At the warehouse of the National Pest Control in Al Quoz, Dubai. Image Credit: virendra Saklani/Gulf News Archive

Dubai The black market for cheap and unlicensed home pest control services is endangering lives, experts reiterated after a series of deaths from suspected poisoning in the UAE.

They echoed warnings against hiring illegal operators and using toxins banned for home use after four fatalities in as many weeks.

The victims – all females: a baby, toddler, young girl, and a woman – died between June 1 and July 1 after neighbouring residences were treated with chemicals unfit for domestic purposes, officials said.

Deadly gases released in the incidents had spread to the victims’ homes. A number of other tenants were hospitalised, some in serious condition, sources told Gulf News.

Many others have died or fallen ill in similar circumstances over the years.

In the latest incident this month, five suspects who allegedly supplied the toxins were arrested in Sharjah. And on Tuesday officials revealed several Dubai companies were recently shut down for allegedly using chemicals prohibited for home pest control.

Among the toxins banned for home use is aluminium phosphide, known in the underground market as “bomb” for its strength. It is used in tablet form, which releases a potentially lethal gas when exposed to air.

Officials and licensed pest control companies said the chemical is only allowed for industrial use in strictly-controlled circumstances by trained professionals, mainly in the fumigation of stored grains.

“But some rouges use it in apartments, it releases a highly toxic gas,” said Dinesh Ramachandran, technical director, National Pest Control.

He added that dodgy operators use or sell it at low cost to lure business from residents.

“They say they’ll do your home for as little as Dh50. That’s just not right. Safety’s paramount – we’ve seen what’s happened recently.”

Sources said some “bombs” shipments are smuggled into the UAE. Though the toxin is also legally imported for licensed use, some of it ends up in the hands of shady operators cashing in on demand for cheap home pest control, the sources added.

Ramachandran added: “You pay extra for safety and expertise. The public has to appreciate the role of professionals, they’re involved in a public health service. They know what they’re doing, they’re not trying to rip you off. We are government-approved for a reason.”

The unlicensed treatment can be three times cheaper than professional services, the licensed companies said. The “rouges” charge about Dh100 to “treat” a two-bedroom apartment for crawling insects, versus about Dh350 charged by licensed firms, on average.

James Nicholson, general manager of Rentokil, warned residents to be wary of “six month guarantees” often touted by dodgy services. He also highlighted the risk of inadvertently calling in unscrupulous operators that promise rock-bottom prices – but deliver hazardous services.

A list of approved companies is available through UAE municipalities.

Nicholson added that though authorities closely regulate the pest control industry it can be a “challenge” to pre-empt misuse. He said: “There are other pesticides that work in the same way [as “bombs”]. It is a legal product. If you’re a chemical supplier, do you ask the person you sell it to, what you’re going to do with it? Is that your responsibility? It can be a tough legal point.

He added that building managements also have a responsibility to select reliable pest control contractors. “Sometimes it’s easy to cut back on pest control. But you get what you pay for.”