Washington, DC — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is calling for public comment on banning two of the most deadly poisons used to kill wild mammals. The Federal Register notice comes as a result of a petition filed earlier this year by a coalition of conservation and public health organizations coordinated by Sinapu and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).
The two poisons are sodium cyanide (used in M-44 ejectors) and sodium fluoroacetate, commonly called Compound 1080, a toxicant used in “livestock protection collars” strapped onto the heads of sheep and goats. Both agents are classified by EPA as having the highest degree of “acute toxicity.” The poisons are distributed by Wildlife Services, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which used these two agents during 2006 to kill an average of 1.6 animals every hour.
Even as EPA moves forward, legislation is being prepared in Congress to ban the two chemicals from production and use. That emerging legislation is being spearheaded by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR).
“While I am happy that EPA has acted on our petition, the threat to people, pets and wildlife will remain until these poisons are outlawed,” said Wendy Keefover-Ring of Sinapu, citing persistent reports of accidental poisonings of what Wildlife Services calls “non-target” animals. “These toxicants are outmoded, dangerous and inhumane means of wildlife management.”
Each year, M-44s account for the deaths of approximately 13,000 mammalian carnivores, out of a total of more than 1.6 million birds, coyotes and other wildlife killed last year by Wildlife Services, at an annual cost to taxpayers of $108.6 million.
Compound 1080, a colorless, odorless, tasteless, water soluble toxin, is classified as a chemical weapon by several countries for its potential threat to water supplies. Government audits have repeatedly faulted sloppy inventory control by Wildlife Services that could lead to theft or black market sales. Adding to the dangers, Wildlife Services’ own records show that livestock protection collars routinely go missing and that their poison-containing pouches easily get punctured on sharp objects like brush, rocks, or barbed wire, creating an uncontrolled biohazard.
The groups note that relatively few livestock are killed by predators, making the use of these highly toxic agents unwarranted. USDA figures show that in 2005, more than 20 times as many cattle were killed by weather, rustlers and other causes than by predators, which accounted for an infinitesimal 0.18% of losses.
Compound 1080 is already banned in California and Oregon and is explicitly allowed for use in only eleven states. EPA had also previously banned Compound 1080, but during the Reagan administration, the agency reversed itself and allowed re-introduction of the poison in livestock protection collars.
Via a Federal Register notice dated November 16, 2007, EPA is soliciting public comment over the next 30 days on whether the pesticide registration for these two agents should be revoked, thus removing them from use.
“EPA is supposed to weigh the risks to public health and the environment against the commercial benefit of these products, a balance that we feel is heavily weighted toward a ban” commented PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein. “In all likelihood, the final decision on whether to take these commercial poisons off the market will be made by the next administration.”