Pest-control industry warns of deadly gas

Fumigating tablets that release toxins in gas form are not allowed for use in residential areas in Dubai, only in industrial areas, experts say.

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DUBAI // The death of a man from the dangerous pesticide phosphine has thrown the spotlight on the illegal use of such substances, with pest-control professionals saying they are not for domestic use.

The Filipino died on July 28, after his neighbour used the pesticide, police said.

Five others were treated at Zulekha Hospital in Al Nahda after displaying symptoms that doctors at first thought were food poisoning.

An investigation later found illegal use of phosphine gas in a neighbour’s flat.

“If anybody happens to breathe this poison they will die,” said Mohanan Achuthan, manager operations at Armour Pest Control, a licensed company based in Dubai.

“It is highly toxic. Not all companies can use this chemical.”

Fumigating tablets that release toxins in gas form are not allowed for use in residential areas in Dubai – only in industrial areas, said Mr Achuthan.

“The problem is, many people are not aware of this and are buying it and using it illegally,” he said.

“How they are getting it, I don’t know.”

Companies must have special licences from Dubai Municipality to be able to fumigate.

Mr Achuthan said the licence was different to general pest control licences, where less harmful chemicals are used.

Phosphine is mostly used to spray food items, preventing the spread of insects.

Licensed companies cover the items to be sprayed with polyethylene sheets and seal them so that the packaging is airtight.

Tablets are then placed through openings and the items are kept sealed for three days before being uncovered.

The Filipino’s death is not the first time pesticides have killed in the UAE.

In 2010, improper use of insecticide by a pest control company in Ajman killed two five-month-old boys and left their triplet sister badly ill in hospital.

A year later, a 33-year-old man was killed in Dubai.

In May 2012, 10 people were treated in hospital after the chemical was used to kill insects in an adjacent flat in Dubai’s Naif area.

Khalid Al Awadhi, director of food control at Dubai Municipality, said inspectors and emergency teams worked hard to work out what happened to the Filipino, after initially thinking food poisoning was the cause of death.

“The death was not caused by eating spoilt food or food poisoning, as has been said, but because of a gas leak of phosphine used as a pesticide, where one of the tenants left cylinders containing the gas not properly sealed in his apartment,” Mr Al Awadhi said.

“The gas leaked and led to the death of the one man and severe illness of five others.”

He said that at a flat down the corridor from the victim’s apartment, inspectors noticed tape around the door.

The apartment owner was called and he told police that he used five containers of aluminium phosphine before closing down his apartment and heading to Hatta for Eid.

Pest-control experts, with the help of Dubai Police, later ventilated the scene and disposed of the containers safely.

A health and safety team operated the ventilation to lower toxic gas levels in the air and also followed up on the evacuation of the building by Civil Defence.

Mr Al Awadhi said that phosphine had been banned from use without the approval and authorisation of the Ministry of Environment and Water.

He called on the public to avoid using such materials because of its harmful effects on public health.