My old neighborhood here in Washington, D.C. had an area that we lovingly referred to as Rat Park. Walking around there late at night (or not even that late at night) meant you were guaranteed a few sightings of rats running around in the shadows. It’s a way of life in D.C. and many major urban areas. Many homes and buildings have pellets scattered around them that contain rat poisons to try to control the problem. In fact, nationwide, millions of pounds of rat poisons are applied every year, in homes, public schools, and city parks, like Rat Park. Today, we got good news about those rat poisons.
More than 15 years ago, the EPA determined that the thousands of annual home-use rodent poison exposures posed a serious human health risk and violated federal pesticide laws. The agency developed measures to protect children, pets, and wildlife from these poisonings, such as requiring the bait poison be contained rather than spread as loose pellets, which can be easily mistaken for candy by kids. EPA was required to develop these safety measures as a result of a successful 2004 federal lawsuit brought by NRDC and West Harlem Environmental Action (WE ACT).
All rodenticide manufacturers agreed to cancellation proceedings except for one -- Reckitt Benckiser, the leading manufacturer of rodent poisons. Reckitt balked at those measures and refused take its dangerous products off the market. After years of attempting to negotiate with Reckitt, EPA initiated a proceeding to cancel Reckitt’s non-compliant products and remove them from the market. NRDC and WE ACT, along with other interested groups, intervened in that case in support of EPA.
Today, as a result of NRDC and WE ACT legal efforts, Reckitt Benckiser has finally agreed to voluntarily discontinue these rodenticides by the end of this year. Moving forward, replacement products will be sold in bait block form, rather than pellets, and in tamper-resistant bait stations that better protect against accidental poisonings of children, pets, and wildlife. (EPA has not published the full terms of the agreement, but its press release is available here.)
Because the agreement allows Reckitt to continue making these products until the end of the year, and stores to sell them until their stocks are gone, customers should still be careful when buying these products. And as always, non-chemical alternatives like snap traps and preventing rodent problems by depriving rats and mice of food and access in the first place are the best solution.
While it is important to control the rodent populations in our cities, thousands of children under age six are poisoned every year from accidental ingestion of rodenticides, resulting in many hospitalizations. And while rodenticides harm children in all communities, African-American and Latino children and children living below the poverty level suffer a disproportionate risk.
Today, we can celebrate a major victory for children's health across the nation and for common sense. Now we can protect our kids and communities, and deal with rodent problems in our neighborhoods at the same time.