A FAMILY from a town near Sevilla who died all at once from suspected food poisoning perished by ingesting aluminium phosphate, according to toxicologists.
It is not known whether the chemical got into the family’s system through being inhaled, eaten or drunk, but less than a gram of the substance is enough to kill a human within hours.
Enrique Caño, 61 and Concepción Bautista, 50, and their 14-year-old daughter died on December 14 at their home in Alcalá de Guadaíra after displaying symptoms consistent with food poisoning, followed quickly by loss of pulse and respiration which medics were unable to reverse.
Their other daughter, aged 13, was treated in hospital and survived.
When questioned, she completely ruled out any incidence of criminal activity or of suicide, but said she had eaten different food the night before.
The surviving daughter had eaten a ham sandwich for dinner, whereas her parents and sister had marinated rock salmon with breadcrumb-coated meat rolls, known as flamenquines.
Family members have refuted claims that the deceased couple and their children ate out-of-date food or raided bins to be able to eat due to financial problems, as was first thought.
But toxicologists working for the court of Alcalá de Guadaíra are basing their hypotheses on food in poor conditions or accidental ingestion of toxins, having ruled out murder or suicide.
Aluminium phosphate destroys body tissue in less than two hours and in concentrations of just one per cent, is fatal, say scientists.
Professor José Luis García Fierro of the Catalysis and Petrol-Chemical Institute says when aluminium phosphate comes into contact with oxygen, it is ‘tremendously dangerous’ for living beings.
It is used in pill format to kill rats and mice and, combined with the natural humidity in the atmosphere, forms a chemical compound known as PH3 or Phosphine – very similar to Ammonia – which contains Phosphorus, smells unpleasant and is highly poisonous.
Inhaling aluminium phosphate causes irreversible damage to the lungs and, if the concentration inhaled is around one per cent or more, death will occur in a matter of hours.
With concentrations of less than one per cent, if the person is attended to immediately, death can sometimes be prevented – which is what Professor García Fierro believes may have happened with the 13-year-old girl who survived.
Where the aluminium phosphate was swallowed rather than inhaled, the effect is exactly the same except that the irreversible damage leading to death affects the stomach rather than the lungs.
Just one rat-poison pill made from aluminium phosphate, of less than a gram, is enough to almost instantly kill a human being, said the Professor.