OXFORD — Tull Chemical Company sits on the bank of Snow Creek behind a fence topped with rusted barbed wire.
To owner Charles Wigley’s knowledge, the small plant beneath the bridge connecting Anniston and Oxford is the sole source of a pesticide known as Compound 1080.
The pesticide, banned in the United States in all but a handful of Western states, has long been a source of controversy in New Zealand. That country’s police on Monday announced someone had threatened to put the tasteless, odorless poison in baby formula if the government doesn’t stop its use by the end of the month. Wigley, who has owned Tull Chemical for more than 30 years, said by phone Wednesday he doesn’t think the pesticide used in the threat came from his plant.
According to releases from the country’s government and police, anonymous letters sent in November to two groups of New Zealand farmers contained powdered milk laced with the pesticide.
The letters demanded that New Zealand’s Department of Conservation stop using 1080 to eradicate invasive species and threatened to poison supplies of infant and other formula if that demand wasn’t met.
Wigley had no specific knowledge of the threat until Monday, he said, but someone with New Zealand’s law enforcement agency did contact him to ask questions about his company three weeks ago.
“The nature of those questions were, who are your customers in New Zealand,” Wigley said. He’s got three, he said, one of which is the Department of Conservation.
Wigley said he thinks he’s the sole producer of 1080 used in pest control, but said it’s unlikely the poison placed in the envelopes used in the November threat came from his plant off of Burton Street in Oxford.
“I don’t keep any inventory of 1080 at the plant,” he said. He also dyes black all of the pesticide that he produces — except the batches made for New Zealand.
“They dye that themselves,” he said.
He exports the chemical compound, which goes by the scientific name of sodium fluoroacetate, to New Zealand, Australia and Israel.
“New Zealand is, far and away, my largest customer,” he said.
It’s dropped in bait-pellet form there from helicopters by the island’s Department of Conservation, which has resorted to using the pesticide to kill off a thriving, invasive population of the brush-tailed possum.
Compound 1080 is used in nine states in the U.S. by Wildlife Services, a branch of the federal Department of Agriculture. The service uses the pesticide in collars that go around the necks of sheep and goats; coyotes are exposed to the poison when they attack the animals.
Wigley declined to say when he last produced the pesticide, adding only that he’s made none this year.
“I think it’s reprehensible that any group or individual would make a threat like this,” he said.
Brooks Fahy, executive director of the Oregon nonprofit conservation group Predator Defense, said he doesn’t condone the anonymous threats made public Monday, either.
However, he does want to see a complete ban of compound 1080, he said by phone Wednesday.
“It’s insane. Here you have one of the most deadly substances on earth … and there seems to be no oversight that we’re aware of,” he said.
His group has been working with U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., to introduce legislation that would both ban the pesticide and shutter any factory that produces it.
Even though Predator Defense and DeFazio guessed someone could try to use the pesticide as a tool for terrorism, Fahy said the effort to ban its production has faltered.
“We’re still working on it,” he said.