Steamed Palythoas send well-informed aquarist to the emergency room, nearly to the grave

By on Mar 04, 2012

Palytoxin from Palythoa almost killed a man. Photo by Johnny Vincent C.

Palythoa toxin from Palythoa and Zoanthus polyps is widely known to be one of the most poisonous substances in the natural world, gram for gram. Armed with this knowledge a well-informed aquarist suited up for Palythoa removal duty from one of his aquarium rocks with gloves to protect his hands, safety glasses to protect his eyes but he made one crucial mistake that almost cost him his life. 

In a near fatal mis-judgement, this aquarist went to scraping and brushing the Palythoa in a utility sink using hot water, thereby steaming the Palytoxin from the undesirable zoanthids and vaporizing the noxious chemical straight into his unprotected lungs. Half an hour of  breathing in aerosolized palytoxin and home-reefer wasn’t feeling so hot, an hour later he was headed to the emergency room where he began coughing blood and was nearly paralyzed.

Despite having the foresight to print out information about zoanthid and palytoxin to take with him to the hospital, the doctors there were nearly helpless to rescue him. We’re not sure what worked but in the end the would-be Palythoa remover nearly lost his life by protecting only 2/3 of himself from the dangers of palytoxin, although we do know not if he has yet been released from the hospital.

The moral of the story is to not inhale the palytoxin steam that is created when you steam Palythoas with hot water, or to not vaporize them in the first place. The palytoxin from our aquarium zoanthids should never be underestimated, no wonder it was first isolated from zoanthids that Hawaiians called the “Seaweed of Death from Hana”. [reeftools]

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