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Palytoxin nearly killed my family and pet's. A warning! PLEASE READ!

Discussion in 'General Reefkeeping Discussion' started by Fourthwind, Mar 11, 2018.

  1. Fourthwind

    Fourthwind Amphipod M.A.S.C Club Member

    A traumatic event happened at my house this week. My family and pets became very sick and in the dogs case, near death. A chain of events lead to my house being filled with aerosolized Palytoxin. This week’s event in our house changed my life.
    In one way I am thankful that my family and dogs are still alive, but the event has left a permanent mark psychologically. The guilt I have been feeling is a heavy weight on my shoulders. As I am writing this I listen to every breath my family takes, and am watching my dogs like hawks. The anxiety of it all is very consuming even though I have done everything I can to make sure our house is safe (Bleach, Ozone, Hepa, UV treatments)

    I am writing this in hopes that what happened to me and my family doesn’t ever happen again. Here is the chain of events and a bit of background.

    For a year I have been gathering parts here and there when I had the money to build a softy reef tank for my 9 Year old daughter who loves everything reef. One of the items I bought is some “Dried” rock from a guy that had broken down his tank several years ago. He was not a serious reefer, but had a bunch of items he was getting rid of. The rock was in sealed containers, but I believe he had some zoas or paly’s on the rocks when he pulled it out of his tank, and the coral died leaving toxins.
    With that being said we started plumbing the tank and getting the scaping done on Monday. The tank looked great! Tuesday morning I started filling the tank with RODI, and tested the plumbing. All was looking good by mid afternoon, so I started dumping salt into the tank.

    Most of the salt was an anhydrous salt mix (no, I am not going to name a manufacture). As you may or may not know anhydrous salt reacts with water and gets very hot. The salt was covering the rock as I spread it out all over the place. I truly believe this was when the Palytoxin got literally cooked off the rock.

    With the tank running, I went about my day. Later that day I started getting a scratchy throat. Figured I had a cold coming on, but I tend to ignore and push through when there is work to be done. That same afternoon my wife, who is an asthmatic, had a pretty severe attack. Neither of us could figure out why, because there was no normal “triggers” present in the house. She medicated herself and a few hours later was feeling much better.
    We were out of the house most of Wednesday and besides a cough here and there, we were not having any issues. Wednesday night my son started coughing pretty heavily, and again I am just thinking “great the whole family is getting a cold” Here is when things took a turn for the worse in a hurry.

    Thursday morning I get my kids into their schoolwork (we home school), and I look at the tank and it looks slightly yellow, so I decide to start the protein skimmer to see if I can get out some of the organics. Within several hours of starting the protein skimmer, my kids and I coughs were getting progressively worse. To the point I told them to stop schoolwork. I go up stairs and my wife is starting yet another massive asthma attack (or at least I thought it was)

    At this point I am shaking my head wondering what’s going on, and then I see that my older labrador is struggling to breath. I immediately tossed the red flag and evacuated everyone to the back yard. It was at this time my 7 month old lab puppy came up to us drooling and shivering.

    It was time for 911. The emergency crews came to my house, and examined all of us. My kids and I were treated and released, but my wife was taken to a local ER due to her pain and labored breathing. I rushed my dogs to the local vet where they were put in oxygen chambers and given fluids. Everyone including the dogs had blood draws and toxin screens. All came back clear of normal toxins.

    Mind you they do not understand nor do they test for Palytoxins! My house was heavily scrutinized by emergency services with ZERO detectable toxins. Again this is just not a normal thing you can scan for. Everyone is just shaking their heads trying to figure out what just happened to this family.

    After some brain storming with some friends, a little Google, and some calls to people I know in the field, we finally figured out what happened. 1: Palytoxins were present on the rocks that I installed in the tank. 2: Rehydration and heat from anhydrous salt likely activated the toxin. 3: Protein skimmer emitting large amounts of micro bubbles into the tank aerosolized the Palytoxins into the air. My family is not the first to fall victim to this as you can do a Google search and read other stories like mine where families and pets nearly died, and in some cases the pets did die.

    What lessons did I learn from this? Never ever trust any rock you get. Always sanitize rock before use! Bleach and then cook the rock outside your home. ALWAYS wear protective gear when handling rock or corals. Even dry rock!

    Will this stop me from reefing? No way! I love it too much to let a freak accident stop me from a hobby I love. With that being said however, I do sincerely hope that this story is shared everywhere so this doesn’t happen again to anyone. Right now I need to get back to building our life back up. We all still have some left over affects of the toxins, but are improving every day.

    My first project is to cheer my daughter up who is really sad. While she knows that there was little choice at the time to break down her tank (she has been very sweet to cheer me up from my guilt), she knows she will have to wait a long time to get her tank running again because after the ER bill, $1000 vet bill, and clean up costs, buying rock and sand just isn’t in the cards. (We threw out everything and bleached the tank in the haste of getting our house back).

    Happy and Safe Reefing!
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 11, 2018
    whyamisofly likes this.
  2. neil82

    neil82 Cuttle Fish M.A.S.C Club Member

    Very sorry to hear this and I hope you all get well soon. I was just about to dig in to a box of second hand dry rock. Thanks for posting.
  3. Balz3352

    Balz3352 Marlin M.A.S.C Club Member

    This is scary!
    Im glad everyone is okay. Thanks for the post and the education. It is much appreciated
  4. kchristensen8064

    kchristensen8064 Prawn M.A.S.C Club Member

    I wish you all a fast recovery. Sorry this happened to you, I have read a few similar articles about this toxin and the thought of it is scary. I commend you for not throwing in the towel.
    Fourthwind likes this.
  5. Legonch

    Legonch Emerald Reef Supply M.A.S.C Club Member Featured Sponsor

    Im so glad you guys are all okay!! Thats nasty! Best wishes for a speedy recovery to all of you!
  6. CRW Reef

    CRW Reef Orca M.A.S.C Club Member ex-officio

    Glad to hear you guys are ultimately ok and on your way to recovery. Paly toxins are no joke for sure!!!! I had a similar issue earlier in the year at my house, scary stuff!!!

    Keep us updated as recover.
  7. SynDen

    SynDen Shark Staff Member M.A.S.C Club Member M.A.S.C. B.O.D. M.A.S.C President M.A.S.C Webmaster

    Glad you are all safe and recovering. Thank you for sharing your story so that others may learn from it.
    Last edited: Mar 11, 2018
  8. SkyShark

    SkyShark Tuna Staff Member M.A.S.C Club Member M.A.S.C. B.O.D. B.O.D. Member-at-Large

    Wow, super scary. Thank you for sharing. Hopefully everyone (including the dogs) makes a full and speedy recovery. I would never have given what you did a second thought. I have ready similar stories where someone boils rock in the house to kill everything off.
  9. JuanGutz

    JuanGutz Marlin M.A.S.C Club Member

    Glad you and the family are okay. I agree with shark I’d heard of the boiling but never this.
  10. Off The Deep End

    Off The Deep End Shark M.A.S.C Club Member

    Wow glad to hear you are all ok!!
  11. Fourthwind

    Fourthwind Amphipod M.A.S.C Club Member

    The sad part is I am hearing a lot of stories of "oh wow this happened to me" with tanks that got over heated by bad heaters and other circumstances, but no one ever spoke up. Likely they just didn't pay attention to cause and affect. Heard about a local guy who is now basically blind in his right eye now because of handing zoas in his tank. Just by moving a rock in his tank and then without cleaning hands wiped his eye.. We as reefers need to pay way more attention than what we have.
    Irishman, SkyShark and JuanGutz like this.
  12. Miah2bzy

    Miah2bzy Barracuda M.A.S.C Club Member

    Thanks for posting.
    Did you do anything to the rock beforehand or just dump straight into the tank?

    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
  13. Fourthwind

    Fourthwind Amphipod M.A.S.C Club Member

    it got rinsed in RODI. I have been in the hobby 30 years, and the rock looked clean.. Palytoxin is an organic toxin that from what I am told by the biologist is only destroyed two ways. By oxidizing (IE bleach or high levels of Ozone), or by literally melting it which requires 575 degree heat. You can absorb it with carbon out of the water and air, but it is still in the carbon and must be handled appropriately! Boiling will not get it hot enough and just aerosols the toxin. Not what happened in my case, but has for many unfortunate reefers. I will never bring another piece of rock into my house without it being bleached. Ever..
  14. Bdk1786

    Bdk1786 Amphipod


    This is all great to learn from.

    I am about to get rid of a large rock with a bunch of garbage green palys. I need to get 2 rainbow nems off, but I think bleach soak is the way to go. All PPE is acquired.

    Ready to get some good real estate back.
  15. neil82

    neil82 Cuttle Fish M.A.S.C Club Member

    I definitely appreciate the PSA on this. I have a bunch of dry rock and I never would have thought to bleach. Who knows what could have happened.
  16. jda123

    jda123 Tuna M.A.S.C Club Member

    I think that there is another PSA here, if you do not mind... Mixing any kind of salt near organics can be dangerous - the chloride ions by themselves can go crazy looking to rebind to something... or worse. Anhydrous compounds react even harder. It did not have to be palytoxin to have this reaction. Protein-based toxins should become inert by drying out, but there are many, many compounds in an organic system that could mix with the elements in salt mix and become dangerous even if the palytoxin was deactivated. Please never mix salt in a tank... it can have issues with arsenic and other organics to create gasses in our tanks that otherwise are harmless.

    I think that Dr. Holmes-Farley stated a few years ago that even 5 minutes of mixing is probably fine for exposure to certain organics... it is the initial part that is nasty... you might have some precipitate, but it will not be toxic.

    Did you have symptoms like being exposed to Chloramine gas?
  17. Fourthwind

    Fourthwind Amphipod M.A.S.C Club Member

    The main symptoms could be mistaken for each other. Main difference here however is that Chloramine gas would have been detected by the emergency service gas detectors (very sensitive) and would have also shown up on toxicology tests when the bloodwork was done. The gas would have also dissipated in two days and not suddenly increased. Especially since I added prime to the tank a few hours after the tank was stabilized in salinity on day 1.. Not sure why I did that but I always do on new tanks even when running RODI.
    jda123 likes this.

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