Snowy Owl, © John and Karen Hollingsworth

Helping to Defend our Wildlife from D-Con

Jason Rylander, Senior Staff Attorney 

Rat and mouse poison is used by homeowners across the nation to kill unwanted pests. Most of us know how important it is to keep these deadly toxins away from children and pets. But did you know they can also harm our native wildlife?

Certain rodenticides can interfere with blood clotting and cause the victim to bleed to death. In the absence of safeguards, they can be dangerous to bobcats, foxes, owls, and other animals that are apt to eat poisoned rats or mice. Recently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that these rodenticides pose an unreasonable risk to children and wildlife, and issued a notice of intent to cancel them on February 5, 2013.

Northern spotted owlThe Environmental Protection Agency registers pesticides for public use under the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Under the law, EPA can cancel already-registered products that it later finds pose unreasonable risks to children, pets and wildlife. But rather than simply banning a dangerous product from the market, EPA is required under federal law to formally “cancel” the registration. Once EPA issues of a notice of intent to cancel, most manufacturers work with EPA to take their products off the market voluntarily.

But they don’t have to.

In fact, a pesticide manufacturer can challenge the EPA’s decision by requesting an administrative hearing in front of an administrative law judge. If they lose, they can then seek a hearing in the Federal Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. It’s a process that can take years. Meanwhile, unless the EPA takes emergency action (which provides additional process rights for the manufacturer), the product remains on the market the entire time.

Had all manufacturers agreed to the EPA’s recent decision to cancel several dangerous rodenticides, a ban would have gone into effect on March 7. Most of the manufacturers did, but on March 6th, the pesticide manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser Inc. requested a hearing in response to the EPA’s notice of intent to cancel a dozen of the company’s D-Con mouse and rat poison products, averting the ban that otherwise would have taken effect. This is the first time in more than 20 years that a company has requested a cancellation hearing and declined to voluntarily work with the EPA to remove an unsafe product.

According to the EPA, “Reckitt Benckiser’s course of action will result in continued unsafe exposures of D-Con products to children, pets, and wildlife while the hearing takes place. Of the nearly 30 companies that produce or market mouse and rat poison products in the U.S., Reckitt Benckiser is the only one that has refused to adopt the safety measures that greatly reduce child, pet, and non-target wildlife exposure to mouse and rat poisons.” That’s where Defenders of Wildlife comes in.

With the assistance of Earthjustice, Defenders has now gotten involved in the case to defend EPA’s action. EPA is trying to protect wildlife and children from the damaging and even lethal effects of rat poison but Reckitt Benckiser insists on putting profits first. To their shame, they are the one company that still refuses to comply with reasonable safety standards. We will do our best to see that EPA wins this fight for our kids and our wildlife heritage.