SHARJAH // Four people have been arrested after the use of an illegal pesticide in an apartment building killed an 11-year-old girl and left her mother in a coma and little brother in hospital.
The family's upstairs neighbour, the building's watchman and two men who sold the pesticide aluminium phosphide, known as "bomb", were taken into custody by police officers.
The Iraqi family, including the father and maid, were taken to Al Qassimi Hospital on Saturday. The girl, identified as Farah Ebrahim, died on Monday morning of heart failure.
The mother remains in a coma and her six-year-old son is being treated at a hospital in Abu Dhabi. The father and maid were given the all-clear by medical staff.
An Emirati family who lived on the floor above the family are also under medical observation in hospital.
Dr Saqer Al Mualla, the deputy chief executive officer at Al Qassimi Hospital, said the mother and daughter first complained of stomach pains and food poison symptoms. However, investigations confirmed poisoning by aluminium phosphide.
"In case of a pesticide poisoning, the situation is unpredictable and it results in failure of the heart, kidney and the lungs," Dr Al Mualla said.
"This pesticide is usually imported from Asian countries like India, Pakistan and China ... and is used to eradicate insects."
A team of police officers, forensic experts and a health inspector from Sharjah Municipality visited the family's 11th floor apartment and traced a strong smell of chemicals to an apartment on the floor above.
The Indian expatriate who lived there told officers he had bought pesticides from the building's watchman for Dh200.
Lieutenant Ahmed Al Hamadi, the head of the Print and Publishing Department at Sharjah Police, said the two men who sold the pesticide to the watchman for Dh75 knew it was dangerous.
"On Thursday, June 27, the inexperienced tenant placed two aluminium phosphide tablets in each room," Lt Al Hamadi said.
"Aluminium phosphide takes about four hours to become poisonous phosphane gas, when in contact with humidity. The gas reached the apartment of the Iraqi family through ventilation pipes."
Sharjah Police advised anyone who has been exposed to such chemicals to call paramedics and police immediately on 999.
Preparations for an awareness campaign in collaboration with Sharjah Media Centre are under way. The campaign aims to target authorities, the public, residential buildings and the media, in addition to identifying those selling the illegal chemicals.
The girl is the fourth person to die from aluminium phosphide poisoning in just over a month. A three-year-old Bangladeshi girl and her eight-month-old sister died in Ajman on June 1 and a 35-year-old Filipina beauty salon worker died in Fujairah on June 12.