Second Girl Dies in Apparent Pesticide Poisoning in Utah
As reported here an elsewhere in the national media (although not loudly enough) two days ago, a 4-year-old girl died of apparent pesticide poisoning after her parents hired a company to rid their lawn of voles. On Tuesday, the girl’s 15-month-old sister also passed away.
The environmental and health community is aghast that the EPA ever allowed the pesticide in this case — Fumitoxin, or aluminum phosphide — to be registered for home use in the first place. The product releases a toxic gas, phosphine, that according to the EPA is not allowed to be used within 15 feet of a home.
When the tablets or granules of the product are dropped into a vole or mole hole in the lawn, however, it is virtually impossible to predict where the tunnels might lead underground. It is quite possible, in fact, that a tunnel originating 15 feet or more from the home could lead directly into the structure — thereby releasing the gas directly into the living area, which is apparently what happened in the Utah case.
We hope this serves as a wake-up call for the EPA to immediately restrict this pesticide for home use — and also to step-up the re-evaluation process for hundreds of other lawn and garden pesticides. This tragedy could, and should have been avoided.
Here is an excerpt from an article by Beyond Pesticides:
(Beyond Pesticides, February 11, 2010) Investigators are tying the deaths of 4-year and 15-month old sisters in Layton, Utah to a pesticide that was used to kill voles, a small, burrowing rodent, in their family’s front yard. The 4-year-old, Rebecca Toone, died Saturday and her sister Rachel died on Tuesday after the family was hospitalized with flu-like symptoms then discharged. The girls went back to the hospital when they fell ill again after returning home. The cause of the deaths has not yet been determined, according to the Utah Medical Examiner’s Office, and toxicology tests are expected to take up to eight weeks to complete. However, investigators say that chemical may have wafted into the family’s home after an exterminator dropped Fumitoxin, aluminum phosphide, pellets in burrow holes in the lawn on Friday.
The death of these children and the poisoning of the family raise serious issues about the adequacy of the pesticide’s label restrictions, approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and their enforceability. In the case of aluminum phosphide, EPA has allowed the use that led to these avoidable deaths after proposing to ban the pesticide’s residential uses in 1998 in its reregistration eligibility document (RED). Current label directions for aluminum phosphide pellets and tablets used in animal burrows on residential property allow their application within 15 feet of a home. See Fumitoxin Applicators Manual, p.32. However, EPA, in proposing a 100 foot treatment limit and other measures in 1998 said, “These actions would eliminate the residential uses of aluminum and magnesium phosphide but would allow for rodent control to continue under other circumstances.” See RED Fact, Aluminum and Magnesium Phosphide, 1998, pp11-12.
Aluminum phosphide is known to be highly acutely toxic when ingested or inhaled. Symptoms of mild to moderate acute exposure include nausea, abdominal pain, tightness in chest, excitement, restlessness, agitation and chills. Symptoms of more severe exposure include, diarrhea, cyanosis, difficulty breathing, pulmonary edema, respiratory failure, tachycardia (rapid pulse) and hypotension (low blood pressure), dizziness and/or death.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, the pest control company Bugman Pest and Lawn purportedly placed about one and a half pounds of the aluminum phosphide pellets along the sidewalk leading up to the Toone’s front porch, up to about seven feet from the front door and three feet from the garage. Inspectors believe that the phosphine gas that is given off from the aluminum phosphide collected in an open space underneath the porch and seeped into the house from there.
According to Fumitoxin’s manufacturer, the pellets are not supposed to be used within 15 feet of any building occupied by people or animals. The manufacturer also recommends 2 to 4 tablets per hole for rodent control, which means that according to estimates from the article, the pest control company used approximately 227 tablets, or enough for at least 56 vole burrows. The product’s direction say the following: “This product may be used out-of-doors only for control of burrowing pests. THIS PRODUCT MUST NOT BE APPLIED INTO A BURROW SYSTEM THAT IS WITHIN 15 BEET (5 METERS) OF A BUILDING THAT IS, OR MAY BE, OCCUPIED BY HUMANS, AND/OR ANIMALS – ESPECIALLY RESIDENCES.”