Dubai: The free use of lethal pesticide tablets, locally known as ‘bombs', in homes and offices is posing a huge risk to UAE residents, top officials have warned.
One week after the death of a 33-year-old Indian IT sales manager following suspected pesticide poisoning in a Bur Dubai apartment, Ali Obaid, Head of Technical Services at the Public Health Pest Control Section of Dubai Municipality, told XPRESS: "This was a case of a do-it-yourself use of a dangerous pesticide banned for use in homes."
Raghavendra Shivaji died on Friday after he inhaled fumes of a pesticide used in a neighbouring apartment. His two roommates, who also developed nausea and breathing difficulties were taken to hospital where they recovered. However Shivaji, who had a history of asthma, did not make it through.
Scene of tragedy
A visit to the building by XPRESS revealed that the deadly fumes travelled through the open bathroom exhaust vents of the two first-floor studio flats which shared a common service shaft.
The distance between the exhaust fans of apartment F16, where Shivaji lived, and F17, where the tablets were released, is only about one metre.
While F17 remained sealed (police have arrested one of its residents), an August 8 notice put up by the building managers, Capitol Real Estate in the lobby warned against the "storage of any dangerous goods/chemicals/pesticides etc in the flats and offices of tenants and occupants without prior permission from government authorities".
Despite such warnings, rampant misuse of pesticides continues in UAE homes (see box).
Just last month, three men were charged at the Dubai Court of Misdemeanours with negligence for causing the death of a security guard who died after pesticides were sprayed in his building in Al Baraha.
A month earlier, K.M. Suresh, 26, from Kerala, died in his sleep after a Bangladeshi allegedly used pesticide in a building in Deira.
Much of this misuse is said to stem from lack of awareness and the easy availability of pesticide tablets through unauthorised channels. According to industry sources, the tablets are leaked into the marked by unscrupulous pest control staff who have access to such products and sell them at a profit outside.
"This is a public health issue. People should never deal with any unlicensed company or try to do it themselves," said Hesham Abdul Rahman Al Yahya, head of the Dubai Municipality's Public Health Pest Control Section.
People can be jailed and fined for applying pesticides without licence.
"Each family should know the dangers and risks of pesticides. Any chemical in the house poses a danger, especially to children, pets, or even adults who may be sensitive to certain chemicals."
Dinesh Ramachandran, Technical Director at National Pest Control, said the application of the tablet, made of the highly toxic Phostoxin, has to be done only by certified operators.
"It can be used only in a controlled environment against stored-product insects," he said, noting that an assessment of the area needs to be done beforehand with air-tight containers being used to place the tablets. The containers have to be kept locked for 72 hours, he said.
Kiran, an official with Universal Pesticide Trading said the tablets are not meant for homes and offices as they release the dangerous phosphine gas when they come in contact with air.
Around 120 pellets are believed to have been used in the Bur Dubai apartment adjoining Shivaji's.
One of his roommates said he had a narrow escape since he had left for work at 5am and returned late in the evening.
Building watchman Wahab said this was the first time that such an incident had occurred in the three-year-old building which has 89 flats. Some residents said they were shaken by earlier rumours that suggested the pesticide fumes travelled through the central air-conditioning system. They said they were asked to evacuate for a short while.
Saju, a finance executive living on the same floor where the mishap occurred, said, he had gone out for the most part of that fateful day. "When I returned I found a number of people, besides policemen, in the building and my roommate told me what had happened."
He said he had moved in six months ago and had no plans of moving out.
Applying "bombs" is like using anaesthesia - it requires careful handling and should be done only by licensed people, said Obaid.
"In Dubai, the person applying this kind of pesticide must pass certain tests administered by us," he said. They must measure the rooms or spaces correctly so they get the right amount of ‘bombs'.
A 2004 study, Management of Pesticides in the UAE, has revealed that a total of 835 pesticides are registered in the UAE.
From 1996 to 1998, approximately 2,600 tonnes of pesticides were imported into the UAE, according to the report.
July 2011 Three men were charged at the Dubai Court of Misdemeanours with negligence in causing the death of a security guard who died after pesticides were sprayed in his building. The guard was found dead in his room in a building in Al Baraha next to a number of empty cans of pesticide.
June 2011 K.M. Suresh, 26, from Kasaragod in the south Indian state of Kerala died in his sleep after a Bangladeshi allegedly used pesticide in Deira. Suresh's roommate Mohanan, who was also rushed to the hospital, is now in a stable condition. Police arrested the suspect.
June 2010 An Indian man died after he inhaled pesticide being sprayed in a nearby flat in Dubai's Naif district. Municipality inspectors blamed the use of phosphine tablets, which are used to kill bedbugs, and warned that their use without safety precautions is illegal.
June 2010: Two people died in Sharjah after inhaling the toxic gas phosphine which was released in their accommodation to get rid of cockroaches.
March 28, 2010: Fumigation in a Sharjah industrial area left 12 workers requiring urgent medical attention.
MARCH 27, 2010: Suhail and Ali, both five-month-old babies, died after a neighbour's apartment in Ajman was sprayed with pesticide. Their triplet sister, Hala, fell grievously ill, but survived. Three men were sentenced to four years in jail in January 2011, but had their sentences reduced to six months on appeal and they were ordered to pay Dh200,000 in blood money.
July 2006: A family of five was taken ill and had to be hospitalised for prolonged exposure to pesticides, a day after they used pesticide in their apartment in Bur Dubai.
December 2004: Experts reported 246 cases of pesticide poisoning in Al Ain involving adults and 298 involving children. The data was taken from two government hospitals in the area. None proved fatal, and less than 10 per cent needed hospitalisation, but scientists believe many cases have gone unreported. Scientists have called for a plan to control the use of pesticides and minimise their potential hazardous effects.
Fact file: Phostoxin
Phostoxin is a highly toxic material used to kill pests like mice, squirrel, rats, and any other creatures that get in to eat stored grain or seed. These pellets are restricted and not for use in homes.
The phostoxin tablets, also loosely known as "bombs", contain phosphine gas which is released when the grey-coloured pellets come in contact with air.
Typically, the pellets come sealed in a tin - each tin contains 16 tubes and each tube contains 30 pellets. So one tin has 480 tablets in total.
Source: Universal Pesticide Trading in Dubai