10-year-old Pakistani boy dies of suspected pesticide poisoning in Sharjah Image Credit: Supplied

Sharjah: A 10-year-old Pakistani boy died from suspected toxic gas poisoning after his neighbours used unregulated pesticide, Sharjah Police said on Sunday.

The boy’s twin sister and parents were also hospitalised with symptoms of chemical poisoning. Police are investigating the incident.

The family had inhaled a toxic gas that had leaked out of an adjacent apartment in their building in Al Nahda area of Sharjah.

The boy’s father, Shafi Ullah Khan Niazi, 42, told Gulf News that the incident occurred on May 23. Niazi was the first to suffer dizziness, vomiting and fatigue. Soon his son, Khuzaima, also complained of the same symptoms.

Niazi went with his son to a private hospital for treatment. The hospital staff conducted a few tests and treated the two. After receiving medicine, they were discharged.

190527 komal
Komal Shafi with her brother Khuzaima, who passed away after inhaling toxic pesticide gas.

Later at 1.30am, Niazi’s wife and daughter also suffered from dizziness and vomiting. He then took them to the hospital , while his son stayed at home. The family returned home at around 5am. At 7.30am, Niazi said his son woke up and called out “mom, dad”, before falling to the ground motionless.

Niazi said he tried to revive his son but it was in vain. He contacted the hospital asking for ambulance, but they told him to call 999. He said when the ambulance arrived the boy had already died. His body was moved to Al Qasimi Hospital. Then Niazi, his wife, Arifa, and daughter Komal were admitted to the ICU of Al Qasimi Hospital.

The father and mother were discharged from hospital yesterday afternoon after their condition improved, while the daughter is still in the ICU under observation. Doctors told the family their daughter’s heart has been affected and she has to stay five more days in the hospital. Doctors have advised the girl to take total rest for the next 20 days.

Despite the best efforts of doctors, the boy did not survive. Komal has begun showing signs of recovery.

The boy’s body has been moved to the Sharjah forensic laboratory for autopsy.

Meanwhile, a team from Sharjah Police, forensic experts and Sharjah Municipality staff were sent to the two apartments to review them.

Pesticide odour was present in the adjacent apartment.

The tenant of the flat who used the chemical had travelled outside the country afterwards.

Sharjah Police is looking for the person who supplied the deadly pesticide in order to identify the source of the material and complete the case proceedings.

Nouman, the uncle of the boy, told Gulf News that police found toxic materials and toxic tablets scattered in the tenant’s residence. The toxic gas that was released then leaked to the flat of Pakistani family through the AC vents.

The family called on authorities to ensure the misuse of such toxic materials, which have killed innocent children before also, does not continue. The family said the owners of buildings should also install CCTV and not allow strangers to enter the building with hazardous materials.

Sharjah Police have organised several awareness campaigns warning the public against the use of dangerous and deadly pesticides, often obtained from unfamiliar persons and fake companies, which are not licensed to conduct such services and who exploit people’s ignorance on the risks associated with improper pest control measures.

The Pakistani twins were in grade five and students of School of Knowledge in Sharjah.

On Sunday, the principal of the school as well as school staff visited the family at the hospital.

Deadly consequences of black market pest control

NAT 190526 PEST 1-1558887173164
For illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Agency

Deaths from unregulated pest control are not unheard of in the UAE. Many residents are unaware or indifferent to the fact that using cheap and illegal alternatives to regulated pest control can cause death or serious illness.

The powerful pesticides used in such cases are not meant for use at home and residential areas, where humans and pets live.

The restricted chemicals are meant for industrial applications, such as in agriculture, under highly controlled conditions approved by authorities.

However, due to their effectiveness in killing pests, they are sold illegally to tenants at a cheaper price than licensed pest control services to attract more customers.

One of the most dangerous chemicals sold illegally is aluminium phosphide tablets that release a toxic and potentially lethal gas. These tablets, nicknamed ‘bombs’, break down when coming in contact with air and release a poisonous gas. The gas expands and spreads to wherever it can, including in neighbouring apartments through the central AC system.

In July 2013, 11-year-old Farah Ebrahim from Iraq died due to heart failure following exposure to an illegal toxic pesticide poisoning in a Sharjah tower. A month earlier than that incident, a 35-year-old Filipina died and her two female colleagues fell sick after reportedly inhaling pesticide fumes in their neighbour’s house in Fujairah. Also in the same month, two girls, a 3-year-old and 8-month-old, died in Ajman — the cause of death was suspected to be inhalation of fumes from pesticides sprayed in a neighbour’s apartment.