April 25, 2016 | by Mark Boyle |Denver7 ABC
HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. – A toxic chemical that killed two young Utah girls in 2010 is being used across the street from a school in Highlands Ranch.
Aluminum Phosphide, otherwise known as Fumitoxin, is a chemical that most parents have never heard of, but it’s commonly used around Colorado.
Denver7 has learned that in early March, Shea Homes hired Animal and Pest Control Specialist to poison prairie dogs in a field at Plaza Drive between Broadway and Lucent Boulevard across from STEM School and Academy and several other businesses, including BackCountry CrossFit and Waterworks Aquatics.
Parents of children at STEM School and Academy tell Denver7, they learned the field was poisoned nearly three weeks after it happened.
Denver7 found that none of the businesses in the area, nor school administration, were directly notified about the poisons use.
“I thought maybe I had missed a memo or something, I went into the school last week and I asked them ‘Did I miss a memo, how did we not know about this poison?’ and they said ‘Well, we don’t know about this poison,’ said Sarah Fischer, the mother of a child at the school.
According to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, a company using Fumitoxin only has to make notification with a sign on the property that only has to be left up for a few days after the poisoning is complete.
A photo of the sign sent to Denver7 shows the poisoning was from March 3 to March 7, 2016.
Businesses and school administration tell Denver7 that just because the law doesn’t force a company to make direct notification that the toxin is being used, it’s still the courteous thing to do with hundreds of school children across the street.
“I’m guessing they probably didn’t think through, it is a vacant land and they probably didn’t think about the 1300 students here, if they thought about it, they probably would have notified us,” said Penny Eucker, the principal of STEM School and Academy. “Ideally, you wouldn’t want poison so close to a school. But we were contacted, but it is private property, they’re getting ready to develop it.”
Fumitoxin comes in small tablets.
According to the National Pesticide Information Center, Fumitoxin tablets are dropped into prairie dog holes and then covered up. The toxin is activated by moisture, which then fills the prairie dog tunnels with toxic gas.
The Colorado Department of Agriculture said Fumitoxin gas is 20 percent heavier than air, causing the gas to sink into the holes and not rise up into the air and atmosphere.
“Once it dissipates, those residues are completely gone, also it doesn’t affect seed germination, so it’s a product that is certainly necessary to control stored product pests and then in burying rodent control, we see those applications as well,” said John Scott, Pesticides Program Section Chief for the Colorado Department of Agriculture. “There’s virtually no potential of any exposure of it actually coming up from the surface and that potential for people being exposed for people walking by the area.”
According to the National Pesticide Information Center, the toxin can last up to 72 hours.
By law, Fumitoxin can’t be used within 100 feet of a building where humans reside.
Advanced training is also required for anyone using the chemical.
Fischer warns that many children in that area walk within a few feet from some of the prairie dog holes on their way to and from school.
“The rule is, it’s supposed to be 100 feet from the building, but that does not factor in the fact that kids are walking within the fence line,” said Fischer.
Denver7 spoke with the owner of BackCountry CrossFit who has athletes running on Plaza Drive every day. He wasn’t concerned about his athletes being indirectly poisoned, but preferred they had been directly notified of the plan.
Reports show that too much gas too close to home was the cause of the death of the two Utah girls who were exposed to the gas.
Denver7 witnessed more prairie dogs alive in the field across from STEM School and Academy and parents of the school are now concerned about a second round of poisoning with the same lack of notice.
“I don’t understand why this poison has to be used and it doesn’t cost anything to give a call to the businesses and the schools,” said Fischer.
Denver7 made several attempts to contact Shea Homes and Animal and Pest Control Specialist, but those calls were not returned.