A judge extended until Friday the remand of the exterminator who treated a home with a poisonous substance that left two small children dead and two more fighting for their lives.
The funerals of Avigail and Yael Gross, 1 and 4, who both died Wednesday, took place Thursday afternoon in Jerusalem. Doctors were working to stabilize two of the girls’ brothers, who were put on ECMO machines that provide both cardiac and respiratory support. Doctors said late Thursday there had been a slight improvement in their condition, but their lives were still in danger.
The exterminator will be under arrest for one more day and then spend three days under house arrest at the home of his lawyer Moshe Shiffman.
The exterminator has used the material before without any problem, Shiffman said on Thursday at the remand hearing.
The exterminator had visited the family’s home in the Givat Mordechai neighborhood of the capital on Monday. He reportedly used aluminum phosphide, which, when mixed with water, reacts to release phosphine, an extremely harmful gas.
The exterminator reportedly left a container of the poisonous material inside a room that he sealed with masking tape, intending to return to continue his work.
Shiffman said Thursday his client was an experienced, veteran professional and that there was no reason to keep him locked up.
“Just after this happened and even before the police got to him, he rushed to the hospital to help pass on information about the material he used to the doctors,” the lawyer said. “This is a substance he’s used for a long time. It’s tablets and it’s not clear to me that there’s a limit on the amount you can use.”
After falling ill, the girls were rushed to the hospital on Wednesday along with the rest of their family but doctors were unable to save their lives. They will be laid to rest in the Har Hamenuhot cemetery in the capital.
Two of their brothers, Yitzhak, 5, and Michael, 7, were transferred in critical condition to the Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel, located in Petah Tikva, where doctors battled to keep them stable in the hope that the poisons will eventually be cleansed from their bodies.
Both boys suffered severe damage to their cardiac muscles and doctors were fighting to save them, but the hospital noted that there was no known antidote to the toxin and that their lives were “definitely in danger.”
“The heart is suffering a lot from the poison that injured them,” Efrat Baron-Harlev, deputy director of the Schneider Medical Center, told Channel 10. The hope is that the hospital’s pulmonary and cardiac machines will give the boys’ hearts a recovery period to return to normal function.
“If that will happen or not, only time will tell,” she said.
The family had sought medical help on Tuesday evening, after the family’s five children began suffering from nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
The parents took their children to an emergency clinic believing it was a case of food poisoning and apparently didn’t tell doctors about the extermination work that had been conducted in the apartment. Doctors told the parents to use painkillers and then obtain stomach medication in the morning if the symptoms continued. However, by midday Wednesday the family was severely stricken by the fumes.
Following the deaths of the children, the clinic issued a statement expressing regret over the loss of life, but claimed no symptoms of poisoning were discovered in the tests.
“The tests did not uncover any suspicious finds,” the statement read. “After receiving the results of the tests and providing treatment for nausea, [the clinic] released the family home.” The clinic said it had launched an investigation of the incident.
Aluminium phosphide, also known by its trade name phostoxin, was found in “very, very high concentrations” in the apartment. The Environmental Protection Ministry, which oversees pest control, said that though the pesticide was approved for use in Israel, the dosage used at the house was apparently well over that suitable for home use.
According to Channel 2, between 2008 and 2012, 63 Israelis were hospitalized for phosphine toxicity.