Making Smart Decisions about Rodenticide Use

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By Maureen Murray, D.V.M., Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine

A red-tailed hawk named Ruby captured the imagination of many Massachusetts residents who watched Ruby and her mate, Buzz, bear offspring and have daily adventures from their perch near Fresh Pond in Cambridge, Mass. When Ruby died suddenly in April from apparently ingesting rat poison, it was a local tragedy as well as a national warning about the serious dangers these chemicals pose to wildlife. – Read more…

(June 17, 2014)—New EPA regulations restrict the use of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs), which include brodifacoum, difethialone, and bromadiolone. This move has brought alternative products to the general consumer market.  These products contain the first-generation anticoagulants (FGARs) chlorophacinone and diphacinone, as well as a non-anticoagulant, bromethalin, which affects the nervous system.

The new EPA regulations also prohibit certain forms of bait—such as pellets, which are easily scattered over a large area or easily ingested by children—and require that all baits be enclosed within tamper resistant bait stations. While the words safe and poison inherently do not go together, the EPA’s aim is to replace SGARs, for which ample evidence exists demonstrating their risk to wildlife, with products that pose less risk.

As certain products are phased out and taken off the shelf, and new ones are introduced, it can be confusing as a consumer to know what to buy. With the safety concerns posed by SGARs to children and wildlife, it is of the utmost importance that consumers are well informed before making the decision to purchase a poison to use in or around their homes or to hire a pest control company.

Here are important questions to ask during the decision-making process:

Do I need to use a poison?

Before resorting to a poison, have you taken all steps you possibly can to rodent-proof vulnerable areas in and around your home? Can you remove or better contain potential food sources for rodents? Have you looked for and patched potential entry sites into your home? Have you considered alternatives such as snap traps?

People often comment that they feel poisons are more humane than snap traps. But what most don’t realize is that animals poisoned with ARs bleed to death—a process that is neither quick nor especially humane.

What’s in it?

If you feel you need to use a poison, check the active ingredient before you buy. Through March 2015, SGAR-containing products will still be available to residential consumers. SGARs have been deemed highly dangerous to wildlife by the EPA, a conclusion well backed by research. With regard to the replacement products on the market, know that less risk is not no risk. Research has shown that birds of prey are more sensitive than other bird species to FGARs, and there is little research about the possibility of bromethalin to cause secondary poisoning in wildlife.

What are the professionals using?

Know that if you employ a pest control company, they are likely using SGARs—it is important to question what poisons the company uses and to question assertions that these products are “safe” for wildlife. Also, be sure the pest control company employs integrated pest management techniques—a strategy that uses multiple approaches to pest control without relying solely on poisons.

The most important steps you can take to reduce the impact of rodent poisons on wildlife are to arm yourself with information and to explore alternative strategies before you declare a full-scale war on rodents in and around your home. And then spread the word.

Visit the EPA website for more information and documents regarding EPA action on rodenticides:

Ruby and Buzz, red-tailed hawks in Cambridge, MA. Photo: Susan Moses

Ruby and Buzz, red-tailed hawks in Cambridge, MA. Photo: Susan Moses