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Toone tragedy highlights need for toxin awareness

Ordinary items found in the home can pose a deadly threat to anyone, especially children. Poisons, toxins, cleaners, medicines and insecticides need to be placed in a safe, secure location. Plants, insects and wild animals can also be dangerous when handled inappropriately.

Sun Advocate reporter

The unspeakable horror that the Nathan and Brenda Toone family of Layton has gone through recently has shown a white hot spotlight on the need for basic knowledge of poisons and toxins we might come in contact with everyday in and around our homes and workplaces.

It for that reason the National Poison Prevention Week will take place March 14-20. The week is presented in part by the Utah Poison Control Center (UPCC), the second oldest facility in the nation.

The center, which is affiliated with the University of Utah, was established in 1954. Since that time, the organization has responded to over one million calls for assistance.

In 2008 alone, the UPCC responded to over 56,000 calls. Of the potential poisonings involved, over 63 percent involved children six years of age or younger - just like Rebecca and Rachel Toone.

Rebecca, 4, and her sister, Rachel, 15 months, passed away within days of one another after their home was treated with pesticides to eliminate rodents. The family had contracted a local company to help get rid of some voles (like a mouse, but smaller and rounder) around the residence.

A technician used the chemical Fumitoxin in burrows around the Toone's home. The Fumitoxin applicator's manual states that the pellets are not to be used within 15 feet of any building being occupied by people or animals, especially homes (in 1998, the EPA proposed increasing the buffer zone around homes treated by phosphine from 15 feet to 100, but the suggestion was never adopted).

But Lt. Col. Tyler Smith, of the Utah National Guard's 85th Civil Support Team, says his team found remnants of the one and a half pounds of the chemical, which translates into roughly 800 pellets, that was placed along the driveway and porch, coming within three feet of the garage door and about seven feet of the front door.

According to Layton Fire Chief Kevin Ward, the pellets used mixed with water to release deadly phosphine gas. It apparently then migrated from the soil into the home. The pellets release a colorless gas that has a fishy or garlicky odor when they come in contact with moisture. The off-gas, phosphine, is toxic when ingested or inhaled, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which is affiliated with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Shortly thereafter, Rebecca died after she began having trouble breathing. The Utah Medical Examiner's Office conducted an autopsy but has not determined a cause of death, Layton police Lt. Quinn Moyes said. Toxicology tests are expected to take up to eight weeks to complete Rebecca Toone's parents and siblings were hospitalized with flu-like symptoms .

They were all discharged the next day, but Rachel, fell ill again that afternoon and was taken to Primary Children's Medical Center. Sadly, little Rachel died there a day later. And while the authorities are not 100 percent sure of the deaths of the Toone sisters, the fact that the rodent poison was place around the home so close to when the family fell ill, they are reasonably sure the two incidents are connected.

Thousands of children throughout the United States are accidentally poisoned each year by cleaning products, insecticides, medicine (both prescription and over-the-counter), weed and plant killers, paint products (including turpentine and other solvents) and even illegal narcotics used by parents or others living in the home.

"Poisonings can happen to anyone at any age," said Marty Malheiro, coordinator of outreach for the Utah Poison Control Center. "It's absolutely critical in this environment to be aware - whether we have children or not. But it's just so easy for children to get into things."

It's not just obvious toxins one needs to worry about, however. There are numerous plants and insects that could cause great harm to children, as well. Many common houseplants if eaten can be poisonous and bug and/or animal bites can also be trouble if not treated quickly.

"If a person has to use things like insecticide or herbacides , they should go with the least harmful items first," Malheiro added. "If you need to hire someone, ask to see all of the labels for all of the products to be used. Look for caution words like 'danger,' 'poison,' or 'warning.' Our motto is 'use products safely, store products safely.'"

Toxins can be ingested or inhaled or drawn into the body through the skin or eyes. If any of these situations occur, contact the control center as soon as possible. Remain calm, have the poison product available (if possible) and call 1-800-222-1222.

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