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Toddler Dead: Pesticide Likely to Blame

Phosphine, a controversial fumigant pesticide that has become the most common replacement for methyl bromide, may be to blame for the death of a 4-year-old. Her 15-month-old sister is in critical condition.

Although toxicology reports won’t be in for several weeks, all indications are that the poisonings were caused by phosphine, a commonly used organophosphate compound used in this case to drive away garden voles. Here is the full report from the local newspaper: Here is also a video report from the local television station:

Phosphine made headlines in scientific journals in 2005 and 2006 when researchers at the University of California San Francisco accused lobbyists for the tobacco industry of unethical influence on the EPA during the registrations process.

“Based on an analysis of internal tobacco company documents … the tobacco industry hired ex-agency scientists to intervene in federal Environmental Protection Agency decision-making, hired a consultant to influence World Health Organization pesticide regulatory deliberations without revealing his industry ties, and staged a useless test aimed at convincing regulators that no further restrictions were needed to control an especially deadly pesticide, among other actions,” concluded the report from UCSF:

The Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry clearly lays out the risks associated with phosphine in its toxicity database. The compound is a colorless, flammable, and toxic gas with an odor of garlic or decaying fish.

“Zinc phosphide is often mixed with bait food such as cornmeal, which can be a danger to pets and children. When phosphides are ingested or exposed to moisture, they release phosphine gas,” according to the agency. “Inhalation is the major route of phosphine toxicity. Odor is not an adequate indicator of phosphine’s presence and may not provide reliable warning of hazardous concentrations.

“Children exposed to the same levels of phosphine as adults may receive a larger dose because they have greater lung surface area:body weight ratios and increased minute volumes:weight ratios. In addition, they may be exposed to higher levels than adults in the same location because of their short stature and the higher levels of phosphine found nearer to the ground.”

This is clearly another instance where the Precautionary Principle should have prevailed. Is eliminating garden voles a good enough reason to apply something that could poison children? In this case, we apparently had a licensed company applying the product and tragedy occurred. And yet a web site known as sells the stuff to anyone who wants to buy it.

This is repeated again and again and again. Why do we continue to allow these products to be used in the United States?

About The Author

Paul Tukey

An international leader of the green movement, Mr. Tukey is a journalist, author, filmmaker, TV host, activist and award-winning public speaker, who is widely recognized as North America's leading advocate for landscape sustainability and toxic pesticide reduction strategies.

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