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EPA Allows Rat Poison Manufacturers to Poison Kids

November 14, 2004
Los Angeles Times
Collateral Damage in the War on Rats
Activists suing the EPA say children are at risk because safety rules on
poison were revoked.

By Robert Lee Hotz, Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK < In the urban warfare against rats, children become casualties,
poisoned in greater numbers every year by the pastel pellets scattered like
candy around playgrounds, public housing and schools to keep rodents at bay.

The children are victims of the politics of poison control, environmental
activists said Saturday, because federal regulators revoked safety measures
designed to childproof the millions of pounds of rat poisons applied
nationally every year.

In New York Federal District Court on Tuesday, an environmental group in
Harlem and the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington filed suit to
reinstate federal controls that reduced the risk to children from rat
poisons. The measures were abandoned in 2001 by the Environmental Protection
Agency after it consulted with the chemical companies that manufactured the
poisons.

"They pulled the safety measures but allowed the rat poisons to stay on the
market," said defense council lawyer Aaron Colangelo, who prepared the
lawsuit. "Since then, the number of reported child poisonings has gone up
every year," he said. "We think this is happening across the country."

This year, more than 50,000 children in the U.S. ages 6 and younger were
sickened by eating rodent-control toxins, three times as many as in the
first full year after the safety measures were adopted, according to the
American Assn. of Poison Control Centers.

The children suffer internal bleeding and anemia, among other maladies, and
can fall into a coma. Several hundred required hospitalization last year.

Rat poisons harm children in all ethnic communities, but poor African
American and Latino children are affected disproportionately, said Peggy
Shepard, director of West Harlem Environmental Action, the group that filed
the lawsuit. The group works with Columbia University's Mailman School of
Public Health to monitor medical issues in the neighborhood. In New York
state, 57% of children hospitalized for rodenticide poisoning are black,
although 16% of the population is black; 26% of hospitalized children are
Latino, yet Latinos make up 12% of the population.

"We now feel we have to go to court," Shepard said. "That's our last
resort. Children in the community are needlessly getting ill."

EPA officials in Washington would not discuss the lawsuit Friday or explain
why the safety regulations were dropped.

"We are reviewing the complaint, and we will respond accordingly," EPA
spokeswoman Enesta Jones said. She would not elaborate.

According to the lawsuit, in 1998 the EPA started to withhold approval of
rat poisons unless manufacturers included two safety measures to protect
children: an ingredient that makes the poison taste more bitter and a dye to
make it more obvious when a child ingested the poison. In 2001, however, the
agency said that it "came to a mutual agreement with the rodenticide
[manufacturers] to rescind the bittering agent and indicator dye
requirements."

Nowhere in the United States is the problem of rat control believed to be
more acute than in the maze of Manhattan.

Estimates of how many rats make New York their home vary from as few as
500,000 to as many as 44 million. Most experts suggest there may be one rat
for each of the city's 8 million residents.

Complaints about rodents have increased 40% in the last two years, the city
health department says, and the city exterminated 84,000 rats at a cost of
$13 million in the last 12 months.

Rat poisons are used heavily throughout New York in public housing, schools
and parks. Householders usually buy rat poison in childproof containers, but
government agencies often buy the poison in bulk as drums of loose pellets.

In a single year, about 800 pounds of rat poison were used in the General
Grant Houses, a west Harlem public housing project that is home to 4,500
people. The same rat poisons were used in nearby Morningside Park as well as
at the two neighborhood elementary schools.

As a result, the children living in the General Grant Houses < and probably
those in other areas of the city < may be exposed to these poisons wherever
they go: at home, at school and in local parks.


Washington Post

April 15, 2004
Bush's EPA, the rat-poison industry, and the rest of us

Over the past six years, the pesticide industry has fought off or stalled two regulatory initiatives designed to protect children and wildlife from becoming unintended victims of rat poisons, and public health and environmental groups charge that the industry had unusual access to block federal action.


Proposed child safety regulations were abandoned after more than five years of study, and an assessment of the impact of rat poisons on wildlife has been bogged down for about three years. Along the way, the Environmental Protection Agency gave the industry a rare opportunity to revise regulatory language for 15 months after it was in near-final form.

In the interim, the critics say, the toll has grown. Poison-control centers reported last year that more than 15,000 children younger than 6 accidentally ingested rat poison, up from fewer than 11,000 a decade ago. Wildlife organizations, meanwhile, charge that dozens of endangered animals die every year after ingesting rat poison spread to protect crops.


This is a really stunning story. The administration, naturally, is denying giving its industry allies an inappropriate role in the process, but the Natural Resources Defense Council seems to have the goods. The group has documents showing that Bush's EPA not only worked hand-in-hand with the industry, but also complied when manufacturers wanted the risks associated with rat poison downplayed in EPA assessments.

Aaron Colangelo, a staff attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, who obtained the EPA's internal documents for the environmental advocacy group under a Freedom of Information Act request, said the documents highlight how the agency mishandled its effort to protect humans and animals.
"EPA's acquiescence to the demands of the rat poison industry is a disturbing example of the Bush administration EPA allowing industry literally to rewrite the rules," Colangelo said.


It's also a partisan reminder about which party will put industry demands over public health concerns.

The fight over pesticides began in August 1998, when the EPA, under President Bill Clinton, published a document approving the use of rat poisons as long as the industry undertook certain precautions. The document concluded that rat poisons "pose a significant risk of accidental exposure to humans, particularly children, household pets, and non-target animals" but should remain on the market because they helped contain diseases rats and mice carry.
The agency, however, called for two new safeguards: adding an agent to make the poison taste more bitter and a dye that would make it more obvious if a child had ingested the poison.

In 2001 the agency reversed course, issuing a statement that it "came to a mutual agreement with the rodenticide [makers] to rescind the bittering agent and indicator dye requirements."


But the most telling part of the story details how much power the EPA was willing to cede to poison manufacturers.

At the behest of the industry, the EPA made broad changes to play down the dangers posed by rat poison, including rewriting a section describing the fatal poisoning of seven deer.
While refusing to meet with consumer and environmental groups, the agency held five closed-door meetings with members of the Rodenticide Registrants Task Force, whose members include Syngenta Crop Protection, Bell Laboratories Inc. and LiphaTech Inc.

EPA deleted language the industry objected to: At one point a staffer wrote in an e-mail that there would be "no references to mitigation and no words/phrases etc. that could evoke emotion on the part of" the industry task force. The document initially said that seven deer in New York state "have been poisoned by anticoagulants. . . . The incidents depict how toxic rodenticide baits can be even to large animals"; at the industry's suggestion this was amended to "Seven deer in New York state tested positive for anticoagulants," with the second phrase dropped altogether.