Last month, the Richmond City Council joined Berkeley and San Francisco in asking local businesses to stop selling certain rat and mouse rodenticides that are in pellet form, that are not packaged with bait stations, and that contain the chemicals bodifacoum, bromadiolone, difethialone, and difenacoum.
Each year, 12,000-15,000 calls are made to poison control agencies after children ingest these kinds of rodenticides. Sixty percent of those calls are for children of minorities.
“That doesn’t surprise me that children of color are impacted in a disproportionate way,” Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said. “We know that the environmental injustice aspect often coming through bad products or pollution in our environment and our water is disproportionately impacting people of color and children.”
The chemicals in question are anticoagulants, which means that they thin blood, and if a person ingests them, or wildlife eats a rat that has been in contact with the chemical, they can bleed internally.
“It’s not really a very argued fact any more about the troubles that are caused by these products,” said Jim Stead, a pest control expert with the Pest Control Operators of California. However, if the chemicals are used correctly, they won’t pose any risks to children, Stead said. Problems arise when homeowners don’t read the instructions correctly and place the pellets or the bait stations—with flimsy packaging—in reach of children or household pets.
“When you give this kind of tool to homeowners, you are asking for it,” said Chris Geiger, manager at the Integrated Pest Management for the San Francisco Department of the Environment. “Because people don’t read the label.”
When Stead goes into an attic or a basement he is disturbed if he sees that a homeowner has thrown the pellets around in a way that allows household pets and children to get them. “There is a big difference between a pest control operator and, say, someone walking into a Home Depot,” Stead said.
The more common problems are the dangers posed to wildlife rather than children and household pets. “Secondary poisoning” can happen when an animal, like a coyote, raptor, or hawk, eats a rodent that has previously ingested the poison. This is more of a problem on the fringes of a city, close to a rural area, where wildlife is more common, Stead said.
Over the past five years, at least four cooper hawks were found dead in pools of blood on streets in West Berkeley, with these anticoagulant chemicals in their systems.
But the council can’t ban the chemicals until the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finishes the legal process of formally banning them, which will likely take years. The council can only suggest that stores don’t sell them.
“Its more of an advisory-type initiative,” said McLaughlin. “We wanted to make it clear, get the word out that these poisons are harmful.”
The EPA has been investigating the dangers of the rodenticides for 13 years. In 2008, the agency deemed the chemicals and their packaging unsafe. But in lieu of banning them outright, the EPA declared the products were mislabeled and asked chemical companies to voluntarily remove them from their shelves by 2011.
“On the surface, this doesn’t seem unreasonable,” Gieger said. “These are labeled as safe, but they aren’t.”
Instead, large national companies, including Reckitt Benckiser Inc., Spectrum Group, and Liphatech Inc., which are the makers of Hotshot, D-Con, and Spectrum, are appealing the EPA’s request.
Representatives from the chemical companies did not respond to Richmond Confidential’s interview requests. A spokesperson from The American Legislative Council, a group that represents all of the companies, offered to send a statement on their behalf, but after a week of repeated requests the statement was not received by Richmond Confidential.
Now, the EPA is going to go through a formal cancellation process. “They are going to have to do a lot of there work all over again,” Gieger said, which can take years. “It is a really clear case of corporate greed.”
In the meantime, the cities of San Francisco, Berkeley, and Richmond are formally asking companies to start pulling the products off their shelves.
Since the issue lays in the packaging and specifically misuse by homeowners, pest control professionals will still be able to use baits and pellets with the chemicals.
Stead has trained in every aspect of pest control for almost two decades, learning how to use the best strategies for each situation depending on the kind of rodent involved. Chemicals—which he thinks are crucial about one out five times—are a last resort. “I don’t make more money if I use more chemical,” he said. “I don’t have any sort of motivation to use more chemical or more product.”
On the other hand, Stead said, he doesn’t want low-income residents who can’t afford pest control companies to be totally without rat control options.
Old-fashioned snap-traps can solve their rodent problems, Gieger said. “If they can’t solve it using those tools, we recommend that they seek out professionals.”