1080: Protecting The Environment?

(Part Ⅱ)

by Shelley Hedges

In the first article of Simplifying the 1080 Evidence I looked at technical aspects of the scientific research, the effects on aquatic fauna particularly freshwater trout and eels, and at the 1080 concerns raised in the 2007 ERMA report. This article looks at how 1080 kills and potential impacts on human and animal food and health.

Death by 1080 is an excruciating and inhumane way to kill any animal. It works by restricting respiration at a cellular level, meaning it blocks oxygen from getting into the cells. This means that 1080 slowly suffocates the cells in its victim’s bodies. A large mammal such as a cow, horse or deer can suffer for up to three days before death in agonizing pain, as the cow in the referenced video demonstrates; and native birds such as pukeko and weka, 4-18 hours.

Dr. Q. Whiting-O’Keefe describes 1080 as a toxin which “. . . kills everything that breathes air . . . from earthworms to elephants”. In 2009 DoC was dropping 4,000 tonnes of pure 1080 annually, enough to kill 20 million people. Ever since then DoC has increased this amount yearly.

Because 1080 attacks the body’s cells (similar to cancer) it is lethal across all spectrums of life. This includes everything from bacteria and fungus to plants, insects, birds and mammals. Any poisoning which takes place, but is not enough to kill, is called sub-lethal; and results in damage to reproductive systems, birth defects and organ damage; and toxic effects can occur at levels too low for tests to detect.

Doctors Sean Weaver and Peter Scanlon have commented on research into 1080 which has NOT been done; particularly surrounding endocrine disruption. Our endocrine system is in charge of releasing hormones at specific times throughout our life. It is responsible for telling the body when to start puberty for example. Our thyroid, pineal and adrenal glands, ovaries, testes and pancreas all release hormones into our blood to target specific organs; and secrete important hormones such as dopamine, insulin, adrenaline, testosterone, progesterone and estrogens.

Overseas testing indicates that 1080 is an endocrine (hormone) disruptor. This can mean that hormones do not get released when they should be. Our hormone system’s effects are slow and long-term in their processes, meaning any disruption is difficult to diagnose until it’s too late. Any person living or walking in bush areas exposed to 1080, may suffer hormone disruption which will not be detected for many years to come. You may say that people should not be in the exposed areas – but DoC’s warning signs have been shown to be inaccurate as far as when it is safe to return to these drop sites, with 1080 lasting longer than DoC claims. Many farmers also find 1080 pellets dispersed across their private land.

Scanlon and Weaver commented on the lack of research around important areas such as: cancer testing; reproductive testing; growth studies; the effects of early exposure to the brain (children near exposed areas); immune systems; long term exposure studies (DoC employees handling 1080); and looking at mitochondrial DNA (genes passed to us from our mothers). No studies of this type have been carried out by DoC.

Dr Peter Scanlon says, “Exposure to chemicals can sometimes take years to manifest, and can lead to great harm and susceptibility to disease years or decades later”. To quote Dr Sean Weaver (PhD) of Victoria University, “People think lots of research [on 1080] has been done, but in fact it’s very little . . . It has been well studied in certain areas . . . but it’s been very poorly studied in other areas . . . and one of those is hormone disruption.”

Dr Weaver states that the endocrine experiments which have been carried out were so fundamentally flawed that he ‘. . . wouldn’t pass that research at an undergrad level of Environmental Studies at Victoria University, because it just wouldn’t stack up.” This is a shocking reflection on the standard of research carried out on a poison which is freely scattered across our country and waterways every year.

A Ministry of Health manual comments that: “Studies show that 1080 can cause foetal skeletal malformation [deformed foetal bones], cardiomyopathy/damage to heart muscle and testicular effects/reduction in sperm count in animals. To date there have been no known epidemiological studies that have been carried out in relation to 1080 and potential adverse health effects on humans.” To quote the MoH, there has been NO testing done on the potential effects of 1080 on human health. How then can DoC claim it is safe for humans, if no adequate testing has been done?

Jim Doherty, a Tuhoe Maori elder, led a research group looking into the effects of 1080 poison on plant-life where it was discovered that plants do up-take the poison. Another study showed aphids on broad bean plants died when roots were immersed in a weak 0.00005% 1080 solution. A strong demonstration showing 1080 travels through food chains: aphids ate the leaves – birds and insects eat the aphids, small mammals eat the birds and insects, and so on; not to mention larger mammals which feed on greenery. This is concerning due to the amount of wild food hunted, fished and gathered by a large part of the NZ population.

This article has looked at concerns surrounding lack of research and questions whether human health and safety have been satisfactorily addressed. Next time I will be looking at the dispersal method, the potential loss of revenue NZ, and the results of 60 years of 1080 use, what our alternatives are and whether the situation is as drastic as DoC claims.

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