In urbanized parts of the California desert, one of wildlife’s biggest dangers is rat poison. Brodifacoum, the active ingredient in d-CON and other mouse and rat poisons, does not kill quickly. The agonizing process takes hours to days and causes intense thirst. This creates two problems. First, because of the delay, the animal may return and consume more rodenticide, therefore ingesting many times the lethal dose. Secondly, the intense thirst forces the weakened but desperate animal to leave its shelter in order to find water. d-CON markets this as a positive aspect of their product because rodents will not hide away in hard-to-reach areas within a house to die. But it is an absolute negative for the animals who make easy meals out of the weakened, dehydrated, out-in-the-open rodents who may have extremely high levels of poison in their bodies. Environmental journalist Chris Clarke points out that “rodents are at the base of the California desert’s animal food chain,” and rat poison has been implicated in the deaths of at least 25 species of wildlife in that state. For that reason, as well as for the pets and children who continue to fall victim to accidental poisonings, two different governmental agencies have ordered rodent poisons using brodifacoum, or chemicals like it, off the retail market. Despite both state and federal rulings, however, d-CON remains available for retail purchase. In what environmental journalist Chris Clarke calls a “classic case of corporate greed running roughshod over the public good,” d-CON is paying lawyers to keep delaying the inevitable compliance with these rulings.
The first order was issued by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2008. Brodifacoum and several related anticoagulants were ordered off the retail market and required to be used only by certified pesticide applicators, and not in loose pellet form but in secured bait stations instead. Those changes were slated to take effect in 2011, but the corporation that owns d-CON, Reckitt-Benckiser, “sued the EPA to block the decision, and won a delay.” Environmental journalist Chris Clarke states that the EPA’s science was not challenged. d-CON’s objection was that “the EPA hadn’t engaged in a long drawn-out hearing process,” the result of which would only have confirmed the agency’s authority to restrict the pesticide. d-CON, in other words, “knows brodifacoum will be coming off the retail market in the U.S.” However, says Clarke, “they make more money if they pay their lawyers to delay that day as long as possible.”
Then, on March 18 of this year, the state agency responsible for regulating pesticide use in California, the Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), ruled to ban the retail sales of most anticoagulant rat poisons. It goes into effect on July 1. Like the previous ruling, it stipulates that only trained professional exterminators will be able to use anticoagulants. Again, the reasoning behind the ban is the same: The household use of anti-coagulant rodent poisons like d-CON have been shown to cause serious damage to wildlife as well as pets and children. Within two weeks of this ruling, d-CON had filed a suit against the California Department of Pesticide Regulation. According to Clarke, both suits are designed to slow the eventual rulings that will strictly limit the sales of d-CON products.
In the meantime, several animal species in the California desert continue to be poisoned by d-CON. Other than house mice and city rats, there are the state’s native desert rodent species that have adapted, to varying degrees, to human companionship. These are the grasshopper, harvest, and deer mice; kangaroo and pack rats; antelope squirrels and regular ground squirrels. Then there are the animals that eat desert rodents, the prairie falcons, barn and saw-whet owls, kestrels, red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, California condors, and golden eagles. Land animals, of course, eat desert rodents too. In this group are the desert kit foxes, coyotes, bobcats, and pumas. But d-CON is killing not only animals in California urban desert areas. Illegal marijuana farms’ use of rat poison in national parks has been responsible for killing the threatened Pacific Fisher, a fearless small predator belonging to the weasel family. Deers, who are vegetarian, also eat and die from d-CON pellets.
Even when they are restricted, the anticoagulants will likely still be available to pesticide wholesalers and agricultural supply stores. The potential for continued illegal use in California’s wildlands has prompted wildlife advocacy groups to call for a more complete ban as well as a boycott of all Reckitt-Benckiser products, of which there are many. Raptors Are the Solution director Lisa Owens Viani has urged the public to let this company that “couldn’t care less about children, pets, and wildlife” know that its actions are unacceptable, and Jonathan Evans of the Center for Biological Diversity had this to say: “It’s disgusting that d-CON continues to challenge common-sense controls for protecting wildlife, children, and pets.”
By Donna Westlund