The issue involved is a rather simple one. Children get very sick or die when they eat rat poison. Making rat poison bitter stops children from eating it and impregnating it with dye makes it more obvious when a child has eaten it.
Now, if all of this seems quite obvious, it really isn’t once politics is introduced into the equation.
In 1998, with the issue of child safety in mind, the Clinton Administration approved the continued use of rat poison only as long as manufacturers added a bittering agent and a dye. The Environmental Protection Agency was charged with enforcing what seemed to be a rather sensible rule aimed at avoiding needless harm to children.
Three years later, however, and after must complaining by the pest-control industry, Bush administration officials rescinded the requirements on the grounds that they would make the poison less attractive to rats and could damage household property.
So, here we have it. The pest-control industry was able to sell the current administration on the idea that making rat poison less appetizing to children was not as important as keeping it more appetizing to rats. Throw in the somewhat silly argument that a few pieces of furniture or carpets might be stained and, there you have it, a reason for the EPA to drop the two safety provisions out of the 1998 ruling.
If this doesn’t make much sense to you, think of how it must have sounded to the federal judge who was asked to consider the issue.
According to U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff, the Environmental Protection agency is not doing enough to protect children from accidental poising with rat pesticide. Millions of pounds of poisonous rat pellets are commonly used in city parks, housing developments, and public schools.
The judge ruled in favor of the West Harlem Environmental Action and the Natural Resources Defense Council saying that the EPA did not satisfactorily justify its 2001 agreement with the pest-control industry to dispense with the restrictions that rat poison must include a bittering agent and an indicator dye.
Judge Rakoff stated in his opinion: "In short, the EPA lacked even the proverbial ‘scintilla of evidence’ justifying its reversal of the requirement it had imposed, after extensive study, only a few years before."
Bob Rosenberg, senior vice president of the National Pest Management Association, said "Rats and mice don’t like to eat pellets with bittering agents any more than people do."
Currently, however, it appears there is a high price for clean cities, as rat poison accidents are increasing and most often involve African American and Latino children.
EPA statistics indicate that 57% of children hospitalized in New York State for ingesting rat poison from 1990 to 1997 were black, while only 16% of the state’s population is African American and 26% of the victims were Latino, yet Latinos make up just 12% of the state’s overall population.
While the Natural Resources Defense Council praised the ruling as a victory for both children’s health and environmental justice, the final outcome is still in doubt.
The citizen’s groups hope the EPA will reinstitute the rule as it was in 1998 which will allow parents to protect their children and deal with rodent problems at the same time. Clearly, with such simple safety measures available, there is no reason why children should continue to be accidentally poisoned.
The EPA has now stated that it must consider the court’s decision and determine what steps need to be taken “to address the issue.”
The pest-control industry, however, believes the EPA will decide to follow its 2001 decision to do away with bittering agents and dyes because they make the product less effective for rodent and disease control purposes.