One person’s efficient, internationally-embraced exterminator of household rodents is another’s “DDT of our time,” and it will be up to the courts to sort out how to mesh those two opinions in California.
United Kingdom-based Reckitt Benckiser, the maker of d-CON, sued the state Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) earlier this week after it formally announced the rat killer and “all second-generation anticoagulant rodenticide (SGAR) products” must come off the shelves by July 1. The new regulation limits acquisition of those products to certified professionals.
The department blames the potent toxins for killing animals far removed from local domiciles. Environmentalists and the DPR estimate that hundreds of wild and endangered species, including mountain lions, hawks, San Joaquin kit foxes and northern spotted owls, have been killed by the poisons, not to mention more than a few neighborhood cats and dogs.
Anticoagulant rodenticides interfere with blood clotting, causing uncontrollable bleeding and death. The chemicals persist in tissue and work their way through the food chain. Studies have shown that 70% of wildlife evidence contact with the toxins. And evidence from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and others indicates that up to 10,000 children a year are exposed to rat poison at home.
The regulations limit the super-toxic rodenticide to use beyond 50 feet of manmade structures. The lawsuit maintains that this will “effectively halt the legal sale to individual customers of the most cost-effective rodent control products available.” It claims that DPR exceeded its authority and is endangering Californians by exposing them to rats and mice at home.
California, as usual, is out ahead of the rest of the country, but it’s not necessarily for lack of trying by the feds. The EPA attempted to remove these products from stores nationwide last year but Reckitt Benckiser tied them up in court.
“Reckitt Benckiser knows that California’s bold decision to take d-CON off the shelves is a preview of things to come in other states,” said Greg Loarie, an attorney with Earthjustice. “Reckitt is fighting hard to hold on to the past, but the corporation should know that we’re prepared to do whatever it takes to make sure d-CON does not become the DDT of our time.”
California’s “bold decision” was a long time in the making. By its own reckoning (pdf), DPR has been re-evaluating second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs) since the state Department of Fish and Game (now Fish and Wildlife) complained about them—in 1999.
In 1998, the Clinton administration's EPA introduced some mitigation measures. To protect kids, rodenticides had to taste bitter, so they wouldn't eat the poison. And they had to be colored with a bright dye, so it would be obvious to everyone if they munched anyways.
By 2001, it looked like the U.S. EPA was going to take the reins and California backed off. The federal agency instituted some more mitigation measures in the ensuing years, but Reckitt Benckiser was the sole manufacturer to resist them. The EPA indicated in 2008 that it was going to crack down, but when the agency finally took decisive action last year, the d-CON manufacturer sued them.
Reckitt Benckiser is the parent company for a range of other consumer products including Durex, Woolite, Lysol, Clearasil, Gaviscon and French’s mustard.