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EPA investigates Utahn's poisoning - 4 years after device shot cyanide in his face

- Patty Henetz, The Salt Lake Tribune, 1/18/2008

 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has begun an investigation into

the poisoning four years ago of a Vernal man who touched what he thought

was a survey stake, only to get a blast of sodium cyanide to his face

and chest.

 

The cyanide device, called an M-44, is used by the federal government to

kill predators. The poisoning has left Dennis Slaugh with severe health

problems, his wife, Dorothy Slaugh, said Thursday. And it has reignited

a campaign to ban all predator poisoning on federal lands.

 

EPA investigator Michael Burgin visited the Slaugh home Monday for a

two-hour meeting, which Slaugh said she taped with Burgin's knowledge.

The special investigator was looking into why federal agencies did not

follow up on the Slaughs' original reports, she said. Democratic Rep.

Peter DeFazio of Oregon pushed for the investigation at the request of

Predator Defense, a national wildlife advocacy group based in Eugene, Ore.

 

"He has been a really good ally trying to get these weapons banned

permanently so no one will have to suffer the way my husband has

suffered," Slaugh said of DeFazio.

 

Dennis Slaugh and his brother were riding all-terrain vehicles on U.S.

Bureau of Land Management land in Cowboy Canyon near Bonanza in 2003

when Slaugh noticed what he thought was a survey stake. He reached to

brush it off and it fell over. When he picked it up, it exploded,

sending a cloud of granules into his nose, mouth and eyes.

The M-44 device was spring-loaded to shoot poison into a predator's

mouth. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Wildlife Services Program is

the only agency allowed to use the M-44 to poison coyotes and dogs to

prevent livestock loss.

 

But when the Slaughs told the USDA and the BLM about their experience,

the agencies denied responsibility and eventually informed them the

statute of limitations on the family's claims had run out.

 

"We were just asking for compensation. We've got medical bills. They

just flat denied everything," Dorothy Slaugh said.

 

On Monday, she said, Burgin told her that time on the claim would run

out in May. Cyanide clings to iron in the blood system and slowly

depletes the heart and other muscles of oxygen.  Dennis Slaugh, 65, has

extremely high blood pressure, difficulty breathing, vomits almost daily

and can no longer work as a Caterpillar D8 driver for Uintah County

because he is too weak to climb up into the machine's rungs.

 

The couple, avid ATV riders and campers, have owned Mountain High Power

Sports in Vernal for 35 years. "We're fine, we're OK. It's just taken a

lot out of him," Dorothy Slaugh said.  Brooks Fahy, executive director

of Predator Defense, said his organization started the push to ban all

predator poisoning on federal lands in 1994, when a woman was poisoned

while trying to resuscitate her dog after the animal bit an M-44 a USDA

employee had set on her private property at the request of a tenant

farmer. DeFazio has been an ally since then, Fahy said.

 

In late November, DeFazio prodded the EPA with a letter that Fahy said

was "instrumental" in finally getting federal action on the Slaughs'

claim. The congressman is sponsoring a bill in the House to ban all

predator poisons

 

M-44