Toxic aluminium phosphide – used as rat poison – is washing up on beaches in the Torres Strait, elsewhere on the Queensland coast, in New South Wales, South Australia and Tasmania, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority warned late this afternoon.
Aluminium phosphide is imported into Australia from China and Africa and “the unused nature of the canisters suggests they have come from an unreported shipping cargo loss,” the AMSA states.
That loss likely happened sometime before February 2012 as the canisters have been appearing since then.
Aluminium phosphide is a white-to-grey solid that reacts with airborne moisture to release phosphine gas, which is toxic to humans.
“The gas has a strong odour that can smell like garlic, rotting fish or urine, but it can quickly dull the sense of smell. Exposure can cause symptoms such as headaches, nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing, dizziness, tightness of the chest, diarrhoea, fluid in the lungs, liver/kidney damage, and death. The gas is also flammable and can spontaneously ignite causing burns or small explosions,” the AMSA said.
Canisters should not be moved or opened and any sightings should be immediately reported to the emergency services by calling 000.