poisonby Carol Sawyer

Yesterday I had a conversation with the National Poisons Centre.

Joel Lund of Wanaka had asked a GP what he would do if someone presented with poisoning symptoms after an aerial 1080 poison drop. The doctor replied he would contact the National Poisons Centre. This sounds like a sensible response, one would have thought. Think again!

I had a number of questions for the National Poisons Centre about 1080 poisoning, given that so many people live around 1080 drop zones and are potentially exposed to the substance many times over.

I asked the person who answered the phone there if she was the correct person to be talking to. She said she was.

I explained that we are about to experience another 1080 poison drop in our area (Wanaka) and asked if there were testing kits available here.

She replied, “I don’t know, and I don’t know if I could find the answer”.

I asked how many methods there are for testing for 1080 poisoning.

She replied, “I’m not too sure”.

I asked, “How quickly can they test for 1080 and get a result?”

She replied, “They wouldn’t test the person. They would probably get some history. They probably wouldn’t do a blood test. I don’t know if there is a blood test.” She said they can’t test for every poison.

I asked how accurate the testing was. At this point she seemed to realize she was out of her depth and said she would talk to the resident toxicologist.

She returned and said that there is a test available but it is not widely available. It is a urine test and is only of any use within the first 24 hours after poisoning. She said it is “affiliated to a woman at Lincoln University” but wouldn’t/couldn’t tell me who that is. She said it is mostly used for testing workers’ urine levels when they have been working with 1080 poison.

She said that the toxicologist said, “1080 doesn’t stay in your body very long”. We then had a discussion about whether it can be found in skin and bone and hair, as in animals including mammals, but she seemed stuck on the fact they only tested humans and seemed rather unreceptive to the idea humans are also mammals.¹

She said if you get poisoned they will just treat the symptoms. They won’t be bothered with what kind of poison it is. She was a bit incoherent and I had to keep asking her to slow down.

Is that a worry or what?

I asked for the name of the ‘resident toxicologist’.
“Michael,” she said.
“Michael who?” I asked
“We’re not allowed to give out surnames”, she said.

I asked if I could please speak to him.

“No you can’t.”

So there we have it. If you get poisoned by 1080 do not expect the authorities to confirm it is 1080. Just hope that you survive. If the Kochummen family who ate wild pork are anything to go by, you will probably be treated for botulism.

Sodium monofluoroacetate (1080) is a poison which is dropped indiscriminately from the air in New Zealand at the rate of approximately 4 tonnes of pure poison annually (the baits contain 0.15% pure poison). It kills human beings at the rate of 0.5 to 2 mg per kg of bodyweight (LD50 – Negherbon).

This year alone NZ is throwing enough poison on the countryside to kill 85 million people — and we don’t even test our food for 1080 residues!

Nor do we have a test readily available for 1080 poison in the human body!

1. Ross & McCoskery (2012) found residues of 1080 in the bones of poisoned deer carcasses 213 days after death…the study ended then so no one knows how long 1080 stays in bone.  Ross, J, McCoskery, H 2012. Deer carcass breakdown monitoring. Report prepared for the Animal Health Board. Wellington, New Zealand. 7 pp.

It seems from the above that if you have a suspected poisoning, whatever it may be from, a consultation with Dr Google will be more helpful. —Eds