JAMAICA — Vermilion County health officials are trying to determine how various animals were poisoned on the north side of Jamaica over the last month.
While Vermilion County Health Department Public Health Administrator Shirley Hicks said on Friday that there is no evidence of human illness in this unincorporated town in southwestern Vermilion County, she is taking the animal deaths seriously.
"Whether these animals are being poisoned intentionally or unintentionally, the source of the toxins must be found and stopped," Hicks said.
Vermilion County Health Department Environmental Health Director Douglas Toole said toxicology tests performed last week at Michigan State University determined that a rat terrier that was found dead last month in Jamaica had the same agricultural pesticide in her system that killed two starlings found dead in the same area of town.
A cat that was also found dead on the north side of Jamaica died from different toxic chemicals than the ones that killed the birds, according to the tests. But the cat had at least one poisonous substance in his system that was also found in the dead dog.
Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon called the animal deaths "suspicious."
"Investigators will look into the matter to try to determine how the animals are being poisoned," McMahon said in a written release. "I want to assure the residents of Jamaica that we are working to get to the bottom of this situation."
Toole said public health is issuing no cautions or restrictions for people or animals in Jamaica.
According to Toole, four dogs were found dead between Feb. 19 and 22.
When J.R. Mosay of the Vermilion County Animal Control Department investigated the area on Feb. 22, he also found a dead cat and a dead skunk.
One week later, Mosay found a fifth dead dog on Jamaica's north side.
Then, on March 14, three starlings were found dead on the northwest side of Jamaica. Two of them were sent to the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois, which determined that neither had West Nile Virus or an infectious disease.
The birds were then forwarded to Michigan State University, where tests indicated they died from exposure to carbofuran, a pesticide sometimes used by farmers.
Toole said carbofuran is used to control pests on a variety of crops.
Then the dead cat and one of the dead dogs, a female rat terrier, were taken to Michigan State University last week for toxicology testing.
According to Toole, the rat terrier was found to have the insecticide carbofuran in her system, as well as a trace of strychnine and a trace of pentobarbital.
According to the Michigan State University report, "Strychnine is extremely poisonous. It is chiefly used in poison baits for rodents."
Pentobarital is a drug sometimes used by veterinarians to put down dogs or cats.
"In my conversations with animal experts, I learned that pentobarbital is typically only found in an injectable form," Toole said. "It isn't something an animal would typically ingest."
The report also stated, "The presence of pentobarbital suggests use of euthanasia drugs."
The cat, a male short-haired cat, was found also found to have pentobarbital in his system, but no carbofuran and no strychnine.
Toole said that Vermilion County Animal Control, the Vermilion County Health Department, the Champaign regional office of the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and the Vermilion County Emergency Management Agency have been communicating by email and phone.
Toole said that area farmers have not yet been contacted about the issue.