On December 5, 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) announced the availability of a revised interim registration review decision for use of sodium cyanide in the M-44 predator control device. The M-44 device is a restricted use pesticide (RUP) and may be used only by certified applicators in compliance with specific mandatory restrictions set forth on the label. Although the registration review process for sodium cyanide remains pending, EPA has decided to issue an interim decision for the M-44 device now to adopt new label restrictions intended to mitigate potential risks. The revised interim decision adopts two new restrictions and also modifies certain existing restrictions, which EPA states "will reduce the potential for unintended impacts on humans, pets, and other non-target animals.”
The M-44 predator control device uses a spring-loaded ejector to fire a capsule containing a single lethal capsule of sodium cyanide. The M-44 is used by livestock producers to control predators (primarily coyotes) that kill sheep, goats, and cattle. Registrations for the M-44 device are currently held by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and by five individual States (South Dakota, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, and New Mexico) where livestock predation has been a particular problem.
New or revised restrictions that will be incorporated in the approved labeling for the M-44 device include:
- Requiring a 600-foot buffer zone around residences where an M-44 cannot be used (except for a cooperating landowner who has given written permission).
- Requiring that the applicator notify occupants of all residences within a 0.5 mile radius (by face-to-face communication, person-to-person telephone communication, door hanger, or certified mail) prior to an M-44 placement.
- Increasing from 50 feet to 300 feet the distance from designated public paths and roads where M-44 use is prohibited.
- Requiring two elevated warning signs placed 15 feet from the M-44 device and facing the most likely directions of approach, instead of one elevated sign placed 25 feet from the device.
Livestock producers and State departments of agriculture contend that the M-44 device is essential to limit economic losses resulting from predation, which reportedly amount to hundreds of millions of dollars annually. In contrast, wildlife advocates have strongly opposed any continued use of the M-44 device. In 2017, WildEarth Guardians and the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned EPA to suspend and cancel all registrations for M-44 capsules, but EPA concluded that the petition did not contain substantial new information and denied the petition in 2018. Although the new and modified label restrictions adopted by EPA in the interim decision for the M-44 device are not likely to satisfy opponents, these changes should nonetheless reduce the likelihood that humans, pets, or other non-target species will be exposed to the M-44 capsules or the toxin they contain.