Poisons Used to Kill Rodents Have Safer Alternatives

Poisons Used to Kill Rodents Have Safer Alternatives

A second generation of ultra-potent rodenticides creates a first-class crisis for people, pets, and wildlife.

By Ted Williams
Published: January-February 2013

Currently Reckitt Benckiser is accusing the EPA of discriminating against minorities and low-income families. "They're trying to turn this into an environmental-justice issue," says Cynthia Palmer, who runs the American Bird Conservancy's pesticides program. "That's ridiculous. All the studies show that it's actually these low-income kids who are getting poisoned. The New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene went to EPA's scientific advisory panel back in November 2011 and said, 'No way, we don't need these poisons. We support your 2008 order.' "

The EPA has been no less aggressive in exposing Reckitt Benckiser's fiction. It notes that "data indicate that children in low-income families are disproportionately exposed [to rodenticides]."

 

Secondary poisoning is even more of a public issue in California than in New York. On July 4, 2007, Berkeley resident Dan Rubino found two dead birds in his swimming pool and called his neighbor, wildlife advocate Lisa Owens Viani. She identified them as juvenile Cooper's hawks. Because they had sought water she suspected rodenticide poisoning--a suspicion confirmed by the University of California-Davis, which found brodifacoum in their livers.

Owens Viani then cofounded Raptors are the Solution (RATS), a national alliance of citizens, nonprofit groups, and local governments that educates consumers and municipalities about safe methods of rodent control and the dangers of second-generation poisons. "My neighbor was going to throw those birds [the two Cooper's hawks] in the garbage can," she says. "A lot of people don't even know what they are. I think we're just seeing a tiny percent of what's happening." (Owens Viani went on to serve as development director for Golden Gate Audubon, stepping down in November to devote her time to RATS.)

Because federal regulations supersede local action, municipalities can't ban pesticide sales. But in California, thanks largely to RATS and the Hungry Owl Project out of San Anselmo, all of Marin County and seven cities--Albany, Richmond, Berkeley, El Cerrito, Emeryville, Belmont, and San Francisco--have passed resolutions discouraging the sale of second-generation rodenticides and urging stores to remove the products from their shelves. RATS is trying to get the California Department of Pesticide Regulation to cancel or refuse to renew registration of products containing them.

The San Francisco Department of the Environment has launched a citywide educational campaign for consumers called "Don't Take the Bait" and has sent letters to 130 retailers asking them to voluntarily discontinue selling dangerous rodenticides. One hundred stores, including Walgreens, with 60 outlets, and Sloat Garden Centers, with 14, have made the pledge. Lowe's and Home Depot ignored the request.

The 10-year-old Hungry Owl Project, founded and directed by former wildlife rehabber Alex Godbe, distributes safe, effective rodenticide in the form of barn owls. Once the group has prevailed on a vineyard owner to cease poisoning the gophers that gnaw grapevine roots, it erects, monitors, and maintains barn-owl nesting boxes. Currently Godbe's outfit is working with 25 vineyards. Where gophers are causing the most damage, she recommends four to six owl boxes per 50 acres, and gets 80 percent to 90 percent occupancy.

"We work particularly with barn owls because they're one of the few raptors that are almost nonterritorial," says Godbe. "So if there's enough food, you can have almost as many owls as owl boxes. And we advocate for other predators--coyotes, foxes, mountain lions, badgers, skunks, bobcats, raccoons, opossums. WildCare, a rehab facility in San Rafael and our partner organization, tests birds and mammals. I was shocked to learn that 79.1 percent of the animals it tested were positive for rodenticides. We're killing off the natural rodent control."

Of course, natural rodent control is not always available in heavily developed areas. Nor does it help much if rodents are multiplying inside your house. But that doesn't mean you need weapons of mass destruction. Safe alternatives include single- and multiple-entrance snap traps, electrocuting traps, glue traps (provided you use them only indoors and frequently dispatch stuck rodents), and even first-generation baits with these active ingredients: chlorophacinone, diphacinone, diphacinone sodium salt, war-farin, and warfarin sodium salt.

Then there's the "better mouse trap." You take a metal rod, run it through holes drilled in the center of both lids of an emptied tin soup can so the can becomes a spinning drum. Fasten both ends of the rod to the top of a plastic bucket via drilled holes. Coat the can with peanut butter, and fill the bucket with water and a shot of liquid soap (to break the surface tension and thus facilitate quicker, more humane drowning). Mice and rats jump onto the can, and it spins them into the water. The first time I deployed the device in my New Hampshire fishing camp, it killed 37 mice between Labor Day and Thanksgiving.

Not only are these alternatives safer for people, pets and wildlife, they are, in the long run, more effective because they don't take out the mammals and birds that keep rodents in check. With second-generation poisons you'll get a spectacular initial kill. But a year or two later rodents will come storming back, as Jeannine Altmeyer can attest. You'll then be fighting a war without allies.

 

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Ted Williams

Ted Williams is freelance writer.

Type: Author | From: Audubon Magazine

Comments

I had friend who stayed in a

I had friend who stayed in a nice hotel in Moscow once. There was a mouse in the room so they called the front desk. Within a couple of minutes a man knocked on their door. When they opened it he handed them a cat. When they came back to the hotel at the end of the day, the mouse and the cat were gone.

Egypt had it right. Europe in the middle ages (and the USA now) got it wrong. Sometimes the tried and true way just might still be the best way. But Ted and the Audubon Society have lost all objectivity and are therefore dangerous. IMHO

Chad, will you trade pets for human life too?

What is the threat to human life from rodents? The threat is very mild in most places! I myself had a horrible problem when rat mites infested my house - probably because of a dead rat in the attic. As soon as a rat dies in your home, its parasites jump ship and go looking for new warm bodies - including yours and your pets. The mites were horrible, and took me months to get rid of, but I didn't get sick or die. Poisoning rodents in your house means they can end up in the walls, which can create a major problem for a homeowner. Poisoned rats don't just get eaten by wildlife, there are thousands, perhaps millions of documented cases of pet dogs and cats being poisoned - are you ok with that? I don't feel that pest control operators or companies are a good source to listen to on this issue. I myself, in my volunteer work with wildlife, have heard many times that a pest control operator out and out lied to a consumer by telling them the poisons they use are "safe." That is simply an oxymoron. There is no such thing as a safe rat poison. The only product that came close was called Rodetrol, it uses non-poison, to kill rats by affecting their metabolism. This product was from the UK and they could never get EPA approval in the US. Wonder why? I suspect major corporate bad guys like Reckett-Beckieser - maker of d-Con, who use their corporate power to influence agencies and politicians so they can keep making billions from the poisoning of childen, pets and wildlife. Our small grassroots effort of education people is making progress and RB can't stand it! They are the only company refusing to follow the EPA's recommendations. You can do a lot to eliminate the possibly of rodents starting fires but investing in an exclusion process of a building. Costs more up front, and deprives PCOs of their lucrative monthly fees, yet more and more offer it because their customers are wising up and demanding it as an alternative to poison. We are a small group, but we are not going away.

False Choice, Chad

Chad:
I have a 3,500-word limit, so I threw out the only available alternatives to second-generation biocides. Alas, I lacked space to get into which works best for which rodent. I agree that snap traps are less effective for rats. But I have killed more than a few that way. Glue traps inhumane? Sure, if you don’t check them and don’t dispatch the rodents quickly. (I recommend a cast-iron frying pan.) And, if you are really concerned with the humane aspect, don’t use poisons because they cause excruciating pain, inducing internal hemorrhaging over as much as a week. No one is claiming that any method, including rodenticides, can “eliminate a family nesting in any attic.” You are deluded in your notion that the choice is between “birds and human life.” This is the canard spread by the manufacturers of these biocides. Second-generation rodenticides are a threat to BOTH humans and birds--pets and wild mammals, too, as I documented in the piece. There are many ways to avoid rodents so you won’t have to work so hard to trap or poison them. I encourage you to research these methods. If I had more space, I would have reported all of them.

Clarification

Just to clarify. I own a pest control company in Fort Worth. Your concern I feel for and don't take lightly. Snap traps for mice work because they are very curious about anything new to their environment. As for Norway rats and roof rats they simply do not work. Glue traps, many times they will catch a rat, but I cannot count the times I have seen a glue trap with just a rodents leg attached, they will knaw off their own leg to free themselves so not humane. Your so called safe rodenticides simply are not affective. Rodents are some of the most destructive pests that many people deal with chewing wires, destroying a/c units, even pool equipment. The consequences of rodenticides are there but with anything that works there will always be some side effect just look at any medications side effects. I'm sorry for the problems it may cause with some animals, but until there is a safe efficient alternative you are going to have to deal with the consequences. As soon as there is an alternative proven to work as well or better please email me and I will be more than happy to do my part.

Clarification

Just to clarify. I own a pest control company in Fort Worth. Your concern I feel for and don't take lightly. Snap traps for mice work because they are very curious about anything new to their environment. As for Norway rats and roof rats they simply do not work. Glue traps, many times they will catch a rat, but I cannot count the times I have seen a glue trap with just a rodents leg attached, they will knaw off their own leg to free themselves so not humane. Your so called safe rodenticides simply are not affective. Rodents are some of the most destructive pests that many people deal with chewing wires, destroying a/c units, even pool equipment. The consequences of rodenticides are there but with anything that works there will always be some side effect just look at any medications side effects. I'm sorry for the problems it may cause with some animals, but until there is a safe efficient alternative you are going to have to deal with the consequences. As soon as there is an alternative proven to work as well or better please email me and I will be more than happy to do my part.

PCO setting out bait= guaranteed monthly income

I feel that pest control operators setting out bait boxes guarantees that a rodent problem will continue - it's called BAIT because it attracts rodents! Now you have justified the monthly fee you are charging because the property is always going to have a rodent problem thanks to the FOOD you are putting in the bait boxes. Using exclusion for buildings is the only non-toxic way to solve a problem, but there's no monthly income in it for you. Yet, there are more and more companies offering it as we succeed in our goal of educating the public on the scam of monthly pest control service and the damage these poisons do.Are you willing to trade the lives of pets as well as wildlife, because that's a big problem too! PCO's create an ongoing problem instead of solving a small problem by exclusion, removal of ivy on homes and in yards, and simple consumer education. That costs more up front but is the real solution.

Thank you for writing this

Thank you for writing this article and being frank about the effects of Secondary Poisoning from Anti Coagulant Rodenticides. Though I understand Mr. Philips concern about rat control in NYC, I believe NYC Audubon needs to take a stronger stance against Rodenticides. Stating that these are the Rat baits to use sparingly only encourages and villifies those who wish to use poison. As your article stated, sparingly, and small doses eventually can produce a toxic rat. Red Tails who eat poisoned rats can build up toxic levels in their livers after consuming a few rats. Rats are easy prey for young and already stressed Raptors. We are aware of 19 bait boxes in Madison Sq Park in one city block where the Park Conservancy feels they are within legal guidelines. This same park had a second year RTH die at the beginnig of this year and prelimanary necropsiy results suggests multiple bouts with Rodenticide poisoning until the hawk finally succumbed. I am also shocked at the audacity of Reckitt Benckiser trying to suggest that banning second generation Anti coagulants as discriminating against low income and poverty stricken people. Thank you and people like RATS for having the wisdom, resources and strength to write articles like this and exposing the truth. We are reintroducing Raptors like Peregrines back into cities to help control Rat and Pigeon populations and yet we are exposing the very Raptors to poisoned prey. I only hope people see the light in this situation and come up with an alternative solution.

I agree

Danielle: I would never write or imply that short-lived pesticides shouldn’t be used for insects or, for that matter, alien plants and alien fish. In fact, I am a big supporter of herbicides and piscicides for these uses and lament the chemophobia that has limited their application around the nation. Without them native ecosystems are doomed. A while back carpenter bees and carpenter ants were in the process of eating away my barn. I didn’t like to do it, but I had no choice but to have an exterminator nuke them with pesticides. They covered the barn floor to a depth of three inches.

rodent solutions

I printed out the section starting with barn owls and running through the "you'll be fighting a war without allies" and distributed it to my chicken forum

Our chickens will eat dead rats, baby rats a special favorite, and if the rats have eaten bait, well when we eat the eggs, we are eating the bait too. Granted I had to get through 4 pages of article to get what I needed, but I can now solve my situation without endangering the feral cat that works the garden, the red tailed hawk up the street who I hope will catch the long-tailed weasel, or my dogs.
Thank you.

I will probably put up a barn owl house if I can find a diagram. My rat trap in the green house gets one a week, no bait, under the only opening they can slip through, and I keep my feeds locked down.

appreciation

thanks for this wonderfully synthesized article. I struggled with mice in winter while i lived in the hudson valley. I would VERY much value a youtube clip on this peanut butter contraption. I am a patient reader and read to the end looking for the alternative. My visual imagination is a bit limited so....encourage it be be up front and visual, which will foster adaptations and thus shifts in behavior.

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