The Gustavian Weekly

The question behind rat poison - The Gustavian Weekly

By Krishna O’Brien - Guest Columnist | December 6, 2019 | Opinion

A common household cleaning item or a toxic hazard? Anticoagulant rodenticides (ARs) are a common household product  many people use to kill unwanted, invasive rats. Rats can be dangerous to human health as they carry many diseases and can cause household destruction. Unfortunately, too many people are unaware of the dangers that rodenticides pose. According to the National Pesticide Information Center (NPIC), rat poisoning is extremely toxic when eaten, touched, or breathed in, and humans (especially small children) can suffer serious effects from just one dose. There is debate over rat poisoning as some see it as a safe, everyday pest control product, while others see it as having significant health risks and consequences.

Anticoagulant rodenticides (ARs) are a common tool used in household rodent control. Anticoagulant products thin the blood of whatever ingests it. Based on research from the National Poisons Information Service (NPIS), rodenticides fulfill their task by preventing the flow of vitamin K, which is vital in causing blood to clot. Any human or animal that ingests enough of this poison, depending on their size and the amount consumed, will be stricken with symptoms ranging from hemorrhaging, bleeding from the mouth, coma and death. This condition is called rodenticide toxicosis.

Some rodenticides are so dangerous because of their effects on species that they did not intend to target, such as predators that consumed the infected vermin. Since the poison typically takes several days to kill its target, owls and other birds of prey eat mice, rats, voles, lemmings and other rodents and later suffer and die as a result. Though there is an antidote of vitamin K, owls would need to be brought in to raptor treatment centers in order to receive proper care.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of Pesticide Programs (OPP) regulates the manufacturing and usage of rodenticides to regulate their strength and amounts to protect the health of consumers. The OPP provides protection for those who work with and manufacture rodenticides. According to the EPA, in 2006 they made two decisions regarding the laws of rodenticides. One was to limit the amount of exposure children have to rodenticides by the EPA requiring that rodenticide bait products can only be sold in bait shops. To prevent wildlife and ecological risks, the EPA is trying to prevent consumers from purchasing rodenticides that are the most dangerous to consumers by having stricter laws regarding sales and distribution. When a manufacturer produces a new chemical pesticide, they must register it with the EPA.

Aside from the EPA, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) is the current federal law meant to regulate the sale and use of certain dangerous chemicals in order to protect both consumers and the environment. In the case of FIFRA, the regulation prevents toxins from being used in pest control. These chemicals must not result in any harmful effects on the environment. The law defines “harmful environmental effects” as any unreasonable risk to humans or the environment, or causing dietary risk to humans that do not fall in line with section 408 of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

Discovered by the NPIS, a particularly deadly form of ARs is the Second Generation  type, which entered the market in the 1970s as a response to resistance by some rodents to the   

Based upon studies conducted by the NPIC, there are other ways to minimize rodenticide dangers for those who regularly use the product. Rodenticides should always be placed in spots that are inaccessible to children, such as the top of the cupboard or inside a closet. To learn more about pest control options, consumers can call their local extension office. Other options include using pet traps instead of rodenticides and/or removing dead rats immediately to prevent them from being eaten by pets.

All in all, are rodenticides a cleaning item or a toxic hazard? The answer is different for each individual consumer, and studies and legal policies demonstrate that there are alternatives for those who are against rodenticides, and measures to drastically minimize potential health threats by taking safe, preventative actions.

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