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EPA Sued Over Rat Poison Risks

by Pesticide Action Network North America

An environmental justice group in Harlem and a national environmental organization have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Agency (EPA) for failing to protect children from rodenticide poisoning. According to EPA's own estimates, approximately 60,000 children each year accidentally ingest rat poison, yet the agency came to a "mutual agreement" with manufacturers in 2001 not to require that two effective deterrents--a bittering agent and a dye-- be included in rodenticide products. West Harlem Environmental Action (WEACT) and the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in New York on November 9, 2004 challenging the agency's decision.

Annually, more than 15,000 cases of children have accidentally ingesting rat poison are reported to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. The EPA estimates that only 25% of such poisonings are actually reported, with as many as 60,000 children poisoned each year. Because most rodenticides act by causing internal bleeding, poisoning effects include nosebleeds, bleeding gums, bleeding into the skin, anemia, internal bleeding, coma, significant breathlessness and death.

In 1998, EPA determined that the numbers of annual reported child poisonings involving rodenticides violated the safety standard of the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). Based on that finding, the agency concluded that rodenticides marketed in the U.S. should include a bittering agent to make them unpalatable to humans and a dye to clearly indicate ingestion of the pesticide. EPA's 2001 agreement with rodenticide manufactures rescinded these requirements but did not change the finding under FIFRA, therefore, according to the complaint, EPA is in violation of the law.

WEACT notes that rodenticide poisoning harms children in all ethnic communities, but poor African American and Latino children are disproportionately at risk. New York State Health Department data show that 57% of children hospitalized for rat poisoning are African American, although only 16% of the population in the state is African American, and 26 % of hospitalized children are Latino, while Latinos comprise only 12 % of the population.

The NRDC and WEACT complaint points out that EPA ignored evidence from California that an indicator dye was available and could be used safely. Syngenta already includes a bittering agent in their U.S. rodenticide, TALON-G, because it is sold in other countries where a bittering agent is required. Syngenta touts the product as the "highest acceptance, lowest-dose rodenticide on the market." The complaint also notes that some rodenticide manufacturers have already agreed that dyes are feasible in certain formulations. "There is no tradeoff between more child poisonings on the one hand and more rats on the other," said Veronica Eady, who is general counsel for WEACT.

Sources: Press Release, Groups Sue EPA for Failing to Protect Children
from Rat Poisons, November 8, 2004, National Resources Defense Council,
http://www.nrdc.org ; EPA Allows Poison Manufacturers To Poison Kids,
November 14, 2004, Organic Consumers Association
http://www.organicconsumers.org/school/ratpoison111704.cfm ; Los
Angeles Times , November 11, 2004.

©heal toxics, 2003
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