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Toxic gas kills four children

DALLAS (AP) – A criminal investigation is underway into an apparent accidental poisoning involving a professional-grade pesticide that left four children dead and an Amarillo woman in critical condition, police said Tuesday.

Authorities are looking into why the family had the pesticide pellets, called Weevil-cide, which is only supposed to be sold to people with professional licenses or certification. The product’s manual, available online, outlines stringent guidelines for using the product including having two trained individuals apply it. Figures from the American Association of Poison Control Centers show that deaths from the pesticide are rare.

The father of the children who died told first responders through a Spanish language interpreter that he had spread the pellets under the family’s mobile home after obtaining the product from a friend, Amarillo Fire Capt. Larry Davis said. Davis said the product is not available for sale to the general public. The product’s manual says it’s intended for use in pest control in commercial transport or storage of commodities and animal feed.

Amarillo police spokesman Officer Jeb Hilton says the department’s special crimes unit is investigating because of the child deaths. Once completed, the investigation will be turned over to the district attorney to determine whether charges will be filed.

Fire officials identified the children who died as 7-year-old Felipe Balderas, 9-year-old Johnnie Balderas, 11-year-old Josue Balderas and 17-year-old Yasmeen Balderas. Officials have said all four children lived at the home in Amarillo, which is about 350 miles northwest of Dallas.

The children’s mother, Martha Balderas, 45, was in critical condition Tuesday at University Medical Center in Lubbock, according to a hospital spokesman. Five other family members, including the father and four other children, were being treated at BSA Health System in Amarillo and were in stable condition, hospital and fire officials said early Tuesday.

Authorities said that phosphine gas was likely released when the father took a garden hose at some point Sunday and tried to rinse away some of the pellets because family members had complained of the smell.

The water started the chemical reaction that released the phosphine gas.

Phosphine gas can cause respiratory failure and in severe cases can cause a pulmonary edema, which fills the lungs full of fluid.