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Police launch criminal probe into poisoning that killed 4 Texas children

Death investigation

AMARILLO, Texas (AP) - Medical experts who specialize in poison control say accidental poisonings from the active ingredient in the pest control substance that led to the death of four Amarillo children are not uncommon, but deaths from aluminum phosphide are rare.

Fire officials say the children's father spread a commercial grade pest control pellet under the family's mobile house. Poisonous phosphine gas was released when he tried to wash away some of it with water.

Cynthia Aaron, the medical director for the Michigan Regional Poison Control Center at Children's Hospital of Michigan, says the doctors at the center see mostly adults with exposure issues to phosphine gas from aluminum phosphide because the pesticide is used in industrial shipping.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 82 exposures to aluminum phosphide in 2015 with two deaths

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1:15 p.m.

State and federal officials are working on a decontamination plan for an Amarillo, Texas, mobile home where phosphine gas killed four children and left their mother in critical condition.

Chip Orton, emergency management coordinator for the city of Amarillo and Potter and Randall counties, says his staff is working with a number of state and federal agencies to decontaminate the home. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has hired a private contractor to help.

Fire officials say the father spread a commercial grade pest control pellet under the house and tried to wash some of it away with a garden hose. Poisonous phosphine gas was released as a result.

Orton says the gas typically casts off in about eight to 12 hours after it's been in contact with water, but personnel close to the home are wearing protective breathing equipment and hazmat suits as a precaution.

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Police officials in Texas say a criminal investigation is underway into an accidental poisoning involving pesticide that killed four children and left their mother in critical condition.

Amarillo Fire Capt. Larry Davis said Tuesday that the father told first responders he had spread a professional grade pest control pellet under the family's mobile home. Authorities later determined that phosphine gas was likely released when the father used a garden hose on Sunday to try to wash away the pesticide.

Davis says a professional certification or license is required to purchase the product, called Weevil-Cide. He says the father does not have that license. The father told first responders through an interpreter that he obtained the pesticide from a friend.

Police spokesman Officer Jeb Hilton says the department's special crimes unit is investigating because children were involved.

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11:10 a.m.

Hospital officials say a Texas woman is in critical condition a day after four of her children died and five other family members were sickened by an accidental poisoning under her home.

A spokesman for University Medical Center in Lubbock says 45-year-old Martha Balderas of Amarillo is in critical condition Tuesday, a day after fire officials responded to the accidental poisoning.

BSA Health System in Amarillo says five patients are in stable condition at its hospital. Fire officials say they are Balderas' husband and four of their children.

Authorities say poisonous gas was released when a family member used water to wash away pesticide pellets he had placed under the mobile home. Fire officials said the three boys, ages, 7, 9 and 11, and a girl age 17, died Monday.

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10:40 a.m.

Hospital officials say a Texas woman is in critical condition a day after four children died and five other people were sickened by an apparent accidental poisoning under her home.

A spokesman for University Medical Center in Lubbock says 45-year-old Martha Balderas of Amarillo was in critical condition Tuesday, a day after she and the other victims were discovered by someone checking on the home.

BSA Health System in Amarillo says five patients are in stable condition at its hospital.

Authorities say poisonous gas appears to have been released when someone used water to wash away a pesticide that was under Balderas' home. Her relationship with the other victims and their names haven't been released.

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Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller issued a statement Tuesday reminding consumers of the dangers of restricted use pesticides and the importance of hiring licensed pesticide applicators to avoid similar incidents

"The deaths of these children are a terrible tragedy and my prayers go out to this family and their loved ones," Commissioner Miller said. "Unfortunately, this tragic situation only serves as a reminder to all Texans to be extremely cautious around any pesticide and to rely upon a state-licensed structural pesticide professional for your pest control needs. There is a system in place to ensure your family's safety, but it begins with consumer awareness and education."

According to reports, the pesticide applied under the Amarillo house was pelleted aluminum phosphide fumigant, a powerful agricultural pesticide that was never meant for consumer or residential use. The product is clearly labeled as limited for use only by a licensed professional applicator. The label contains skull and crossbones, a commonly recognized symbol for poison.

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