Thursday, January 25, 2007

USDA Mishandling Biological Agents

Just as the US is turning the tide in the dreaded Snowglobal War on Terror, another threat has reared its ugly head. But this one is a bit more serious.

The potential threat comes from toxins in widespread use by Wildlife Services, part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The toxins, sodium cyanide and sodium fluoroacetate (Compound 1080), are used to exterminate wildlife deemed to be a nuisance. Their potency can't be understated.

...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. ...

In 2004, the most recent year for which there is a record, some 2.7 million animals were killed.

The chemicals have been in use in a variety of areas and are stored in a number of diferent locations. One might believe that such dangerous substances would be under stringent security but one would be wrong. Recently, these sites have come under scrutiny for their questionable security.


The Inspector General repeatedly found the agency in violation of the Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act for failing to secure "dangerous biological agents and toxins," including not keeping accurate inventories whereby theft, unauthorized sale or other losses of these toxins could be detected. Other violations included regular access to toxins by unauthorized persons, distribution of chemical agents to untrained individuals and inadequate security plans. All ten of the Wildlife Services sites audited by the Inspector General were found to be out of compliance with bioterrorism regulations.

But surely there is sufficient justification for the use of such substances against all those animal nuisances? Well, not quite.


...The cattle inventory for 2005 ran to 104.5 million head. Disease, illness, weather, theft, calving complications and other non-wildlife causes accounted for losses of 3.86 million cattle during the year, while predators of all types killed 190,000 cattle. ...

And why are such dangerous toxins still being used after a period of time extending back many years?

...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. ...

Accordingly, PEER, along with several other organizations, has filed a petition with the EPA to immediately suspend the use of the two substances. The petition can be seen here (pdf file).


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