‘Super-Toxic’ Rat Poison Is Killing California’s Wildlife

Rodenticide used in personal homes and gardens is harming much more than the rodent population.
A gray fox undergoing treatment for rodenticide poisoning. (Photo: Melanie Piazza/WildCare)
Jan 4, 2013· 2 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

Super-toxic rat poisons do more than keep gardens pest-free. In California, they’re also working their way up the food chain, poisoning, and in many cases, killing indigenous wildlife.

According to The San Francisco Chronicle, the modern breed of rodenticides, known as “second-generation anti-coagulants,” aren’t just lethal, they’re torturous to the animals who ingest them. The chemical compounds cause uncontrollable bleeding, leading to an agonizing death.

Because these poisons are slow-acting, they’re often eaten by rodents repeatedly over the course of several days, causing the toxins to pool in their bodies to levels that are many times the lethal dose. Predators like hawks, foxes and mountain lions, which feed on poisoned rodents, are then poisoned themselves.

The far-reaching effects of these chemicals are staggering. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has already confirmed 240 cases of rodenticide exposure in animals that include hawks, black bears, owls and the endangered San Joaquin kit fox. The National Park Service has also documented deaths of mountain lions and bobcats in Southern California’s Santa Monica Mountains. And UC researchers found second-generation anticoagulants in 70 percent of the mammals and 68 percent of the birds they examined.

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As part of their effort to spare the state’s wildlife from a particularly cruel and early death, environmental and public health groups have united to urge the California Department of Pesticide Regulation to end the sale of super-toxic poisons. Organizations like the Center for Biological Diversity and EarthJustice are hoping that their campaign will abolish the use of these anti-coagulants.

The Environmental Protection Agency has also been taking steps to ban the sale of 20 different rat and mouse poisons sold to consumers. The agency’s main concern isn’t state wildlife, but California’s kids. According to the EPA’s press release, “The American Association of Poison Control Centers annually receives between 12,000 and 15,000 reports of children under the age of six being exposed to these types of products.” Still, the EPA faces a long beaureacratic process to eliminate these poisons, the end of which may not be seen for some time.

But if consumers have a rodent infestation, what are the alternatives? Turns out there are many, none of which involve the agony of a slow bleed-out. Sarah Aird, codirector of the statewide coalition Californians for Pesticide Reform, said in a public statement, “The best fix for rodent problems is to eliminate the health problem that attracts them in the first place by improving housing conditions and sanitation.” This includes rodent-proofing homes by sealing cracks and small holes, eliminating food sources, and utilizing non-poisonous rodent traps.

For those who like their rodent eradication “animal kingdom” style, another alternative is the implementation of owl boxes, nesting sites that attract owl families, nature’s own very efficient rodent predator.

As our state agencies battle it out over lobbyists from the pesticide industry, consumers can decide how much of these poisons will enter their homes. By voting with their wallets, Californians have the power to demand safer rodent-control methods, ones that respect the state’s natural environment instead of degrade it.

Do you believe these super-toxic poisons are sometimes necessary, or are the alternative methods of rodent eradication sufficient? Let us know in the Comments.