Dangers Associated with Pesticide that Killed Four Children in Amarillo

What is Aluminum Phosphate?

LUBBOCK, TX - On Monday morning, the Amarillo Fire Department responded to a home where they found one child dead as a result of a chemical poisoning. There were ten people in the home total. The other nine were taken to the hospital, where three more children later died. 

Authorities identified the chemical as Aluminum Phosphate, which comes in the form of a small pellet, typically used as poison to kill rodents. When exposed to humidity, the pellet becomes a deadly gas, which is what the family had accidentally exposed themselves to as they were trying to rid the home of pests. 

The sudden and tragic loss is something Lacresha Dunn of Lubbock is all too familiar with. In July 2007, Dunn lost her two-year-old daughter, Vantasia Samuels, when she was exposed to the same chemical. According to reports at the time, it had been placed around the home to kill pests. Officials say it was the fumes the chemical gave off that killed Vantasia. 

"I just remember holding my baby, telling her I love her and that I was gonna get her some help," said Dunn, recalling her last moments with Vantasia. "I can only imagine how those people feel because I lost one, they (Amarillo family) lost four."

Although intended as a fumigant to kill rodents, Aluminum Phosphate has the capacity to kill anything that breathes oxygen.

It's use and sales are highly restricted to licensed applicators, and is not sold in stores. The chemical is not intended for home or residential use. Local pesticide businesses share that on occasion, it is illegally sold online through sites such as Craig's List among users. 

"Any type of fumigant, a homeowner never wants to deal with on their own. They definitely want to hire a professional," shared Shawn Turner of Fox Pest Control. "Once you inhale it (Aluminum Phosphate), there is nothing they can do for you." 

Tim Gafford, owner of Gafford Pest Control also weighed in on the incident. 

"A consumer should never be able to get their hands on that product," said Gafford, "You shouldn't be able to get your hands on it unless you're a licensed fumigator and trained on where and how to use that stuff."

 Mark Brown, a Lubbock County Extension Agent for agriculture with the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, said the only time the chemical should be used is in grain silos to terminate pests, and emphasizes just how important it is to thoroughly read the labels on any pesticide product.

"Anytime this product is used, it has to be put out with a certain number of tablets according to the volume that's being treated. You'll see a skull and crossbones on its label," said Brown. "Any product, whether it's a homeowner pesticide or restricted use, follow all the instructions and requirements on the label." 

Amarillo authorities say that at this point, no criminal charges are expected to be filed in this incident.

University Medical Center officials share that the mother of the four deceased children has been listed in critical condition in Lubbock. 

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