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Poisonous gas, not food, caused death of six of a family

Updated February 27, 2019

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Police registers a case of the tragic incident and keep the investigation open in both directions.— Reuters/File
Police registers a case of the tragic incident and keep the investigation open in both directions.— Reuters/File

KARACHI: While chemical experts at a Karachi University facility confirmed that the cause of death of five minor siblings and their aunt last week was caused by inhalation of a poisonous gas and not by the food they had consumed, police on Tuesday registered a case of the tragic incident and kept the investigation open in both directions.

An FIR lodged at the Civil Lines police station contained relevant sections of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) regarding poisonous effect of insecticides as well as the sale of unwholesome food which causes food poisoning.

However, the International Centre for Chemical and Biological Sciences (ICCBS) of the University of Karachi has categorically claimed in its report that the deaths were not caused by any poisonous food, but due to the phosphate gas that emancipated from the anti-bug spray of aluminium phosphide.

Five siblings — three brothers and two sisters — had died on Feb 22 after reportedly consuming “toxic food” which they had ordered from a restaurant in Saddar while staying at Qasr-i-Naz, a federal government official residence near the State Guest House, where the family had stayed after their arrival from Balochistan. Later, a paternal aunt of the deceased children also died during treatment at a hospital.

It was suspected that instead of food poisoning, the deaths were caused by inhalation of a highly toxic gas ‘phosphine’ produced by a deadly fumigant ‘aluminium phosphide AlP’.

The ICCBS report after examination of available substance confirmed the deadly effect of the insecticide.

“A large quantity of aluminium phosphide has been recovered from the Qasr-i-Naz room,” said an official citing the institute’s findings. “The anti-bug spray was used in large quantity on the floor. The mother was on the bed while the children and their aunt slept on the floor. The dangerous spray and the poisonous gas affected the children and their aunt the most.”

Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2019