Rat trap

Cities, activists, and animal lovers push for less toxic ways to control rodents

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The contents of the ubiquitous bright yellow packages of a common household product are making some local activists go green. Residents are roiling against rats in Berkeley, Marin is trying to attract owls to eat them, and San Francisco is busy persuading stores to stop selling some of the most popular rat baits even before the federal government pulls the plug on pellet-type rodent poisons.

A battle is brewing between the $1 billion pesticide industry that makes D-Con and other common pellet-form rat and mouse poisons and the Environmental Protection Agency, which said June 4 it would either cancel and ban them or, depending on what they contain, require them to be sold with a childproof device.

Several of the makers of the rodenticides have gone to court to fight the proposal, which was supposed to go into effect by now. And four of the companies — Woodstream, Inc., Liphatech, Inc., Reckitt Benckiser, and Spectrum Group — won't commit to stop making the products during the appeal process. In a press release, Reckitt said its anti-rat pellets are safe and "lawful for sale" unless a court orders otherwise. After the ban announcement, Alan Pryor, Liphatech's sales director, called the EPA "an agency run wild."

In January, the EPA sued Reckitt in an attempt to instigate misbranding proceedings against the firm's pellet products instead of canceling them, which could take courts a year or two to decide. But a district court ruled in favor of the company, calling the agency's bid to speed things up via misbranding "arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and contrary to law."

The stakes are enormous. Rodent pellet products are strong sellers at hardware stores. Rodent prevention "is an issue throughout the year," says Paulino Tamayo, pest control buyer for San Francisco's Cliff's Variety. "Customers are constantly inquiring about it."

One reason: up to 4,000 children under the age of five are reportedly bitten by rats, which carry more than 70 known diseases, in large cities in the U.S. per year, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. It's not just children who are seeing the rats.

On Sept. 20, disgusted subway workers demonstrated at New York's Jamaica Central Terminal, where rats were reported multiplying and even infiltrating train cars. Claiming cutbacks by the MTA were contributing to increased trash and waving a banner reading "New Yorkers Deserve A Rat-Free Subway," members of Transport Workers Union Local 100 persuaded thousands of riders to sign a web petition. The New York Daily News reported the MTA is eliminating 254 cleaning jobs.

Steve Owens, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Chemical Safety & Pollution Prevention, said the EPA issued the change to "keep our children and pets safe from these poisons." Every year, the American Association of Poison Control Centers receives 12,000-15,000 reports of kids under the age of six being exposed to rodent bait.

Some analysts think the unreported exposure rate could be 10 times as high; the EPA estimates it's four times as much. A 2006 EPA study found that of 68,005 children under six exposed to rodenticides, 18,084 had to be treated at a health care facility.

And according to the ASPCA's National Animal Poison Control Center, tens of thousands of pets, livestock, and wildlife are being poisoned by rodenticides per year. "It's common," says Dr. Camille DeClementi, senior director of the NAPCC. "Dogs frequently get into bait."

The EPA wants to ban 20 products with brodifacoum, which is in D-Con, and three other chemicals (bromadiolone, difethialone, and difenacoum) for use in residences. But pesticides with the chemicals could still be used by exterminators and farm owners. On Sept. 7, the agency said it would meet Nov.

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