Boy, 10, dies of suspected pesticide poisoning in Sharjah

The child’s twin sister is recovering in hospital after aluminium phosphide exposure

Twins Komal and Khuzaimah pictured with their father, Shefi Ulleh Niazi. Courtesy family
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A schoolboy died after being overcome by toxic fumes at his family home in Sharjah.

Industrial pesticides from a flat in Al Nahda are suspected of causing the death of Khuzaimah Khan, 10, on Friday.

His twin sister, Komal, was admitted to the intensive care unit of Al Qasimi Hospital but has made a strong recovery and is expected to be released in the coming days.

His parents were also treated in hospital for potential poisoning.

The hospital reported the incident to Sharjah Police on Friday morning after the whole family had been taken there ­after the father’s emergency call.

But hours later, the boy was pronounced dead.

His father, Shefi Ulleh Niazi, 42, said he and his wife, Arifa, 41, have not yet told their daughter that her twin brother has died.

The family is waiting for authorities to hand over their son’s body so funeral arrangements can be made, allowing them to get on with the task of breaking the news to Komal.

“We want to get on with the burial so we can mourn our loss and tell our daughter that she lost her twin brother,” Mr Niazi said.

“She thinks he is in another room, but she keeps asking me why I don’t go to his room,” the boy’s mother said.

Mr Niazi told police his son was the first to suffer symptoms, including dizziness and vomiting. He said he took him to Al Zahra Hospital where he was treated and sent home.

Shortly after returning to the flat, his wife and daughter began to suffer similar symptoms and he took them to the same hospital for a check-up, leaving the boy behind with a cousin.

By the time they returned, Khuzaimah’s condition had worsened and he fell unconscious, prompting his father to call for an ambulance.

Khuzaimah died in Al Qasimi Hospital, where Komal is being treated. Both parents were treated and discharged.

Komal recovers at Al Qasimi Hospital with her mother Arifa  by her side. Salam Al Amir / The National

An initial investigation found the family’s neighbours had fumigated their flat before travelling. Police obtained a warrant to enter the neighbouring property where they found and seized 32 pesticide tablets.

Brig Gen Ahmed Al Serkal, head of Sharjah Police criminal laboratory, said that tests on samples of the material seized at the neighbor’s apartment confirmed it as the banned aluminium phosphide, which can cause shock, heart inflammation and multi-organ failure.

Such chemicals should be available only to commercial buyers, not the public.

“Its use is banned in residential areas and I urge all people to deal only with licensed pest control companies” said Brig Gen Al Serkal.

Officers are looking into where the substance – banned from public sale in the UAE since 2009 – was bought.

Aluminium phosphide is commonly used against indoor pests such as bed bugs and rodents. It is highly toxic to human beings and a 2018 study on the frequency of aluminium phosphide poisoning in Saudi Arabia over a nine-year period showed related deaths are highest among children.

Dr Safia Al Khaja, head of the children’s department of Al Qasimi Hospital, said the boy’s twin sister is recovering well after arriving at hospital in a critical condition, suffering from organ failure, and is now out of intensive care.

“Her condition is stable, but it will take few days before she is allowed to leave the hospital,” she said.

Thabet Al Tarifi, director general of Sharjah Municipality, said that pest control companies found to be using banned chemicals in their products face being shut down.

In 2012, a girl, 2, died of pesticide poisoning in Sharjah. Habiba Hisham and her brother Abdul Rahman Hisham, 6, were admitted to Al Qasimi Hospital with symptoms of poisoning, including vomiting and dehydration. The little girl died six hours later.

More than 10 capsules of aluminium phosphide were found in an apartment near the family’s flat in a residential building in Umm Al Tarafa. The capsules were placed there by an informal group promoting pest control while the tenant was away.

Three years later, a three-week-old boy died after the pesticide was used in the flat next door to his family’s home in Sharjah.

Their neighbour was charged with the Syrian baby’s death after police found cans of aluminium phosphide in the apartment.