only be sold to people with a professional license or certification. The product manual, available online, outlines strict guidelines for use of the product, including having two trained individuals to apply. Figures from the American Association of Poison Control Centers shows that the number of deaths due to the pesticides are rare.
The father of the deceased children told social workers through a Spanish interpreter that he had distributed the grains among the family mobile home after the passing of the product from a friend, Amarillo Fire Capt. Larry Davis said. Davis said the product is not available for sale to the general public. The product manual says that it is intended for use in pest control in commercial transport or the storage of raw materials and animal feed.
Davis said that the father is not professional certification as far as he knows. He did not know whether the friend who gave him the product had a certification.
Amarillo police spokesman Officer Jeb Hilton says that the department’s special crimes unit is investigated by the child to kill. Once completed, the investigation transferred to the public prosecutor to determine whether charges will be filed. Hilton said other federal or provincial environmental regulation agencies may also research on the use and storage of chemicals.
Fire officials said the children who died were three boys — ages 7, 9 and 11 — and 17-year-old girl. Officials have said that all four of the children lived in the house in Amarillo, which is about 350 miles northwest of Dallas.
The children of the mother, Martha Balderas, 45, was in critical condition Tuesday at University Medical Center in Lubbock, according to a spokesperson of the hospital. Five other family members, including the father and the four other children were treated on the BSA Health System in Amarillo and were in stable condition, the hospital and fire officials said early Tuesday.
The crew that responded to a 5 a.m. call to the house on Monday, originally thought it was related to carbon monoxide poisoning. The authorities later determined that phosphine gas was probably released when the father took a garden hose at some point Sunday and tried to rinse away some of the pellets because family members had complained about the smell.
The water started the chemical reaction that released the gas phosphine. A visitor came early Monday, everyone found sick and called 911.
Phosphine gas can lead to difficulty breathing and in severe cases can lead to pulmonary edema, which fills the lungs filled with fluid.
The American Association of Poison Control Centers, which provides information about poisoning, nine deaths as a result of ingestion or inhalation of aluminium phosphide between 2010 and 2015.
Two of these deaths happened in Utah in 2010, when two young children died after a pest control company distributed vole pesticide pellets that released gas phosphine. The authorities believe that the gas seeped into the home through cracks in the foundation.
Cynthia Aaron, the medical director of the Michigan Regional Poison Control Center at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan, said doctors often treated adult patients for exposure to phosphine gas from aluminum phosphide because the drug is often used in industrial shipping.
“It is not a rare exposure, but deaths like this are rare,” she said. “We see mostly the overdose. For example, they used to use in this ship as they ship grain. So if they the music the big ship can hold and someone not realizing the pesticide is activated or they have not yet been broadcast in the right way, they should go and pass out or die.”
Chip Orton, emergency management coordinator for the city of Amarillo and Potter and Randall counties, says that his staff was working with a number of state and federal agencies to sanitize the Amarillo home. He didn’t know when it would be safe for the family to return.
Approximately 10 police, fire and medical personnel who first responded to the house were taken to the hospital as a precautionary measure, Davis said. Two were held overnight for observation, because of headaches and nausea but were in good condition Tuesday, he said.
Davis said that the house was far enough away from the neighbors that no other evacuations or treatments were necessary.