The manufacturer of d-CON, a widely sold and popular brand of rat poison, is taking the rare step of challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to prohibit the over-the-counter sale of one of the nastiest and most effective of the poisons sold to consumers.
Most of the 30 manufactures that make such products agreed to the ban, but Reckitt Benckiser Inc., the maker of the 12 separate d-CON products targeted by the EPA, challenged the agency’s decision March 6. The company asked for an administrative hearing to overturn the EPA decision. It’s the first time in 20 years that a company has defied an EPA pesticide ban, and it took the agency and many consumer groups by surprise.
“The impact of these rodenticides on wildlife is staggering,” Greg Loarie, an attorney with the environmental advocacy group Earthjustice, said in a statement. “Study after study has documented anticoagulant rodenticides in more than three-quarters of necropsied raptors, wildcats and canines. The measures put in place by EPA to protect wildlife do not go nearly far enough, and yet Reckitt is refusing to accept even those baby steps in the right direction.”
Companies have had three years to comply with the ban, which took effect this month. It requires companies to stop selling loose pellets of rat poison to consumers, to keep pets and children from accessing them. It also ends the sale to consumers of so-called “second generation” anti-coagulants: brodifacoum, bromadiolone, difenacoum and difethialone.
Those cause rodents to bleed to death. The poison doesn’t break down quickly, and it takes several days to kill the rodents. So when other animals higher in the food chain – such as hawks and coyotes – catch and eat the weakened animal, they also ingest enough poison to be fatal.
Humans can be exposed, too. The 2011 annual report of the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poison Data System listed 8,500 exposures to anti-coagulant rodenticides among children under 12 years old – almost all of them among age 5 and under.
“The poisonings have been a problem everywhere we’ve looked,” said Cynthia Palmer, the pesticides program manager for American Bird Conservancy, a group that works to conserve native birds and their habitat. “These products are so widely used. They’re so quick to become part of the food chains, so we have found poisonings throughout the country.”
Professionals still would be able to buy and apply the stronger pesticides and loose bait for residential and agricultural use, and pest control service companies support the ban.
The EPA said it is “confident it will prevail in the hearing,” but that it is disappointed with Reckitt Benckiser’s move. It will “result in continued unsafe exposures of d-CON products to children, pets and wildlife while the hearing takes place,” the agency said. No hearing date has been set, but many consumer groups worry the appeal could drag on for several years, even as the products remain on the market.
The agency, which replied to questions from McClatchy in writing, said in a statement that there are more than 30 mouse and rat poison products available to consumers that meet the agency’s more protective standards. It hasn’t received any reports of children being exposed to bait contained in bait stations for products that incorporate the new standards.
“The EPA encourages consumers to use only mouse and rat poison products that meet the EPA’s safety standards,” the agency said. “These products are effective, affordable and widely available at retail stores.”The manufacturer, which also makes a variety of health and home-cleaning products, argues that it has spent several years trying to work with the EPA to address concerns about accidental exposures to children, pets and non-target wildlife, and said it’s “confident about assembling a compelling and comprehensive case” in court.
The company also argues that when anti-coagulents are accidentally ingested, they’re more easily treated with Vitamin K. Not so with the neurotoxin in the allowable rodenticides, said Hal Ambuter, director of regulatory and government affairs for d-CON products.
The company also argues that the ban forces consumers to rely on private pest control application services, which may be unaffordable.
“We continue to believe that removing the most advanced and effective rodenticides from the consumer market and leaving consumers with fewer alternatives that include less effective products to which rodents are resistant, or products containing a powerful neurotoxin without a known antidote, does not achieve these goals and, ironically, could put the public health and environment at greater risk,” Ambuter said.
There’s a lot of noise in Congress about the EPA and overregulation, including bills that would loosen restrictions for farmers and others to use separate rodent-, insect- and weed-killing chemicals.
But consumer groups that monitor pesticide use and bird watchers say that loose pellets of rat poison are particularly problematic and should be banned for consumer sale. The state of California is considering its own separate ban of products to keep loose bait from being sold to consumers.
Bob Rosenberg, executive vice president of the National Pest Management Association, noted that the EPA ban has been in the works since 1998 and will remove products from the market that pose unacceptable risks to children, pets and wildlife. In his group’s view, it prohibits the use of potentially dangerous loose baits and products that pose risks to wildlife when misused by people who are untrained and unlicensed to ensure their safe application.
“Sprinkling loose rat poison on the floor is not something a professional should do,” he said, “and not something homeowners should do, either.”