A MAN poisoned by a lethal toxin in his own home has said more people need to be aware of the risks from a deadly coral.

Chris Matthews and his family were taken to hospital, along with four firefighters, after he inadvertently released the lethal substance while cleaning his fish tank.

Oxford Mail:

Unaware the palytoxin, one of the deadliest substances known to man, was in the air, the 27-year-old soon began to suffer breathlessness, coughing and fever which he described as 'as bad as pneumonia'.

When everyone staying in the Steventon property last week, including two dogs, fell ill Mr Matthews called the emergency services but says the incident could have been so much worse.

He said: "If we had spent another night in that bedroom our lives would have been in danger.

"Certainly our dogs would have been in a very bad way according to the vet."

He added: "That is what is so worrying, what if there had been a young child or someone elderly in the house?"

Oxford Mail:

The cause of the illness was the couple moving the contents of one fish tank to another in their bedroom last week.

In the process they took out a rock covered in coral and scraped it clean.

They did not realise at the time but in doing so they released the substance into the atmosphere and then made matters worse by then closing the door and going to sleep.

Mr Matthews said: "We woke up the next morning feeling groggy but initially put it down to flu.

"It was when we noticed our two dogs had similar symptoms that we knew something wasn't right."

As his mother, sister and her boyfriend all came down with varying levels of illness over the course of the day Mr Matthews realised the likely culprit and called emergency services.

Ambulance, fire crews from Abingdon and Didcot and Thames Valley Police all attended the Hanney Road property at around 8.20pm on Monday, March 26, closing the road and placing a cordon around the area.

All six people in the house, which included Mr Matthews' father Ian who had just returned from work, were taken to the John Radcliffe Hospital, along with the first firefighters at the scene.

Three of the family, along with the firefighters, were released after a few hours, while the others were kept until the following day for observation and blood tests.

The house was also ventilated overnight as specially trained chemical officers from Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service worked with Public Heath England to remove the remaining coral.

Mr Matthews said the most severe symptoms affected himself, his girlfriend and his mother, saying: "It was worse than flu, we couldn't concentrate on anything.

"We couldn't regulate our temperature, we were struggling to breathe and coughing."

He added: "I've seen the coral described as 'exotic' but it is actually one of the most common around. It's a pest coral called pulsing xenia that you grow in areas where you can't get anything else to thrive.

"It's not expensive and a lot of people have it."

The engineer, who has kept largely tropical fish for around 12 years, said he was 'no amateur' and had thought he was aware of the dangers.

He said: "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.

"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.

"I want to use this experience to educate people about the risks and the measures people need to take."

He added, despite the seriousness of the incident, he had not been put off keeping fish or indeed some of the coral.

Mr Matthews said: "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.

"I'll be a lot more cautious in the future though."


Zoanthid corals, small soft corals which grow in sheets across rocks which are popular with home aquarium owners, under certain circumstances can produce one of the most poisonous toxins ever discovered - palytoxin.

Though there are no known fatalities, there have been several instances of coral reacting to the use of cleaning products or boiling water and releasing the toxic substance.

It can burn skin, cause stinging eyes and if airborne severely damage the lungs and throat.