WASHINGTON - January 24 - Two of the most widely used poisons for killing wild mammals should be banned, according to a petition filed today with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by a coalition of conservation and public health groups. In their filing, the groups point to the potential bio-terrorism risks from widespread distribution of these highly lethal agents that have also caused inadvertent deaths of large numbers of wild and domestic animals as well as other environmental harms.
The two targeted poisons are sodium cyanide capsules (used in M-44 ejectors) and sodium fluoroacetate (known as “Compound 1080”), a toxicant used in “livestock protection collars” strapped to the heads of sheep and goats. Both agents are classified by EPA as having the highest degree of “acute toxicity.” Compound 1080 is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, water soluble toxin considered by several countries as a chemical weapon for its potential threat to water supplies. Compound 1080 has already been banned in California and Oregon but remains legal in eleven states.
These poisons are distributed by an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, called Wildlife Services, which spend approximately $100 million per year aiding ranchers, farmers and special districts in killing wildlife, ranging from beavers to bears, deemed a nuisance. In 2004, the last year for which figures are available, Wildlife Services claimed to have eradicated 2.7 million animals, principally birds.
The petition asks EPA to immediately suspend the use of these poisons for lethal wildlife control on the grounds that they pose “unreasonable adverse effects on public health, the environment” and federally- listed threatened and endangered species. In particular, the petition cites:
- USDA Inspector General audits showing poor inventory control could lead to theft or unauthorized sale of these “dangerous biological agents”;
- Deaths of pet dogs and other domestic animals, as well as carrion or other non-targeted animals that feed on poisoned carcasses, including threatened and endangered species such as wolves, grizzly bears, and California condors; and
- The availability of non-lethal alternatives for predator control.
“While death by sodium cyanide is quick but traumatic, Compound 1080 can take several excruciating hours to kill a person or an animal exposed to it,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring of Sinapu, who developed the petition. “Because of the tremendous consequential damages these poisons can cause to people, pets, and wildlife, they should be banned.”
Each year, M-44s account for the deaths of approximately 12,000 mammalian carnivores while fewer than one hundred such deaths are attributed to Compound 1080.
“This petition makes the case for EPA exercising its discretion to protect public health and the environment,” stated Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, noting that in 1972, EPA banned Compound 1080 but, during the Reagan administration, the agency reversed itself and allowed re-introduction of the poison for use in livestock protection collars. “EPA should exhibit the same wisdom it showed thirty-five years ago when it took Compound 1080 off the market.”
Besides Sinapu and PEER, other petitioners included Beyond Pesticides, Forest Guardians, Prairie Preservation Alliance, Predator Defense, the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Sierra Club, Western Wildlife Conservancy, the Rewilding Institute and the Animal Welfare Institute.