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Sister of Layton girl who died of suspected exposure to poison gas is hospitalized

LAYTON — A sister of Rebecca Toone, the 4-year-old Layton girl who died Saturday from suspected exposure to poison gas, was hospitalized Monday in intensive care.

Rachel Toone, 15 months, is being treated at Primary Children's Medical Center for possible phosphine poisoning and was in critical condition as of Monday night, said Layton Fire Chief Kevin Ward.

"This is extremely rare," he said. "I've never seen anything like it in the 33 years of my career."

Authorities believe Rebecca and Rachel Toone may have inhaled fumes emitted from tablets of Fumitoxin, a rat poison. Fire officials said a Bountiful pest control company placed the tablets in the ground around the family's home on Friday to kill voles, a species of small rodents.

"We don't know if that's what killed the child or not. It's a possibility that we're looking at," said Layton Police Lt. Quinn Moyes.

Initially, though, the concern was carbon monoxide poisoning. Firefighters were called Friday afternoon to the Toone home near 1500 North and 2400 West when the family's carbon monoxide alarm went off. Trace amounts of carbon monoxide were detected, Ward said, but Questar Gas crews were unable to find any concentrations of the gas.

The family was allowed to return home, but within 24 hours, the youngest two children began feeling ill.

When Rebecca Toone later began experiencing breathing problems, she was taken to the Wee Care pediatric clinic in Layton. She went into respiratory distress, then cardiac arrest, and was rushed to nearby Davis Hospital and Medical Center where she died, police said.

"We are greatly saddened by the passing of our 4-year-old daughter Rebecca Toone," the family said in a prepared statement. "Our 15-month-old daughter Rachel is being treated at Primary Children's Hospital with serious complications related to symptoms similar to Rebecca's. We love these girls and our two older children with all our hearts."

Preliminary reports from the medical examiner show Rebecca had no carbon monoxide in her system. Moyes said the reports also offered no information about a possible cause of death. Results from toxicology tests will not be available for six to eight weeks, he said.

Members of the Utah Army National Guard's 85th Civil Support Team did find amounts of phosphine gas inside the Toones' home that approached the "immediately dangerous to life and health level," according to Ward.

"That's for an average-size male," he said. "When you have a 15-month-old and a 4-year-old, they obviously couldn't handle that much exposure to the phosphine."

The gas, which dissipates easily in open air, is common in rodent control but can also be created if dry Fumitoxin gets wet. Inhaling the fumes can cause potentially fatal blistering and edema, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

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.

"So far, he is not guilty of doing anything improper," said Wilson.

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

"Could a rodent have taken part of the product inside the home?" Wilson said. "Or is there a crack in the foundation, and a tunnel allowed the gas inside the house? We don't know. But I do know we've never had an incident in the 25 years this company has been open."

Wilson said one pellet, which is about the size of a pencil eraser, is highly unlikely to be enough to harm a child, even if they're in a closed room with it. About 200 pellets would be needed to fumigate the average bedroom, he said.

Ward said the manufacturer of Fumitoxin has told state officials that if Rebecca's death was caused by phosphine gas emitted from their product, it would be only the second such case in nearly 10 years.

In August 2000, a 5-year-old South Dakota girl died and her sisters, ages 11 and 8, were hospitalized in serious condition after their father placed Fumitoxin pellets in the ground near the family's home. The man and his wife also were briefly hospitalized, according to a news account of the incident.

Six Layton firefighters, four Questar Gas employees and two Layton police officers have been tested for possible phosphine exposure because they were in the Toone home Friday before the nature of the problem was accurately identified, Ward said. None has shown any sign of illness.

Investigators from the Utah Department of Health, the Utah Department of Environmental Quality and the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food are assisting in the probe.

Crews fully ventilated the Toone home Monday and removed all of the pesticide tablets from the ground. The home was then sealed, Ward said, so smoke could be pumped into the holes in the ground where the tablets had been to try to determine how the gas may have migrated into the home.

"That's all under investigation," the chief said.

"Whether or not they followed every policy and protocol regarding the use of the chemical, that's being determined by the police department right now," Ward said.

The Toone family requested to be left alone to mourn and follow Rachel's care.

"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," the family said in the statement. "We are sincerely grateful for the efforts of police, firefighters and health care professionals who have served our family with kindness and tenderness."

Those wanting to contribute to help the family can give to a trust fund in the name of Rebecca Toone at any office of Wells Fargo Bank.

Contributing: Lana Groves

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