By Alison Campbell 21/06/2018 23

Today a science-minded friend posted a screenshot of a post by another individual to the FB group 1080 eyewitness. Because it is a) heavy on the innuendo, b) inaccurate, and c) decidedly unpleasant, I thought it worthy of a bit of additional attention.

Let’s look at c) first. The original poster claimed to have written this on the Prime Minister’s FB page; it’s a particularly nasty attempt to sow fear & confusion in women’s minds by using a combination of overstatement, innuendo, & downright inaccuracy. Jacinda Ardern is level-headed enough to ignore the item as an ill-founded rant, but I see no reason why someone should attempt to frighten others in order to push their own point of view in this way.

and, a little later

That is really nasty.

Now b) – he implies that 1080 is a teratogen of the same order as thalidomide,

which doesn’t appear to be borne out by actual scientific evidence. For example, Eason et al. (1999) state that

1080 causes developmental defects in rats when pregnant females are exposed to relatively high doses (0.33 and 0.75 mg kg(-1) day(-1)) on a daily basis during the period of organogenesis (from days 6 through to 17 of gestation). The developmental abnormalities observed were mild skeletal effects: slightly curved forelimbs, and bent or “wavy” ribs. [The birth defects caused by thalidomide are much more severe.]

These concentrations are quite high. They are also much higher than the precautionary drinking water standard defined by the Ministry of Health (2 parts per billion), and much higher than has ever been detected in water flowing from watersheds where 1080 has been dropped (0.1 parts per billion). In addition, NIWA comments that

Importantly, no 1080 has been detected in drinking water supplies.

Similarly, in 2011 Eason & his colleagues pointed out that (my emphasis)

Results of the initial research and subsequent monitoring demonstrated that there has been no evidence of 1080 presence in reticulated water and no evidence of significant or prolonged 1080 contamination in surface waters

Brown also implies that teratogens can cross the placental barrier but other chemicals can’t. This is incorrect: plenty of chemicals cross the placenta. I mean, oxygen, anyone? Nutrients? But, more seriously, if ‘chemicals’ couldn’t cross the placenta then we wouldn’t see neonates affected by meth (P) or with foetal alcohol syndrome.

So, Brown is correct that 1080 is a teratogen. What he carefully ignores is that it has these effects at concentrations far higher than have ever been measured in our drinking water. That is, his implication that the PM, or anyone else drinking water supplied from the Hunua catchment, is “heavily poisoned” by 1080 is both incorrect, and blatant scaremongering.

Which pretty much addresses a) as well.

Now tea, on the other hand, does contain small but measureable quantities of sodium monofluoroacetate, aka 1080. I wonder what Brown’s take on that would be?


Please note: none of this should be taken to mean that 1080 is a benign substance. It’s not. But it is the best currently-available mechanism for controlling pest species in those parts of New Zealand where other methods fail. And as Eason et al. (2011) comment

There has been no evidence of significant or prolonged 1080 contamination of surface waters… The risks associated with 1080 to human health are determined by the toxicity of 1080 and the potential for exposure: risk = hazard × exposure. The innate toxicity of 1080 is not in question, as there are clearly identified lethal and sub-lethal effects as illustrated above. However, exposure risk to humans is very low with the exception of the small group of workers in the pest control industry, a group that has been closely monitored to try to ensure minimal exposure (Beasley et al. 2009).

Because of this, they state that

the use of 1080 must continue to include safeguards that focus on those individually handling 1080 or 1080 baits to ensure they do not ingest, inhale or absorb 1080.


C.T.Eason, M.Wickstrom, P.Turck & G.R.G.Wright (1999) A review of recent regulatory and environmental toxicology studies on 1080: Results and implications. New Zealand Journal of Ecology 23(2): 129-137

C.Eason, A.Miller, S.Ogilvie & A.Fairweather (2011) An updated review of the toxicology and ecotoxicology of sodium fluoroacetate (1080) in relation to its use as a pest control agent in New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Ecology 35(1): 1-20

23 Responses to “1080 – ill-informed claims deserve a debunking”

  • Alison
    It always does help in articles like this to do the numbers, preferably in the same units, so people can see what the situation is. From my reading of the data, the rats were dosed with 330 -750 micrograms per kilogram of body weight for 11 days. To get the equivalent for a 50 kilogram woman at the quoted watershed dosage rat, she would need to drink at least 160 cubic metres of water a day. That is a school swimming pool volume! And she would need to do it every day for a month or so! And it would only cause minor birth defects
    If my maths is correct, it shows how stupid Brown’s comments are – though to be fair, some of the ones on the “dangers” of radiation aren’t much better. There the putdown was xkcd who put radiation in terms of bananas to belittle the alarmists.

  • Thanks, Chris! 160 cubic metres of water a day – that really puts Brown’s foolish claims into perspective. Anyone trying that would die of water intoxication a long time before achieving that volume!

  • Before quoting it, please check the maths. I did it two different ways but there might be a hidden exponent error lurking

  • Alison, crikey. Even an UG in toxicology would have a better understanding of this topic than you have demonstrated here. Was that deliberate? I can’t help wondering whether you need to admit a conflict of interest.
    To be clear, it’s not the lethal dose that’s relevant for public health studies, because of the acute toxicity on 1080 (oh, by the way, definitely NOT the same substance found in tea) it’s the long-term sublethal dose that require investigation. Decades ago, even NZ-paid scientist Eason (et al, 1999) pointed out the gaps in epidemiological studies. Still outstanding.
    So come on, step up. Stop this boring misleading pro-poison propaganda. Start some valid independent research.

  • I’ll respond – if there is a viable counterfactual Mary, what is it? Where is the research showing theat sub-lethal doses are leading to harm? What evidence is there that ongoing low levels of exposure to 1080 from on-the-ground pest management have caused measurable harm to humans, or to wildlife?

    Or is your post an opposition on technical rather than substantive grounds?

  • Alison, the chemical compound, manufactured in the USA and originally patented as an insecticide, as well you know, is NOT the same as the substance found in tea. It is misleading and bizarre to claim that. It is dissolvable in water – NOT biodegradable. Those 2 words have different definitions.
    Do you understand the ‘precautionary principle’? That is what other countries have used when banning 1080 poison and similar toxins. Especially aerially where no control is possible on the secondary poisoning risks. If no epidemiological studies have been carried out – unbelievably over the 64 years of its use – then how can anyone possibly claim its safety? This is, after all, one of the world’s most lethal toxins. And that is why it is unethical to continue its use. There are lots of studies which show harm from sublethal dose in species. Including humans. Your view is naive and unjustifiable. Unless of course, your salary depends on maintaining the status quo. Sadly, many NZers carry the same burden.

  • The label for 1080 solution (from the Eatsafe website) states the HSNO Classes as: 6.1A, 6.3B, 6.4A, 6.8A, 6.9A, 9.1A, 9.3A, 9.4B
    Which means:
    6.1A Substances that are acutely toxic – Fatal
    6.3B Substances that are mildly irritating to the skin
    6.4A Substances that are irritating to the eye
    6.8A Substances that are known or presumed human reproductive or developmental toxicants
    6.9A Substances that are toxic to human target organs or systems
    9.1A Substances that are very ecotoxic in the aquatic environment
    9.3A Substances that are very ecotoxic to terrestrial vertebrates
    9.4B Substances that are ecotoxic to terrestrial invertebrates

    So the important one in this context is 6.8A, meaning it’s ” known or presumed human reproductive or developmental toxicant”. If something is a ‘developmental toxicant’, it’s a teratogen.

  • Mary
    Please go away and learn some chemistry. Sodium monofluoroacetate is the sam,e no matter how it is made. Or are you trying to be a homeopath and claim that the “artificial” material is somehow different to the naturally occurring substance?
    Here is a good place to start on the chemistry
    And it rubbishes the rest of your claims there as well (read the references)

  • If there are “lots of studies”, Mary, I’m sure you’ll be able to provide links to them. Also, playing the shill card does nothing to advance your argument.

  • Oh dear, are you deliberately being naive or confrontational. Hardly professional. You will be aware that fluoroacetate as a synthetic compound is different to fluoro acetic acid in plant cells. And as to evidence of harm, just look at the studies you are citing yourself. Eason presented a consistent warning of gaps in data. And you’ll know all about the Smarden Affair in the U.K. I’m sure (the poisoning incident that led to the banning of 1080/1 in Europe). After all, a synthetic chemical that is lethal in minute doses, that has no antidote and no valid experiments to assess potential harm is too risky to spread aerially into people’s water sources, right?
    You can not retain any credibility stating a WHO class 1a toxin is as ‘safe as a cuppa tea’. If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be laughable.
    This poison kills people.

  • As Chris has already pointed out to you, fluoroacetate is fluoroacetate. Your statement is reminiscent of the claims from those opposed to water fluoridation that the fluoride anion is somehow different if it comes from HFSA rather than NaF.

    Yes, Eason warned of gaps in data. He & his colleagues also noted, as I’ve stated in the post, that 1080 has never been found in reticulated water from watersheds where 1080 has been used. This is supported by NIWA. In fact, I’ve cited them as saying “The risks associated with 1080 to human health are determined by the toxicity of 1080 and the potential for exposure: risk = hazard × exposure. The innate toxicity of 1080 is not in question, as there are clearly identified lethal and sub-lethal effects as illustrated above. However, exposure risk to humans is very low with the exception of the small group of workers in the pest control industry, a group that has been closely monitored to try to ensure minimal exposure (Beasley et al. 2009).”

    In the “Smarden Affair” (as you call it) of the 1960s, levels of the chemical in waterways were in the order of 10-30ppm. 1080 has been detected in catchments, very transiently, at 0.1ppb, 8 orders of magnitude lower, and – as above – never in articulated water.

    Since the LD50 of 1080 in humans is 2mg/kg body weight, someone would have to drink around 160 m^3 of water (from a watershed where 1080 had been applied & it had then rained heavily) in a sitting. They’d die of hyponatremia well before achieving that.

  • (Mostly written early in the day; several comments have appeared since.)


    Earlier you tried imply not disclosing interests, but if you’re this person –

    Mary Wood, part of an anti-1080 group, was “appalled” by the proposal.


    I’d have thought it you not disclosing your interests.

    Rather than accuse others of things (ignorance, etc.) and offering tit-for-tat replies, you’ll do better if you try learn why you’re erring. People are trying to help.

    It’s quite common for people opposed to all sorts of ‘chemicals’ to get thoroughly confused by basic chemistry, such as that once dissolved in water, compounds may take on their ionic forms.

    You want to discuss the issue, and try learn from those with information rather than ‘attack’ people. You’ll never learn or understand the truth from just throwing angry replies at people!

    re 1080 and tea, quite a number of sources point out that tea contains the active ingredient of 1080. Alison’s article points readers to DoC, and if you’d have checked, you’d find they, in turn, point to a document issued by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Biosecurity Queensland, Australia.

    Presumably this will, in turn, be sourced from research studies. Rather than point fingers at the messenger (e.g. Alison), you could locate the research, and check that. (It’s very unlikely to be wrong. The presence of compounds in samples is typically taken from spectrographic studies; spectrographic analysis is well-understood and has been done for a long time now.)

    it’s the long-term sublethal dose that require investigation

    The active ingredient being in tea would strongly sugggest this isn’t the issue you make it out to be here. (You might want to note that your suggestion ‘begs the question’: what’s needed first is to learn if there is a sublethal dose than causes harmful affects, and what amounts are involved. It’d be worth noting, too, that it’d likely equally apply to habitual tea drinkers.)

    Forest and Bird wrote,

    Long-term, low-level exposure is not harmful – a cup of black tea contains 1080’s active ingredient – fluoroacetate – at about 1.5 times the Ministry of Health’s legal limit for 1080 in drinking water.

    (There are similar comments in the article on the Stuff website, There’s 1080 in our tea, so what’s all the fuss about? That article also points out why there’s a call for wider use of 1080, etc.)

    Again, you might track these to their research sources, etc.

    The original idea of what use fluoroacetate for is irrelevant, really. Plenty of things pick up other uses later on.

    Be aware that “the” ‘precautionary principle’ is widely abused, by twisting it’s meaning to try inflict unjustified bans rather than mitigate risks. (It’s one reason our GMO laws in NZ are wrong-headed.)

  • Mary
    It is very hard to remain “professional” when you make statements like ” fluoroacetate as a synthetic compound is different to fluoro acetic acid in plant cells” That shows that you either have no understanding of chemistry, or more worryingly, you do but deliberately misrepresent it. I will give you the benefit of the doubt and say it is the former.
    The rest of your comments are at variance with the scientific literature. If you go back through the stuff referenced earlier, you will see there is papers on autopsies and pathology results from people who tried to commit suicide with 1080, some successfully. They document the half-life of fluoroacetate in blood and body cells. The small numbers show there is no persistence.
    Against that evidence, all you offer is some lines out of context and a lot of mumbo-jumbo. Please actually learn some real science before you comment. Or maybe you are one of those people who want to live in a “chemical free world” .

  • Alison
    I think you have got your nomenclature wrong -10ppm to 0.1ppb is only 5 orders of magnitude. Science uses the American notation, not the older English one.
    And to give the right comparison, if the concentration in the waterways is 0.1ppb (100 nanograms per litre), a 75kg person needs to drink half an Olympic swimming pool in a sitting to get the lethal dose.

  • Thanks, Chris, mea culpa. My Englishness is showing (plus, it was rather late at night when I wrote that)! Always glad of your input.

  • Yes, I’m against 1080 poison. No, I don’t get paid for any work I do to raise awareness of the risks including how numerous Gov agencies do not uphold any of the laws that are designed to reduce the risks. Hence, I have no conflicts of interest, unlike most pro-poisoners. I would have thought that was clear.
    And once again, Alison, it’s NOT the LD50 we are talking about. It’s the long-term sublethal dose. The epidemiological studies into the long-term impact from this highly toxic poison are MISSING. 64 years is too long for anyone to pretend these studies are irrelevant.
    The time to end this farce has come.

  • Mary,

    As shown above by other posters, tea drinkers are exposed to a “long term sublethal dose” of monofluoroacetate / 1080.

    We have centuries of data on habitual tea drinkers, many of whom deliberately expose themselves to multiple daily doses of monofluoroacetate / 1080 from childhood to extreme old age, from which you can extract the data for the “epidemiological studies” into “this highly toxic poison” that you claim are missing. The data is available to anybody who wishes to look for it.

    No-one is stopping you from demonstrating exactly what the effects of a “long term sublethal dose” of monofluoroacetate / 1080 actually are. To be absolutely clear: the effects you are looking for are also found in long term tea drinkers.

    So, what exactly do we see from “epidemiological studies into the long-term impact from this highly toxic poison” – found in tea – that you claim are missing?

    Here’s one that took me about 12 seconds to find: I’m sure you can find others. 😉

  • Mary: where do you get the idea that long-term exposure to sublethal doses of 1080 has not been considered?
    The Maximum Acceptable Value (MAV) for 1080 in drinking-water is 0.0035 mg/L. The MAV is defined as follows:
    The MAV of a chemical determinand in drinking-water is the highest concentration of a determinand in the water that, on the basis of present knowledge, is considered not to cause any significant risk to the health of the consumer over 70 years of consumption of that water.
    What differentiates an evidence-informed approach is the willingness to change one’s mind based on evidence. If you were to present me with reliable evidence of long-term adverse effects caused by the current use of 1080 to human health, I would be prepared to adjust my views. Can you say the same? Would any evidence ever convince you to change your mind, or is your opposition to 1080 so deeply ideologically entrenched?
    You could try reframing being ‘pro-poison’ as being ‘pro-effective pest control’.
    And as someone who supports the current use of 1080 as the best solution to the problem at hand, as do many conservation organisations such as Forest and Bird, I don’t have any conflicts of interest. It’s a lazy and self-serving argument that people and organisations that support 1080 use must have a conflict of interest.

  • I am glad to see Mary is no longer claiming the molecules are different – now she is just floundering around, latching onto any and everything that might be remotely relevant. She will never change her mind, Carol it is a true believer you are dealing with. Facts and the body of evidence are irrelevant. The only “science” that is relevant to her are a few scraps that are cobbled together to suit her theory.
    However to humour her, the pathology reports referenced earlier give a half life for fluoroacetate in both body tissue and blood. They are surprisingly short. The breakdown products are safe and flushed away. As tea is a diuretic, this is sped up. That means it can’t bioaccumulate. So yet another fail.

  • The epidemiological studies into the long-term impact from this highly toxic poison are MISSING. As others have pointed out there is plenty of evidence of absence of long-term harm among habitual tea drinkers… Plus the half-life is very short.