Firecracker ingestion and white phosphorus poisoning

February 24, 2011, 10:06 pm


White phosphorus poisoning by oral ingestion of firecrackers or little devils: Current experience in Ecuador. Gonzalez-Andrade F, Lopez-Pulles R. Clin Toxicol 2011;49:29-33.


This paper comes from Ecuador, where illegal “little devil” firecrackers (diablillos) — contain highly toxic white phosphorus (WP) — are frequently ingested in suicide attempts.  The authors report on 85 cases of ingestion of these firecrackers over a single year (2009) presenting to seven hospitals.

Common symptoms were gastrointestinal: abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting.  The symptom list is not very helpful, since white phosphorus poisoning encompasses three stages (see below), and the authors made no attempt to correlate presenting signs and symptoms with the time elapsed between ingestion and presentation.  In fact, the entire paper is somewhat disorganized, but it does provide a short discussion of white phosphorus, from which the following questions are been formulated.  Click on the question to reveal the answer.

Yellow Phosphorus

WP, a solid, is unstable in air, undergoing spontaneous combustion at room temperature. This reaction produces a large amount of heat, as well as smoke. White phosphorus is luminous and glows in the dark.

Phase I (0 – 24 hours) Gastrointestinal effects: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain.

Phase II (1 – 3 days) Quiescent stage with improvement. Mild nausea, vomiting, diarrhea.

Phase III (> 3 days) Multi-system failure, involving liver, heart, kidneys, and the CNS.

There is no specific antidote.

Phosphorescent feces or vomitus, also known as the “smoking stool syndrome”.

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