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Fumigant responsible for deaths of Seville family members in their own home

Chemical was present on container caps collected by the father to sell for recycling

The home in which the victims were living in Alcalá de Guadaíra, Seville.
The home in which the victims were living in Alcalá de Guadaíra, Seville.Paco Puentes

The three members of a family who died mysteriously inside their home on December 14 suffered from phosphine poisoning, toxicology experts have confirmed.

Investigators found large amounts of container caps in one of the apartment bathrooms, containing trace amounts of the toxic chemical, which is widely used as a fumigant. It is believed that the father, who was unemployed, sold the caps for recycling purposes.

Sources familiar with the case said that the National Toxicology Institute has filed a definitive report with the courthouse in Alcalá de Guadaíra (Seville) that is handling the case.

Investigators ruled out food poisoning, and sought other explanations for the vomiting and diarrhea that killed all three victims

News of the sudden death of the Caño Bautista family —both parents and their 14-year-old daughter— initially fueled rumors that the victims might have eaten out-of-date food because both parents were out of a job and were struggling to make ends meet.

But investigators soon ruled out food poisoning, and sought other explanations for the sudden vomiting and diarrhea that killed all three victims at the hospital in a matter of hours.

According to the expert report, the accidental death occurred when the victims inhaled aluminum phosphide, a fumigant that turns into a highly toxic gas called phosphine on contact with water or moisture. One of the bathrooms was filled with entire bags full of caps, some of which had originally been used to seal containers of aluminum phosphide.

A fourth member of the family, a 13-year-old girl, did not have dinner at home with her family that night, and returned when the volatile effects of the chemical had already disappeared. Her court testimony did not provide any information that might suggest a collective suicide or a crime by one of the family members.

Phosphine is a volatile substance that is broken down and leaves the body quickly after producing its deadly effects, which is why the toxicology experts ruled out other poisons such as heavy metals or cyanide.

Aluminum phosphide is used as a fumigant in agriculture and to clean out silos and ham-drying facilities. It gives off an unpleasant smell similar to rotting fish, something that the neighbors of the dead family said they noticed on the day of the tragedy.

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