Rat Poison Is a Menace, and Shockingly Easy to Buy

EPA rules don't cover ecommerce
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 19, 2021 4:36 PM CST
Rat Poison Is a Menace, and Shockingly Easy to Buy
   (Getty Images)

Rats give us plenty of grief. They can cause outbreaks of diseases ranging from scrub typhus to leptospirosis and their urine and feces are thought to render a fifth of the world's food supply unusable. As Chris Sweeney writes in a lengthy piece for Audubon Magazine, second-generation anticoagulants are effective rat killers, and we're using them more and more: sales of those products hit $3.8 billion last year, and are set to reach $5.8 billion by 2027. The US is behind a third of those sales—but US consumers shouldn't be, which brings us to the crux of Sweeney's piece. Under EPA rules from 2008, rat poisons containing these second-generation rodenticides (brodifacoum, bromadiolone, difenacoum, and difethialone) may not be sold in "channels of trade" that could end with retail sales in places ranging from hardware stores to big-box stores. Ecommerce isn't listed there.

And so Sweeney had zero problem scooping up buckets containing the stuff via online shopping: from Amazon, eBay, Walmart.com, diypestcontrol.com, and more, and that online shopping soon triggered the appearance of ads for the stuff. What's the danger? To the environment, a potential big one, due to the chemicals' long half-life. Should a hawk or owl eat a rat that has ingested second-generation anticoagulants, "the chemicals can stay lodged in animal tissue for months—posing an ecological menace." Sweeney tried mightily to talk to the online retailers, third-party vendors, and manufacturers tied to the consumer sales, and got almost nothing out of them. The head of Massachusetts-based Yankee Pest Control was more forthcoming, saying that best pest-control experts use the chemicals as a last resort (it turns out pumping rat dens with carbon monoxide works, too). He agrees they shouldn't end up in consumer hands. "There’s a reason we don’t sell hand grenades to people," he quips. (Read the full story, which looks at the measures the EPA has taken over the years related to their use.)

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