A number of groups are petitioning the EPA to ban two potent poisons used for killing undesirable wildlife:
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” [pictured above] 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.The person who developed the petition clams that "death by sodium cyanide is quick but traumatic,” which is a pretty strange way of phrasing it. (I wonder if you can suffer PTSD in the afterlife?)
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.
Nitpicking aside, this taxpayer-subsidized handout to the livestock industry is problematic, especially considering that Wildlife Services failed two consecutive audits on its handling of "dangerous biological agents and toxins.” The historical evidence of a black market for Compound 1080 is also somewhat disturbing.
Compound 1080 is manufactured solely by Tull Chemical Co., which produces it primarily for export. There’ve been several attempts to shut Tull down since 9/11, the logic being that 1080 could be used by terrorists to poison our water supply; the discovery of a can of 1080 in Iraq added fuel to this fire. Not surprisingly, Tull’s owner thinks this concern is silly:
Other chemicals could be just as deadly in the hands of terrorists, he argues, and someone else could start making the poison. Besides, unknown quantities of the poison could be stored around the United States from decades ago, before production was regulated.That actually sounds fairly reasonable to me, although it’s possible that Tull should be shut down regardless, given reports that “the company transports deadly chemicals in unmarked trucks, has virtually no security and sits on the bank of a creek that regularly floods.”
"If they shut me down it's not like it's going to just go away," Wigley said.
Personally, I’m in favor of banning 1080 mainly because its sole legal use is a stupid and shortsighted one. I don’t worry about terrorists dumping it into my water, and I have mixed emotions about using the threat of terrorism as an argument-settler in cases like this; other issues, like land use and wildlife management, seem to me to be more urgent, and to have more important long-term implications.
Honestly, if our day of doom ever comes, I suspect it’s going to have a lot more to do with our time-honored methods of addressing everyday problems than with any sort of terrorist attack.