Phosphine gas likely cause of Thailand deaths of Quebec sisters: coroner
Quebec coroner Renée Roussel disagrees with Thai medical examiner who blamed DEET cream
The cause of death of sisters Audrey Bélanger and Noémi Bélanger could not be formally tied to any particular substance, but a Quebec coroner has filed a report saying their deaths were probably caused by phosphine gas poisoning.
The Bélanger sisters of Pohénégamook, Que., died under mysterious circumstances in Thailand in 2012. Audrey was 20 and Noémi was 25 at the time of their deaths.
Coroner Renée Roussel revealed the details of her report on their deaths at Rivière-du-Loup High School on Monday morning.
"Science doesn't allow us to confirm this without a doubt. Maybe one day it will,” Roussel said.
Rather, Roussel said, it is likely that phosphine gas — a highly toxic substance — was the culprit behind the deaths, even if it was not apparent in their blood.
Roussel said about 20 Western tourists in Thailand have died in similar circumstances since 2009.
The coroner said the case of the Bélanger sisters was the most difficult investigation she has ever carried out.
Bélanger family mourns
Linda and Carl Bélanger, the parents of Noémi and Audrey, said the coroner's report did little to ease their pain.
Mother Linda Bélanger said the report, even if it had been conclusive, would not have helped the grieving process.
"This will follow us our whole lives," she said. "It's a wound that will never heal … Until the end of my days, I will always have this pain, this sadness."
Until the end of my days, I will always have this pain, this sadness.- Linda Bélanger, mother
Father Carl Bélanger said they may consider a lawsuit against the hotel or the makers of the pesticide, but that they hadn't arrived at that point yet.
Linda said they have another daughter and grandchildren to think of, and she doesn't know whether the family wants to devote its time and resources to a lawsuit.
She said it would prolong their grief and could impact the young children in their family.
"I would prefer to give this energy to my grandchildren who are growing up. I want them to have a happy life; I don't want them to see us crying all the time," Linda Bélanger said.
A joint investigation by Radio-Canada's Enquête and CBC's the fifth estate concluded a highly toxic pesticide used to control bedbugs in some holiday hotels in Asia may have caused the Bélanger sisters' deaths.
- Sisters' deaths in Thailand not from DEET, coroner says
- The National : Pesticides may have caused sisters’ deaths
- CBC's Fifth Estate: Return to Paradise
Audrey and Noémi Bélanger set off on a trip through Thailand in 2012.
Days after they arrived at the popular tourist destination of Phi Phi Island, a maid found the pair dead in their hotel room.
Both were covered in vomit, and their fingernails and toenails were tinged blue.
Not the first
The CBC/Radio-Canada investigation learned that the Bélanger sisters are not the only travellers whose deaths may be linked to this pesticide.
In May 2009, two other tourists staying on Phi Phi Island also died mysteriously.
Norwegian Julie Bergheim and American Jill St-Onge were staying in adjacent rooms at the Laleena Guest House, and they experienced similar symptoms including vomiting, dizziness and blue fingernails and toenails. Both were dead within 24 hours.
Four years after her daughter's death, Bergheim’s mother, Ina Thoresen, received a report from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. Authorities there had consulted with leading experts from around the world about what happened to her daughter.
Although they could not state the exact cause of Bergheim’s death, they concluded that the most likely cause was poisoning from phosphine gas.