A 4-year-old Layton girl died over the weekend from what's believed to have been exposure to a gas used to kill rodents. Now her 15-month-old sister is in intensive care for the same thing, and investigators still don't know how the gas leaked into their home.
The Toone family's neighborhood, near 1500 North and 2400 West, was filled with firefighters, police and experts from the National Guard Monday afternoon. All of them are working to find out how phosphine contaminated the home.
What is … phosphine gas?
It is a colorless and odorless gas. It has a disagreeable, garlic-like, or decaying fish odor when found in commercial products. Aluminum and zinc phosphide release phosphine gas when exposed to moisture. Both products are used as rodenticides. www.OEHHA.CA.Gov
. Earlier in the day, members of the Utah National Guard's 85th Civil Support Team dug at two locations around the house where an exterminator placed the poisonous pellets on Friday, and found and removed the poison.
According to Layton Fire Chief Kevin Ward, crews are testing to see how much aluminum phosphate was used and how much of the toxic gas may have gotten into the house. When the home was tested Sunday, it had 30 parts per million of phosphine; 50 parts per million is considered deadly.
"We are still at a mystery as to how it actually got into the home, how it leached in. Whether there was a, some kind of pipe or cracks in the foundations, we don't know," Ward said. "We don't even know if the application was done according to the way it's supposed to be done in the first place."
Health hazards of phosphine gas
Effects from short-term exposure to high concentrations (greater than 2 ppm) may result in severe lung irritation, cough and chest tightness. Neurological effects include: dizziness, lethargy, convulsions, and coma; agitation and psychotic behavior are often present as well. Signs of phosphine toxicity include: rapid and/or irregular heart rate, low blood pressure, shock, nausea, abdominal pain, vomiting, diarrhea and cardiac arrest. www.OEHHA.CA.Gov
. At first, the Toone family thought they might have a carbon monoxide leak when several family members started feeling sick Friday and their detector sounded. They called the fire department, which determined there was a small amount of CO, but nothing serious, and the home was cleared.
Then Saturday, 4-year-old Rebecca Toone started having a hard time breathing.
"The mother originally took the 4-year-old to the Wee Care Urgent Care center in belief that this was possibly just food poisoning," Ward said.
Doctors recognized Rebecca's symptoms as much more than food poisoning and transported her to the Davis County Hospital, where she died.
After the girl's death, firefighters went back to the house and determined that the family likely became sick because of the aluminum phosphine that was placed in the ground outside the house. Now Rebecca's 15-month-old sister, Rachel, is in critical condition at Primary Children's Medical Center.
Special concerns for children:
Children may inhale relatively larger amounts of phosphine gas due to their faster respiratory rates and greater lung size to body weight ratio. Children may also receive higher doses due to their short stature. Phosphine is slightly heavier than air and may settle close to the ground in the breathing zone typical for children. www.OEHHA.CA.Gov.The
Toone family released a statement Monday evening, saying, "We are greatly saddened by the passing of our 4-year-old daughter, Rebecca Toone. ... We have been sustained by the love of our family, friends and neighbors, and by our faith and understanding of our purpose in this life and the world to come. While much is yet to be understood, we respectfully ask for the privacy to mourn our loss and see Rachel's care and some measure of peace for ourselves and our children." [CLICK HERE to read the entire statement from the Toone family]
"It (phosphine) just disrupts the function of the cells so that they can't perform their normal bodily functions; and again, our heart and our brain are most affected, as well as the lungs," said Dr. Barbara Insley Crouch, with the Utah Poison Control Center.
The Toones' home was treated for a rat infestation by a pesticide company Friday. According to the fire department, the company put tablets of poison into burrow holes in both the front and back yard.
Ward said part of the investigation will be to determine if the company that placed the pesticide followed proper protocol. A representative from the company is on site and helping with the investigation.
"From what I understand, they have been very cooperative," Ward said. "They have given all of their application information, where they have put all the materials. They have given us material safety data sheets that have all the information we need about the chemical."
Police identified the company as Bugman Lawn and Pest Inc. out of Bountiful and said all of its exterminators are certified. According to police, the exterminator who worked at the Toone's home has been with the company for several years.
Phosphine is the extremely toxic gas used to kill rodents, but it's not typically used in residential areas. The fire department also is monitoring seven other people who were exposed when they responded to the house on Friday.
The other family members, including two other children, were treated at the hospital and released.