1080: Protecting The Environment?

(Part Ⅰ)



Each year the debate intensifies as supporters and detractors line up on opposing sides of the fence. Both sides are equally passionate in their presentation of evidence, and fervent in their claims to be preserving our native wildlife. This article seeks to give a simple, easy to read explanation of the scientific evidence offered.

The Department of Conservation (DoC) and TBfree NZ are the largest users of 1080 in NZ, which uses approximately 90% of the global supply, enjoying the dubious title of the world’s biggest 1080 user. The aerial application of 1080 poison has been banned in the U.S. due to its "Extreme Hazard to Human Health and the Environment." There are a number of areas, particularly scientific, where the reports have brought to light some truly alarming results.

Concerns have been expressed regarding 1) scientific testing which should have been done, but has not; 2) possible sub-standard experiment design surrounding testing which has been carried out; and a lack of acknowledgement on DoC’s part of the results of scientific testing which has been carried out overseas.

The primary ingredient in the 1080 compound is sodium monofluoroacetate and has been imported from Tull Chemicals in Alabama; but China now houses the largest number of manufacturers of 1080 [CAS No. 62-74-8] and fluoroacetic acid [CAS No. 144/144-49-0] in the world. The manufacture of the 1080 baits takes place at a Government-owned facility in Wanganui, Animal Control Products Ltd/Pestoff. According to NZ parliamentary questions, this facility has produced several thousand kilograms of 1080 annually since 1997/98.

Late last year Richard Prosser commented on a 2007 Environmental Risk Management Authority review saying, “Many hazardous properties and a lack of scientific knowledge of the effects of 1080 were described in a comprehensive report . . .” The ERMA report expressed deep concerns regarding the aerial use of 1080 baits and claims the four the main problem areas with 1080 are 1) “increased pest impacts following poisoning due to competitive release of rats and mice, and prey-switching by predators” [more predators instead of less]; 2) “reduced efficacy [effectiveness] with repeated poisoning of rats”; 3) “deaths of native birds” [Kea are close to extinction]; and 4) “lack of scientific justification and monitoring of aerial 1080 use.”

Despite the concerns raised in this review, the ERMA approved the continued use of the 1080 compound, and it appears that over the last ten years the above problems have become steadily worse in certain areas, such as the deaths of native birds. The timing of New Zealand’s break away from the Australasian Continent many billion years ago meant a lack of large mammal predators which have plagued bird populations overseas. Due to this fluke many NZ birds adapted to a flightless state and became walkers. Walking birds such as the Kea eat the poisoned baits (evidenced by photos and eye witness reports); and as meat eaters will eat the carcasses of poisoned animals. 1080 is so lethal that secondary poisoning can happen long after the initial poisoning and death of the primary animal. This threatens not only our Kea but all our walking birds, and extends to our aquatic animals such as trout and eel who often consume poisoned carcasses which have died in forest streams and rivers.

Serious concerns have been surfaced regarding our aquatic fauna, as 1080 has been found in both freshwater trout and eels. DoC maintains that 1080 dissolves and dissipates in water, which is contrary to the manufacturer’s instructions regarding water; which state it must be kept away from waterways at all costs. Although the baits dissolve, the chemical sodium monofluoroacetate does not. Every year there are photos and eye witness reports of 1080 pellets in NZ waterways which lead into rivers and lakes, and many feed into town water supplies. Tested trout has been found to contain levels of 1080 above safe human consumption levels. A Landcare Research report tested Long-fin Eels for 1080 and found them to be positive for 1080 at sub-lethal doses 9 days after eating a 1080 poisoned carcass. This means eels and trout are dangerous for far longer than DoC and the warning signs they post are leading people to believe – a highly dangerous and irresponsible act by a government department. The eel’s muscles tested 50 times higher for 1080 than the recommended safe consumption levels.

With this in mind one cannot help but wonder what the long-term impact on our tourism industry could be. What would happen if a tourist became sick or died after eating a 1080 poisoned trout or drinking water from a 1080 poisoned waterway? What if 1080 were found in any of our export products overseas? As of 6 January 2009, the NZ Food Safety Authority does not test for 1080 in export eels intended for human consumption, stating that DoC’s claim of dilution in water indicates there is no point in testing. When one looks at the dilution rates according to overseas scientists this rings alarm bells.

Dilution rates from overseas studies state the toxicity of 1080 is so strong and lethal it can affect cells when it’s as microscopic as 1 part per trillion, “which doesn’t even constitute a whiff”. For some perspective on what ‘parts per trillion’ means; to mix a vodka and orange to 1 part per trillion, would require 1 drop of vodka to 660 milk tankers of orange. This means that, “It would take 10,000 lakes the size of Lake Taupo to dilute the annual drop of 1080 in New Zealand’s forests to 4 parts per trillion.” At 4 parts per trillion it will wipe out all forms of life, period.

1080 baits are aerially distributed across NZ which makes the dispersal method indiscriminate and inaccurate, indicating a careless management of this dangerous toxin. According to the ERMA Review, “Contaminated dust from aerially-distributed cereal baits was found at a test site 1 km away, 5 days after a 1080 poisoning operation”. This calls DoC’s claims of controlled targeted drops into question. 1080 poison is also randomly spread by flying and crawling insects, urine, blood, faeces, and carcasses and bait carried away by birds. The toxin has the ability to spread easily and move up food chains.

In this article I have attempted to simplify the more technical parts of the science, and the impact on both land and aquatic fauna. In part two we will look at how 1080 kills, and the potential impact on animals and human food and health.


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