Four members of the National Guard’s elite 95th Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Team (WMD-CST) are stopped in a clearing deep in northern California’s Shasta-Trinity National Forest. They’re huddled together, decked in camouflage protective gear, chemically-resistant Butyl Rubber gloves and full-face respirators.
The team, who is usually tasked with addressing more traditional biological chemicals (think Sarin) just finished a hike up to an illegal cannabis grow operation dubbed Plummer for its close proximity to Plummer Peak. It is one of dozens in the area, believed to be established by cartels. But the crew—led by Drs. Mourad Gabriel and Greta Wengert of the Integral Ecology Research Center (IERC) and trailed by law enforcement—isn’t here because of the federally-banned mind-altering substance. Instead, at the center of their huddle is a vial of the fuschia-hued manmade pesticide Carbofuran.
“What they have in that vial could kill all of us,” Gabriel nods at the cholinesterase inhibitor, which attacks both the peripheral and central nervous systems. “A quarter of a teaspoon at 38 percent [concentration] is enough to kill a 600-pound lion. What they’re working with right now is about a tablespoon.” Nine one-liter bottles were discovered at Plummer; that’s a total of over 608 tablespoons of the hazardous nerve agent—which is sadly unsurprising given that the use of Carbofuran and similarly toxic pesticides has increased dramatically over the past several years. In 2012, the IERC ecologists detected Carbofuran at 15 percent of the trespass grows they visited. In 2018, that number was closer to 85 percent.