EPA Says Illegal Sodium Cyanide Sales Centered in North Dakota
BISMARCK, N.D. Illegal sales of sodium cyanide to beekeepers across the country -- uncovered when three barrels of the deadly chemical tumbled off a truck -- have been traced to a single distributor in North Dakota, the Environmental Protection Agency said.
"I'm not saying that it's not possible that people are getting their hands on it from another source -- but we've been unable to identify that," said Tim Osag, an EPA enforcement coordinator in Denver.
Some beekeepers have found sodium cyanide, which turns into a lethal gas when it gets wet, to be the most effective poison to control such pests as wax moths in their honeybee hives. But the chemical is not registered as a pesticide.
The EPA began investigating the illegal use of sodium cyanide after three barrels fell off beekeeper John Roeder's truck in North Dakota last September.
The agency said it has traced that sale and others to Washburn-based EnviroKem. Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson said the state has learned that drums sold by EnviroKem went to Florida, Nebraska, Minnesota and California.
The state already announced fines against the company and 10 beekeepers for illegally using sodium cyanide as a pesticide. The fines totaled about $190,000.
Johnson also said six beekeepers had settled up as of late last week, and the other cases, including the case of Roeder and his brother Paul, and EnviroKem, are pending.
The largest fine of $54,000 was levied against EnviroKem and its owner, Randy Salli. The company, which has a warehouse in Minot, is accused of illegally handling more than four dozen containers of sodium cyanide from 2003 to 2004.
Salli did not return repeated telephone calls from The Associated Press.
A worker at the company's Minot facility, who would identify himself only as Mike, said Salli was out of the state on vacation until November.
North Dakota and California are the nation's top honey-producing states. North Dakota has 180 licensed beekeepers.
California officials fined two brothers who run a honey farm in Redlands $250 each for illegally using sodium cyanide to fumigate their hives, said Veda Federighi, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Pesticide Regulation.
Federighi said the brothers acknowledged using six, 110-pound drums on their hives, and said they bought the chemical from EnviroKem's warehouse in Minot.
"It was all used up by the time we talked to them," Federighi said. "They threw the drums out in the trash. They didn't hide anything. They were very open about it."
Paul Roeder, who runs an apiary operation near Hebron with his brother, said it was well known among beekeepers that the chemical could be purchased from EnviroKem, which normally sells janitorial supplies and soap to commercial car washes. Sodium cyanide often is used in the commercial chrome plating, mining and pharmaceutical businesses.
Paul and John Roeder have been fined $34,000 for using and transporting the chemical.
Two of the barrels that fell off John Roeder's truck last September were found immediately. The third was not found until October, after a weeklong air and ground search that included the FBI and the chemical's maker, Dupont Co.
"We didn't know if it was legal or not," Paul Roeder said. "We assumed that since we could get it, that it was legal. This has been a big wake-up call."
But Johnson said the skull and crossbones symbol on the chemical's kegs was a clue.
"For anyone to suggest they may might have thought it was legal, well, that's bogus," he said.
Duane Mills, DuPont's product stewardship manager, said Dupont did not sell the chemical directly to EnviroKem, but through an unnamed distributor.
Chris Caldwell, a spokesman for DuPont, said the company has tightened its distribution channels, although it still sells sodium cyanide to the distributor.
"They have made major changes and we're monitoring them very closely," Caldwell said.
Source: Associated Press