Poisoning by phosphorus is rare in India, but a few accidental, suicidal
and even homicidal cases have occurred. A Hindu male child4 died after
swallowing accidentally 4 or 5 "cracker caps", little reddish pellets con-
taining phosphorus and enclosed in circular discs of paper. They are
intended to be rubbed against any hard or rough surface when they will
ignite spontaneously and continue burning in a succession of small explosions
accompanied by evolution of bright sparks and clouds of irritating vapour.
In his annual report for the year 1940, the Chemical Examiner, Bengal,
reports a case in which a girl, aged 12 years, committed suicide by taking
" cracker caps ". A Parsi lad,5 not seeing his name in the first published
list of the successful candidates at the matriculation examination declared on
May 31, 1933, took a dose of phosphorus with fatal consequences, as he
thought that he had failed. His name appeared in the second list of the
A case6 of attempted homicidal poisoning by phosphorus is recorded.
A woman administered tips of matches in a betel to her husband with the
intention of poisoning him. The man, on chewing the betel, detected a
peculiar taste and smell, and immediately spat it out. The chewed betel was
found to contain tips of lucifer matches in which phosphorus was detected.
In his annual report for the year 1940, the Chemical Examiner, Madras,
records a case where white phosphorus was mixed in the food which was
served to a guest who was invited to dinner. After eating a few morsels of
the food the guest was seized with an uneasy sensation in the stomach and
vomited. White phosphorus weighing about 2/5 grain was detected in the
In war time phosphorus is used for creating smoke screens and for its
incendiary properties it is used in small arms, in bullets, in hand-grenades,
in shells and in bombs. A case7 recorded in whidb. an airman, whole flying
over enemy territory, received a bullet wound in the left thigh and died of
acute phosphorus poisoning after six days. The bullet being an explosive
one and containing a charge of high explosive and 3^ grains of phosphorus
exploded in the soft tissues and set free concentrated phosphorus which was
absorbed in the system.
Phosphorus is occasionally used to set fire, and is frequently suspected
of being the cause of the so-called spontaneous combustion occurring in
cotton bales. In his annual report for the year 1928, the Bombay Chemical
Analyser mentions that he received two small tin pill-boxes from Ahmedabad
where they had been seized in connection with a case of suspected arson.
One contained a piece of charred cotton wool waste and the other a few
fragments of a dark, fuming, semi-solid substance. The fuming matter
proved to be white phosphorus, and the same was detected in the charred
cotton. White phosphorus, rolled up in a wet cloth,8 or dissolved in carbon
bisulphide,9 was also employed to set fire to postal letter boxes during the
civil disobedience movement in 1932.
Although phosphorus is very readily oxidized in the air, it may be
detected in the unoxidized form in a dead body several days after death even
when it has reached an advanced state of decomposition. This is probably
due to the fact that the reducing gases which are developed during decom-
position protect phosphorus from oxidation. Alpers 10 found phosphorus in
4. Bombay Chemical Analyser's Annual Report, 1930, p. 6; see also West Bengal's
Chemical Examiner's Annual Report, 1952.
5. Free Press Journal, June 4, 1933.
6. Ind. MedL Gaz., Oct. 1907, p. 394; Beng. Chem, Exam. Annual Rep., 1906,
7. A. J. Blaxland, Brit. Med. ~Jour*> Dec. 5, 1942, p. 664.
8. Madras Chem. Examiner's Annual Rep,, 1932, "p. 8.
9. Punjab Chem. Examiner's Annual Rep., 1932, p. 7.
10. Pharm. Ztg^ 58 (1913), 127; Autenreith, Ibid., p, 2k *