Families warn dangerous saltwater aquarium coral can be deadly

Toxins from fish tank coral released into homes making families sick

It began with just a little brush to get the algae off the coral in her fish aquarium. "Within an hour we were all feeling different, like the flu," recalls Chasity Ahman. The Texas mother would later learn the palythoa coral in her fish tank had released a dangerous toxin. The family had to be hospitalized. Many of her fish died.

Similar cases have been reported in other countries such as Canada, Australia and Great Britain. The Centers for Disease Control investigated an incident in Alaska that left people sick from "suspected palytoxin inhalation exposures." If untreated, the exposure can be fatal.


Hobbyists love the zoanthid and palythoa corals for their vibrant colors and may not realize why they should only be handled with care. Always wear protective gloves and eye wear along with a mask when handling the coral. Wash your hands and gloves with anti-bacterial soap after touching the coral.

Brian Dahle is a local aquarium expert who owns a company called The Fish Man which services hundreds of aquariums across the metro area. "It is rare, but it can happen. Usually it's people misinformed about how to handle coral," explains Dahle.

Dahle has seen a huge growth in the aquarium industry thanks in part to reality television shows. From businesses and doctor's offices to homes, the appeal is huge. The marine life can help bring down tension and anxiety.

Dahle says just remember education is key. Know what's inside your fish tank and whether special precautions need to be taken.

To learn more about safe handling of coral:

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