Application of Fumitoxin pellets used for gophers and grounds squirrels, kills child injures family


Chemical firm to test site of deadly contamination


published: 8/29/00

SALEM -- A North Carolina chemical company will conduct tests on a rural Salem home today, to determine if it was contaminated by a dangerous pesticide.

Five-year-old Bridget Carlson died Saturday of apparent pesticide poisoning. Her sisters, Rachel and Renae, ages 11 and 8, are hospitalized in serious condition.

Their parents, Don and Mary Carlson, were released Sunday from Avera McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls.

Officials believe the family was poisoned by Fumitoxin pellets that Don Carlson placed in the ground near the home to control pests.

The pesticide is used primarily to kill bugs in grain bins, but is also used to gas ground squirrels, pocket gophers and other pests. The pesticide is activated after it comes in contact with air.

The manufacturer, Pesticon Systems, will test the home today and should have results this afternoon, McCook County Civil Defense Director Brad Stiefvater said.

"We're not ruling out anything until we get confirmation," Stiefvater said.

Fumitoxin is a restricted-use pesticide that can be purchased and used only by certified applicators, who have received training. Don Carlson was certified as a private pesticide applicator, according to Jim Wilson, extension pesticide educator at South Dakota State University.

The state Cooperative Extension Service provides training for certification in pesticide and herbicide application.

Normally, a private or commercial applicator places the pellets in a grain bin, then leaves before they become activated, said Dennis Lokken, a program specialist with the state Department of Agriculture.

Officials suspect that gas from the activated Fumitoxin pellets seeped into the Carlson basement and was distributed throughout the home by an air conditioner. Once inhaled, the gas is absorbed in lung tissue and interferes with the distribution of oxygen.

The house, two miles southeast of Salem, remains sealed and off limits, Sheriff Gene Taylor said. Autopsy results aren't expected for weeks.

Betty Lou Carlson, Bridget's step-grandmother, will never forget her last image of the girl.

"She was just here the day before she died," Betty Lou Carlson said. "When she left, she gave me a hug and wanted to give me 100 kisses before she left. She called me Grandma Betty. I told her I loved her like I always do."

Betty Lou Carlson says Bridget was an active little girl who liked to play with her dolls, toys and stuffed animals

"She was always full of smiles."

Bridget, who would have been 6 years old on Monday, was to begin home-school kindergarten classes next week, according to Betty Lou Carlson. The family had planned a trip to the Black Hills the day Bridget died.

A fund for the Carlson family has been set up at First Dakota National Bank in Salem.

Reach reporter Randy Hascall at 331-2320 or

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