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15-month-old Rachel Toone dies Tuesday following possible toxic gas exposure

LAYTON — A 15-month old girl died Tuesday, three days after her 4-year-old sister died in a freak accident that investigators believe may have exposed both children to toxic gas fumes from a rodent pesticide.

Rachel Toone, 15 months, died at Primary Children's Medical Center, where she had been in critical condition since Monday, said Bonnie Midget, the medical center's spokeswoman. Rachel's 4-year-old sister, Rebecca, died Saturday at Davis Hospital and Medical Center in Layton.

"Our sweet baby daughter, Rachel Toone, passed away despite heroic efforts to save her life following heart failure early Monday morning," the family, Nathan and Brenda Toone and their 10-year-old daughter and 7-year-old son, said in a prepared statement Tuesday. "We are heartbroken as we and our two older children mourn Rachel's passing and that of her sister Rebecca, who died Saturday."

Rachel and Rebecca died from what authorities believe was exposure to fumes emitted from tablets of Fumitoxin, a rat poison that emits phosphine gas when it reacts with moisture.

The Davis County Health Department said Tuesday it will lift its closure order on the Toones' home near 1400 N. 2400 West, which was closed Sunday after Rebecca's death.

"Based upon the results of this morning's tests, we are confident that the risk of the chemical has been cleared from the house," said health department spokesman Bob Ballew.

"We're waiting until the family indicates they are willing to move back in, and then we'll remove the closed sign from the residence," he added.

Members of the Utah Army National Guard and the Layton Fire Department used three different instruments to scan the home Tuesday for traces of the phosphine gas that is suspected of killing Rebecca and Rachel.

"We went into every room, every nook and cranny we could possibly test for phosphine, and all instruments came up zero," said Lt. Col. Tyler Smith, commander of the Guard's 85th Civil Support Team.

Authorities believe the two young girls may have been exposed to the toxic gas after a Bountiful pest-control company placed the tablets in the ground around the girls' home on Friday to kill voles, a species of small burrowing rodents.

Preliminary reports from the medical examiner offered no information about a possible cause of Rebecca's death, said Layton Police Lt. Quinn Moyes, and results from toxicology tests will not be available for at least six weeks.

Smith said investigators suspect phosphine gas found its way into the Toone home through the "tiny, tiny cracks and crevices where the foundation meets the construction." He said monitors used in the house Sunday detected the highest levels of gas in a corner of the garage closest to the holes in the front yard where the Fumitoxin was buried. They also measured concentrations of the gas in the bedrooms occupied by Rebecca and Rachel.

The levels in the garage registered at 30 parts per million, Smith said, below the 50 ppm level deemed "immediately dangerous to life or health" by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

"But it's very possible, based on the characteristic of this chemical, that there could have been higher concentrations during the daytime (Saturday) when the family started to experience symptoms," he said.

The technician from Bugman Pest Control who administered the tablets has been placed on administrative leave during the investigation, but company president Ray Wilson said so far, there's no indication anything went awry.

The rat pellets are placed in a hole in the ground, then covered by newspaper and more dirt, and over a period of 48 to 72 hours, the gas will dissipate until only a nonpoisonous gas is left, Wilson said.

Police have interviewed Wilson and the technician, and Moyes said both are being cooperative.

A product manual for Fumitoxin states — in all capital letters — that the pesticide should not be placed "into a burrow system that is within 15 feet" of an occupied building, "especially residences." The Fumitoxin excavated from the Toones' front yard had been placed along the walkway to the home's front steps, according to Smith. There were also tablets buried next to the steps themselves, he said.

"You can look at the pictures of where the steps are and draw your own conclusions on how close that is to the house," Smith said.

The family will have a funeral for both girls in a few days and requested to be left alone to "celebrate their lives" among friends and family.

"We also want to thank so many community members for the outpouring of kindness we have felt and for the sustaining prayers offered in our behalf," the family's statement said.

Contributions to assist the family may be made to the Rebecca and Rachel Toone Trust Fund at any office of Wells Fargo Bank.

Contributing: Lana Groves

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