Image for 1080 and the contamination of water

*Pic: Clyde Graf

Water contamination is of concern the world over currently; Tasmania has had its concerns as well with long lists of boil water alerts recently.

But what is the outcome of an industry deliberately dropping poison baits in and around water catchment areas? This was raised in Tasmania when the Pet dam catchment area, Burnie’s main water supply was baited with 1080 for foxes in March 2013.

When NZ’s Department of Conservation (DOC) made their first drop of 1080 in our area of the Coromandel Peninsula, it was understood that poisoned baits would land in the streams and leach their poison into the water straight away.  A dangerous volume of poison quickly leaches out of those baits and into stream water. 

This rush of poison is so toxic that, after massive dilution, 1080 can still be detected in water taken some distance downstream from the poisoned area.

Local residents, who drank from the stream, were protected from drinking poisoned water by the Health Board and DOC staff. Before the poison drop the residents’ water up-take was turned off and DOC brought in a tank and supplied safe drinking water until the rush of poison had passed and the stream water was once again “clear”.

The Health Department took water samples a day or two after the expected poison rush to make sure that the water was actually clear of 1080 before they opened up the water intakes again.

Although only a handful of all the baits dropped would actually land in the water, the contamination they caused was considered serious enough to take these elaborate safety precautions.

Where this rush of poison goes to, where it ends up has not yet been explained. The people, especially those who live in the country where the effects are most visible, are the first to find out.

DOC research (Suren 2004-06) explains that most of the streams under a 1080 will receive poison baits. ALL Suren’s water samples taken within four hours of baits landing in the water showed positive for 1080. Suren was looking for 1080 and found it. The Health Board samples, taken a day or two later, were looking for clear water and found it.

Suren found 1080 in all the aquatic life he tested. Native fish, crayfish and eels, were all found to have 1080 in them; in his National Geographic article ( May – June 2009, ) Dave Hansford concludes: “tests on the toxin’s impact on the freshwater invertebrates and fish found no measurable effect”. 

As you can see from Suren’s report there is contamination of waterways. It occurs well before the clear water samples are taken. All Health Board tests were expected to be clear and Hansford tells us that 3% of them are poisoned.

In other words, in 3% of all poisonings, the 1080 poison is still lingering in the waters two or three days later. This figure of 3% is therefore of great concern.

Hansford uses the figure of 3%, as if the samples were seeking 1080. They were not. Hansford does not tell us that those samples should have all been clear. The context radically changes the meaning of the figure, radically alters the conclusions, which can be drawn from the same figure.

If one looks at the bare scientific reports and draws one’s own conclusions from the data presented it becomes harder and harder to justify NZ Government’s claims that 1080 is not contaminating our waters.

What is of huge concern is the eventual path which all of the government’s animal poisons must follow. The poison we have seen going down the streams on the day of the Drop is but a tiny portion of the amount dropped.

Where is it all going to?

Where does it end up?

1080 has been found in practically every species of animal, insect, bird, fish, human and plant. We are told it accumulates in the roots of plants. From here 1080 can poison the entire plant.

Government’s only response has been a barrage of propaganda from people like Hansford telling the public there’s nothing to worry about.

Sure, a lot of non-target species are always poisoned, it’s unavoidable, they say, but there’s no need to worry ‘cos not all of them die . . . and here the questions really begin.

What happens to those who have received a non-fatal dose of 1080? Humans who have been caught in the dust of a poison drop or who have eaten poisoned game will already be feeling the medium-term effects. What will be the long-term effects of this poisoning on our wild life?

Public outcry has prevented this kind of pollution in every other country except New Zealand where the public has, so far, been effectively silenced, and the government’s experiment continues apace.

In New Zealand we are all part and parcel of the same experiment. We are not all so proud to be participants.

It will be years, decades, if government has its way, of further poisoning before the long-term effects of all the sub-lethal doses will be noticed and acknowledged.

Writings like Hansford’s highlight NZ government’s determination not to acknowledge what their scientists are telling them.

Not yet anyway …

John Veysey lives on the Coromandel Peninsula on the North Island, New Zealand. Since first observing government-funded animal poisoning operations in his area John has spent the past 25 years looking to find any tangible benefits to the environment, long or short term, from this method of wild animal control. After decades studying the “science” behind NZ’s animal poisoning policy John has uncovered numerous benefits but none of them, he says, have been for the environment.

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• Penelope Marshall in Comments: Clyde Graf:  Thanks, John. Just a correction - most of the Coromandel folk were drawing water the day of the drop, and without knowing the poison was dropped into their streams. Had a meeting about this with the Waikato DHB reps, on Thursday. Cheers