Toxin almost kills family and pets after fish tank cleaning
Saturday, April 7, 2018, 17:20 - Aquarium owners might want to pay closer attention to just what they're putting in their tanks, after ten people and two pets were almost killed by a rare and deadly toxin.
Chris Matthews was cleaning his fish tank in Oxfordshire, U.K., and moving some of its contents to a new tank, including a particular kind of coral known as pulsing xenia. In the process, he scraped the coral's surface, inadvertently releasing a particular kind of deadly toxin known as palytoxin into the air.
After the task was completed, the family went to bed, but became deeply sick the following day, experiencing acute breathlessness, coughing and other symptoms. All six people in the house were hospitalized, along with four firefighters and two dogs.
"If we had spent another night in that bedroom our lives would have been in danger," Matthews told the Oxford Mail. "Certainly our dogs would have been in a very bad way according to the vet."
The incident actually prompted authorities to cordon off the area. Mike Leahy, a scientist and TV personality who was within the cordon at the time, told the BBC that kind of toxin can be lethal if eaten, but was less harmful if inhaled.
The Mail reports Matthews has kept an aquarium for 12 years, and was no amateur. Matthews himself says he's sharing his story because though that kind of coral is often described as exotic, he says it's actually quite common among aquarium enthusiasts, and he wants to warn anyone who has any.
"I knew about palytoxin, which can kill you if ingested, and that coral can cause things like rashes if you don't handle it carefully but I had no idea taking the pulsing xenia out of the water could make the toxin airborne," he says. "The information is not readily available online in a way people can easily understand and more needs to be done when people are buying these corals."
The toxin has been cleared out from Matthews' home, and he says the incident hasn't put him off aquariums.
"We've put more safety precautions in place, making sure we properly ventilate the room, but I love having fish and it's something that both sides of my family have always done," he told the Mail. “I'll be a lot more cautious in the future though.”