- What are SGARs?
Answer: The term “SGAR” is an acronym that stands for “Second Generation Anticoagulant Rodenticides.” As the name suggests, this class of rat poisons work by stopping the blood from coagulating (clotting) in its victim by inhibiting Vitamin K production in the body (Vitamin K is responsible for clotting the blood). This can incite a fatal reaction in animals as ingestion of SGARs can cause internal hemorrhaging. There are four chemicals registered as SGARs in the United States: brodifacoum, bromadialone, difenacoum, and difethialone.
SGARs were created as chemical successors to first generation anticoagulant rodenticides (FGARS) such as warfarin, chloropopacinone, and diphacinone. SGARs were first developed in the 1970s because rodents were building immunity resistance to FGARs. SGARs are much more potent than FGARs as a single dose or feeding from bait containing SGARs is usually enough to kill a rat or mouse. However, it still takes days to more than a week for that rodent to die. During that time, rodents may feed from the bait multiple times. This means by the time they succumb to the poison, their system has very high amounts of SGARs in it, which can affect or even potentially kill a predator–whether wild or domestic–that consumes that rodent. This is a phenomenon known as “secondary poisoning” and it seems to be how most wildlife afflicted with SGARs poisoning get it in their systems. While SGARs were developed in the 1970s, they didn’t become more popular until the 1990s, and have steadily increased in use since the turn of the century, especially subsequent to 2015.
In 2015, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, banned SGARs from over-the-counter sales (hardware and drug stores were allowed to sell out their existing inventory until 2018) after reports were showing thousands of children across the country were accidentally eating and getting sick from SGARs every year. The current EPA regulations only allow licensed pest control professionals (PCPs) to distribute bait containing SGARs in tamper-resistant bait stations for their customers. Ironically, this seems to have led to an explosion in the use of SGARs in the Boston metro area.
- If SGARs are not available for sale at brick and mortar stores or online, how come I still see them at stores or on Amazon?
Answer: As mentioned above, the EPA did allow stores to sell out their existing inventories of SGARs baits for several years after the ban went into effect, though they were supposed to remove whatever did not sell from their shelves by the end of 2018. If you are still seeing products containing brodifacoum, bromadialone, difenacoum, or difethialone on store shelves, please complain to the store manager and let them know they are selling an illegal product they need to remove immediately (they may not know this, so please be polite!). You should also take a photograph and report it to your regional branch of the EPA and/or the Massachusetts Department of Agriculture. *Please make sure the product you are concerned about definitely contains SGARs before you lodge a complaint. Unfortunately, hardware stores still can legally sell most other types of rodenticides, including FGARs, as well as neurotoxins like Bromethalin.
While SGARs are not supposed to be sold to regular consumers, loopholes in the laws and lack of regulatory oversight of online stores had led to the continued availability of SGARs in large quantities through websites like Amazon. This concerning issue was chronicled in depth in a 2021 article in Audubon Magazine by Chris Sweeney. Yet even though the availability of SGARs online is a big problem and one Save Arlington Wildlife and other groups and organizations care about and try to address, it seems the lion’s share of SGARs use in many areas is actually through applications in bait stations from pest control professionals. As such, SAW’s efforts primarily target that aspect of the problem.
- So SGARs are not the only kind of rat poison being used?
Answer: SGARs are definitely not the only rodenticide around. FGARs are still very popular, and are available both over-the-counter and often still distributed in bait stations by pest control professionals as well. In fact, some bait types are a blend of both SGARs and FGARs, and some bait boxes even have rodenticides that are not anticoagulants.
In addition to anticoagulant rodenticides (often in shorthand referred to as “ARs” or “AR poisons”), two other very popular rodenticides are Bromethalin, which is a neurotoxin, and Cholecalciferol. Bromethalin works by attacking the brain, causing severe neurological damage and eventual death. Cholecaciferol is a mega-dose version of Vitamin D that leads to the shut down of major organs like the kidneys. Both are available online, over-the-counter in various rodent control products, AND are often distributed by pest control professionals in bait stations as well.
- But the bait stations are tamper proof right? Meaning children and animals can’t get into the bait and it can’t get out, and the animal is trapped in there with the poisons?
Answer: No the bait stations are not tamper proof, but “tamper-resistant,” which is very different. Here in Arlington, broken open bait stations with exposed bait have been observed around town–including a bait station right next door to the Arlington Heights Petco where puppy training classes were being conducted outside and curious puppies were sniffing around the bait, pictured here:
In another instance, also in the Heights neighborhood, a family of squirrels were observed breaking open a bait station and sharing and eating the bait. A couple of days later, multiple dead squirrels were discovered on the ground:
A news segment on SAW’s State House rally on SGARs in May 2023 included an interview with a man whose two dogs died from consuming rodenticide bait from a station that had been vandalized, leaving the bait exposed.
Bait can also scatter on the ground or floor outside of the bait box or station when a rodent exits (and no, these stations do not trap an animal inside, they are designed to allow them to leave the box) and pets, wildlife, or even children may come into contact with the bait that way.
SAW founder Laura Kiesel repeatedly observed young children at her affordable housing complex sticking their hands into bait stations containing the most dangerous SGAR, Brodifacoum.
Bait can also be released into the environment through heavy storms (which we have had in the area in abundance in summer 2023, the second wettest Boston metro summer on record) and when waterways and areas flood, as has been studied and proven by peer review research. Bait boxes with SGARs have been observed in the Boston metro area placed right along rivers, streams, and wetlands, despite EPA guidelines requiring they be placed a distance away due to their toxicity to aquatic life. During house and building fires, these poisons can potentially ignite and release toxic fumes that can adversely impact anyone who breathes it in.
- Have child poisonings from SGARs gone down since the EPA ban on OTC sales?
Answer: One 2020 EPA report noted a 46% decline in child rodenticide incident reports related to SGARs between 2011 to 2017 and 79% between 2009 and 2018. So it does seem that child poisonings from SGARs have decreased dramatically since the EPA banned them from over the counter sales, as well as banned these poisons in pellet form and only allowed their distribution in tamper resistant bait stations. However, while these statistics indicate a substantial decline in child poisonings from SGARs, it is far from an elimination of the problem and implies that hundreds of children may still be impacted every year. Save Arlington Wildlife does not think any risk of exposure of children to SGARs is acceptable. Furthermore, the children disproportionately impacted by these poisons are low income children of color, making this an example of environmental racism. It finally needs to be noted that while child poisonings from SGARs have declined, child poisonings from first-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (FGARs), which are still available over the counter, have increased dramatically over the same periods of time indicated above—between 60 and 80%, respectively.
- Are SGARs the only poison to be concerned about? If not, why do SAW and other organizations focus on SGARs? What is SAW’s position on other rat poisons?
Answer: All rodenticides pose some level of risk to non-target animals like wildlife and companion animals like cats and dogs and almost all of them also present at least some risks to people, especially children (like FGARs). That is why as part of its Poison-Free Pledge Campaign, Save Arlington Wildlife requires businesses and landlords to commit to not using ANY rodenticides on their properties, not just SGARs or FGARs. That is also why on our website and in other mediums where we post, SAW advocates for poison-free alternatives to rodent control, such as improved waste management, exclusion, Contrapest, dry ice, deterrents, and trapping, to name a few.
However, at least in part due to its sheer ubiquity, SGARs seems to be causing the most adverse environmental and public health impacts of all the rodenticides. Because of their potency–ARs in general, and SGARs especially–seem to work up the food chain much more quickly and aggressively than other types of rat poison, at least according to the best available research and data. Additionally, AR poisons are the most common cause of child poisonings by rodenticides. The EPA has already acknowledged the severity of these risks to children and wildlife through first-hand exposure (meaning eating the bait directly) by banning their availability over the counter. As a result, there is a strong legal precedent of restrictions on SGARs for advocacy groups to refer to and build on.
Most wildlife rehabilitators and veterinarians seem to cite SGARs as the most prevalent class of rodenticides responsible for the bulk of poisoning cases of sickened or dying wildlife they admit to their practices and treat. Tufts Wildlife Clinic, a national authority on SGARs poisonings in birds of prey, has recorded trends of increased SGARs in owls, hawks, and eagles in Massachusetts (specifically, their research found 100% of Red-tailed hawks surveyed were impacted and 96% of all birds of prey surveyed overall). However, FGARs also have some pretty notable firsthand and secondary impacts on wildlife, and are quickly increasing as a primary poisoning agent of children. This is why Raptors Are the Solution recently moved to also try to add the FGAR diphacinone to the state moratorium of SGARs in California.
In early 2023, a sick bald eagle discovered in the Saugus area of Massachusetts that later died tested positive not for anticoagulants but Bromethalin and its symptoms were commensurate with exposure to this neurotoxin. It later fatally succumbed to these symptoms and so it seemed Bromethelin was the likely culprit in its death, as theorized by Tufts Wildlife Clinic, which necropsied the eagle. Tufts Wildlife Clinic has also found increasing rates of Bromethelin in more and more birds of prey. Since raptors are obligate carnivores, it seems likely this exposure is secondary (meaning they are getting it from their prey), indicating the secondary impacts of Bromethalin may be higher than previously believed.
Unfortunately, more places are switching to Bromethalin from SGARs, which may have unintended consequences. Likewise, more businesses and landlords are also turning to using Vitamin D bait, and while secondary impacts in wildlife are still considered relatively lower, Vitamin D bait is highly toxic to pets like cats and dogs and has been implicated in the fatal poisonings of cats and especially dogs in the northeastern region. Some studies also indicate Vitamin D bait may have some secondary impacts for dogs who eat rodents.
Save Arlington Wildlife runs on limited resources, so we are primarily targeting SGARs in our campaign efforts. But that does not mean SAW supports or endorses the use of other rat poisons that are not anticoagulants. In fact, SAW has made a number of posts on our Facebook page warning against them. We will also be posting a disclaimer on our website issuing warnings about FGARs, Bromethalin, and Choleciferol.
As an example of SAW’s position on rodenticides, though the Housing Corporation of Arlington eventually responded to SAW’s petition to get rid of anticoagulant rodenticides by switching Vitamin D bait, which is why SAW has not added them to our list of Poison Free Pledge businesses or offered them public praise or endorsements.
- What do bait stations or boxes look like and how do they work? Do they always contain SGARs?
Answer: Bait stations or boxes resemble tool boxes. They are made of plastic (though can more rarely be made of metal), are usually black or dark gray (though sometimes they are white) and are often located against the sides of buildings. You may notice you will see multiple boxes against a specific building, often spaced every 5 to 15 feet apart. Sometimes they are placed under trees. These boxes tend to have a hole on each side, for a rodent to enter or exit at will. The bait boxes or stations often will have writing on the box that will contain a poison warning and many/most should have a white label on the top with the EPA registration code and the name of the product and poisons inside. Here are some photos to help you better identify them:
Bait stations/boxes do not always contain SGARs, though they usually do. But they can contain other types of rodenticides like FGARs, Bromethalin, or Choleciferol (Vitamin D), instead of or in combination with SGARs. It is also possible that some bait stations do not contain any poisons at all, but snap traps, or non-poison baits like Rat X or Contrapest. However, this is relatively rare, though it is becoming increasingly more common as awareness around rodenticides grows.
- Is there a way to tell if a bait station contains SGARs and other rodenticides or not?
Answer: Yes, there is. Under federal law, many/most bait stations containing SGARs (and other federally registered rodenticides) are required to feature labels on the top that state their contents. So, if you see a bait station and want to know if it contains SGARs, look for the label on top and see if you can read it or take a photograph of it to look it up later. You can view the photographs above to get an idea of the labels on top. Here is a close up on a couple of additional boxes from two separate companies and two different locations, that each are labeled as containing the SGAR bait Bromadialone:
Unfortunately, a loophole in the laws allow pest control professionals to sometimes forgo labeling their bait stations (for instance, if the baits and bait stations are purchased or sourced separately). Even in some cases where pest companies are supposed to label their bait stations, they may not and there is limited recourse in those instances. In other cases, the text on the labels may fade or the label may peel off or disintegrate completely after being out in the elements for extended lengths of time.
If you are a tenant and believe your landlords are using SGARs but they are not being labeled at all or labeled improperly, you can report your concerns to a pesticide inspector at Massachusetts Department of Agriculture. In most cases, a representative from the agency will check and if they find a problem, compel the property or pest company to properly label their products. In other cases, if it is a business, you can also complain to the MDA but they may not respond or inspect. You can decide if you would want to complain to the business or withhold your patronage until they can be more transparent about their rodent management practices.
If you are a homeowner or business owner and you contract with a pest control company and want to know exactly what product they are using in the bait stations they are placing in and around the property, you are entitled to something from the EPA called the “Material Safety Data Sheet” (MSDS) for the product they are using. This sheet will name the product and list its risks. You may also want to watch while the exterminator stocks or re-stocks the bait stations as there have been some reports in Arlington of pest control companies claiming to their customers to be using snap traps, but later on when the customers opened the bait stations, they found poisonous bait inside instead.
- My pest control professional says the poison does not harm pets or wildlife, or poses minimal risks–and that only a few animals have died in the state–is that true?
Answer: It is simply not true that rodenticides, and especially SGARs, do not harm pets or wildlife. The risks and dangers are not only well known and documented, but serious. The EPA has conducted numerous Ecological Risk Assessments on anticoagulant rodenticides in the past 20 years and all of them concluded that the risks and impacts of ARs were significant and wide-reaching on non-target birds and mammals. The 2020 EPA Ecological Risk Assessment for Anticoagulant Rodenticides explicitly concluded: “The nature of risk to mammals and birds from ARs is well-established and includes mortality from primary and secondary exposure, as well as chronic growth and reproduction effects.” Additionally here is an excerpted text of the Material Data Safety Sheet for SGARs: “HAZARDS TO HUMANS AND DOMESTIC ANIMALS: CAUTION. Keep away from children, domestic animals and pets…ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS: This product is extremely toxic to mammals and birds. Dogs, cats and other predatory and scavenging mammals and birds might be poisoned if they feed upon animals that have eaten this bait.”
It is also not true that only a few animals have gotten sick or died in the state of Massachusetts from SGARs. The veterinary wildlife hospital and rehabilitation clinic, New England Wildlife Center, sees close to 200 wildlife patients a year some years exhibiting tell-tale signs of SGARs poisoning (namely, their blood is not clotting). And that is just one wildlife clinic in one part of the state. Unfortunately the only evidence the state or federal government will usually admit to confirm SGARs poisoning is a liver necropsy (autopsy) of a dead animal. But the state government usually only tests animals that are listed under the federal or state endangered species lists. Since 2021, three bald eagles have died due to SGARs in Massachusetts, but those are just the ones found and formally tested. Many other animals are not necropsied and simply disposed of because of costs (necropsies are expensive and many wildlife rehabbers run on shoestring budgets).
Meanwhile, fundraising efforts by concerned citizens collaborating with local veterinarians have funded independent necropsies at approved laboratories of a number of dead wildlife discovered in the past year in the Boston metro area–and ALL were found to have high levels of toxic SGARs poisoning. This included a Great Horned owl, a Barred owl, a Cooper’s hawk, and a Red fox. Imagine how much greater the number of confirmed SGARs in wildlife would be if the state or federal government actually invested funding in mandatory testing of dead wildlife suspected of SGARs poisoning?
If a pest control professional tells you that SGARs do not pose any or minimal lethal risks or dangers to your pets or wildlife, they are either not being honest or ignorant of the facts.
- How come pest control companies have told me/my family/my friends/my neighbors that SGARs and other rodenticides are relatively harmless to other animals besides rodents?
Answer: Outrageously, there doesn’t seem to be any legal obligations for pest control professionals to disclose the risks of SGARs and other rat poisons to people and non-target animals like pets and wildlife, even when directly asked about it. In fact, it looks like they can even go out of their way to evade the truth and still avoid legal accountability. According to an email from an EPA representative to SAW founder Laura Kiesel when she was writing on the topic as a journalist “…it is not a violation under [federal law] for pest control professionals to make inaccurate claims about the impact of SGARs on non-target animals, as long as they are not putting a false label on a bait station.” The state could intervene and impose tougher transparency laws and policies compelling pest control professionals to acknowledge and disclose the risks of SGARs and other rat poisons to the public, but so far Massachusetts has not taken any such action.
A proposed state law, informally known as the “Hawkins bill” (more info on that below) initially contained language that would have required pest control companies to disclose the risks to wildlife and pets that SGARs pose to potential clients and require customers to sign a form with this information attesting they have been notified of the risks–before the company could apply SGARs on their property. But (not surprisingly, considering the influence of the pest control lobby on our political bodies), it was stripped from the bill when it made it to the Senate. Subsequent iterations of the bill have not included this provision.
The pest control industry reaps significant financial benefits from public dependency on SGARs (and other rat poisons). So it would make sense that they would not volunteer information that would prejudice people against their products and adversely affect their bottom lines. This creates a perverse incentive for pest control professionals to mislead people in order to continue to turn a profit. SGARs are usually sold on a subscription-based model and often accounts for a significant percentage of pest company’s profit margins. Keeping people “hooked” on SGARs means muddying the truth so people don’t feel guilty or opt for more humane and environmentally-friendly methods of rodent management.
- As much as I don’t want to hurt other animals or children by using poisons, rats are a huge public health problem that spread diseases (like the Black Plague), so doesn’t giving up SGARs and other rodenticides mean we will get more rat-borne diseases?
Answer: While it is certainly true that rats can spread diseases and pose valid public health risks, pest control companies tend to greatly overstate those risks, even to the point of trying to sow panic over rats and mice when it isn’t warranted by data.
Despite considerable upticks in the presence of rodents in metro areas and the suburbs in recent years, reports of disease transmission between rats and humans still remain remarkably low–often numbering in the single or low double digits in the state over the course of a year. In other words, statistically speaking, it seems a child in many instances is much more likely to be poisoned by rodenticide than sickened by exposure to a rat. A child or adult is also significantly more likely to get bitten by a dog (by hundreds of times) than bitten by a rat. Additionally, there are many diseases rats and mice do not spread, like rabies, that are actually pressing public health threats, yet we are not raining down lethal methods on rabies vector species like raccoons and foxes.
Even diseases pest control representatives often refer to in justifying their rampant use of SGARs–like the Black Plague pandemic that killed millions in the Middle Ages–is now widely believed by experts to actually have been caused by a combination of gerbils (yes, gerbils) and human-specific fleas–in other words, not rats. While rats can potentially carry plague, it is somewhat rare and transmission to a human is even rarer.
Moreover, a recent study found that rats that have ARs in their systems are much more likely to carry and transmit certain zoonotic diseases to humans, like Leptospirosis. This makes sense since SGARs lowers the immune systems of rats that consume them, making them more susceptible to disease.
Rats that have SGARs or other poisons in their systems also act sluggish and disoriented. They are much more likely to come out in public spaces in broad daylight, including in areas with high foot traffic frequented by dogs and children. This makes human contact with a sick rat more instead of less likely. A child or pet may accidentally step on a sickened rat or even mistake it for a toy and touch it. By comparison, a healthy rat will often go out of its way to avoid people and pets. There are many anecdotes and recorded footage and photographs taken around Arlington of dying rats exhibiting signs of SGARs poisoning crawling around on Massachusetts Avenue or other crowded public areas in the middle of the day with a lot of people walking around, like this video (one of several of similar incidents recorded) by SAW founder Laura Kiesel.
Finally, when a rat dies of SGARs, the parasites on them like fleas or ticks (which carry Lyme disease), will leave their body and search for a new host. If you have bait boxes drawing rats onto your property, then those parasites are now in close proximity to you, your children, and your pets. This is all to say, if you are worried about disease transmission or parasites from rats–the data strongly suggests SGARs is more likely to make that a problem than abate it.
- My pest control company/landlord/local health official told me poisons/SGARs (or other poisons) are the best/most effective ways to control rats and mice and if we stop using rodenticides we will be drowning in rats. Is that not true?
Answer: First and most importantly, there is no comprehensive peer review data that SAW has been able to find (and we have looked high and low) that shows SGARs meaningfully reduce rodent populations in urban and ex-urban/suburban areas, or that they reduce rodent populations meaningfully over the long-term. In other words, claims that SGARs are the most effective way to control rats don’t actually seem to be backed up by any actual research or genuine data. In fact, both the EPA and the USDA specifically recommend short-term and limited use of SGARs in part because it can cause more problems than it solves.
Furthermore, some studies and trends seem to indicate that the extensive and widespread use of SGARs may actually be increasing rodent populations or causing infestations where they didn’t previously exist. Think about it: Despite the fact that SGARs use in the Boston metro area has exploded in the past decade, reports of rat sightings and activity have actually exponentially increased in tandem with that rise of SGARs use instead of going down. If SGARs are so effective at reining in rodents, why is our collective problem with rats getting worse instead of better when we now have SGARs baits on almost every block in city and town centers? At the very least, SGARs aren’t actually helping to decrease the overall populations of rats in our area.
While rat populations are growing or becoming more prevalent for a number of reasons including climate change (warmer winters are lengthening their reproductive cycles and leading to births of larger litters), construction (which disrupts their burrows and forces them into confrontations/conflict with people), and increased human density and with it, waste (more people = more trash), poison is another factor likely exacerbating the problem. Here’s some reasons why:
Baits act as a lure. So if you have out bait all the time, you are essentially leaving out a food source for rodents 24/7, which actually attracts them to the area. Not all the rodents drawn to the bait will eat it, as some will decide it is not appealing enough. They then will focus on finding more preferable food sources, like those found in your trash cans, yard, or even inside your home. Other rats may actually suspect the bait is poisonous, and not only avoid it, but might even be able to communicate warnings about it to other rats. Rats are highly intelligent and can make conclusions based on the experiences they or their kin have. So if a bait makes them sick, or a family member dies after eating a lot of it, they may be able to remember that experience and adapt their behavior accordingly by avoiding that or similar “foods.” The phenomenon even has a name: “bait shyness.”
For those rats that do eat the poison, they can build biological resistance to the poison, similar to antibiotic resistance. Remember how SGARs were developed because FGARs stopped working as well on rats and mice? That is because many rodents developed an immunity to FGARs. Now studies show the same thing is happening with SGARs. Rats and mice breed A LOT. A single female rat can have hundreds of offspring in just one year. When you breed that fast/much, you can build biological resistance to certain diseases or chemicals better than creatures with slower/lower reproduction rates. Simply put: rats can outbreed any poison but their predators can’t. That’s bad because:
Other than better trash management, predators are probably the single greatest defense we have against rodents, but we are failing them by poisoning their prey. Predators, especially birds of prey, are designed to and have evolved over millions of years to hunt and eat rats and mice. A single Great Horned Owl can kill upwards of 1,500 rats (or as many as 4,000 mice) in just one year’s time. If you kill off that Great Horned Owl by poisoning its prey, you have now removed that rodent controller from the ecosystem and many (if not most) of the 1,500 rats it would take over the year will probably stay in the environment and live on to have babies. When you kill off nearly an entire family of Great Horned Owls from poison, as happened at Menotomy Rocks Park in Arlington 2022, you have now ensured thousands more rats will remain in that neighborhood instead and likely reproduce. Unlike stationary poisons in detectable bait boxes, rats cannot learn to just avoid predators, nor can they build biological resistance to them. Again, this is not conjecture, as a peer review study found hawks and owls are significantly more effective at controlling rodents than anticoagulant rodenticides.
Unlike rats and mice, raptor species like owls, hawks, and eagles only breed once a year and only have an average of two to four young. So it is very easy to eradicate a whole nest due to SGARs poisoning and effectively extirpate that species from the immediate area or locale. For example, the subsequent deaths of C25 and MK the eagle from SGARs poisoning, led to the departure of MK’s surviving mate, KZ, from town and with it, we lost our only residential population of eagles–the first we had in Arlington is some sixty years. And in doing all of this, we have ironically created more optimal conditions for the rat population to boom.
There are also unfortunate behavioral impacts on humans that the widespread availability of poisons seem to have had, that likely encourages and sustains rat infestations. Many times over reliance on poisons fosters laziness and complacency about rodent management. In other words, instead of a business cleaning up a dumpster, or a landlord sealing up holes and gaps in their tenant building/s, or a homeowner removing their birdfeeders or outdoor compost bin, they will just put a bunch of poison down and be done with it.
While putting down poisons may be the cheaper or quicker option that doesn’t require rethinking one’s behavior and breaking bad habits, it is not the most effective and actually will make the problem worse. The rodents will be even more drawn to the area because of the trash AND the poison (which again, is a food source for them) and then likely choose the tasty trash, birdseed, or compost you left out over the bright off-putting poisoned bait. And who can blame them? Of course, most pest control companies aren’t going to tell you to address these other problems if you really want to get rid of rats, because they want you to keep having rats as a problem, so they can keep stocking those bait stations with more poison and making a perpetual profit.
Finally, places that have established moratoriums on SGARs like California and British Columbia, are not suffering from a ratmageddon. So don’t buy the hype pest control companies are pushing.
- Okay, so if poisons don’t help and potentially make rat problems worse, what are some alternatives?
The good news is there are many other alternatives to helping control rodent populations that do not include SGARs (or even other poisons). These include better waste management, exclusion (sealing up all points of entry that mice or rats are using to get into a business or dwelling), Contrapest (a birth control for rodents!), dry ice application in confirmed outdoor rat burrows, deterrents, and high capacity electronic traps, etc. Sometimes these methods take more effort than poison, or have higher upfront costs (yet others are completely free and actually really easy!), which is why they are not always as popular as rodenticides. However, if used consistently and often in combination with each other, they are usually much more effective than rodenticides (which again, actually often makes rat problems WORSE), especially if communities begin using them en masse. Additionally, these solutions can actually be cheaper in the long-run.
Even very simple things like not taking trash to outdoor barrels or dumpsters until the morning of municipal trash pick-up and/or removing bird feeders and ivy from yards, can go a long way to getting rats to go away. Please visit the page on SAW’s website titled “Alternatives to Rodenticide” for more information.
- My pest control company says they are/have the phrase/s “green,” “sustainable,” and “environmentally friendly,” in their title, or they claim to use only “IPM” or Integrated Pest Management–doesn’t that mean they do not use any poisons, or SGARs? And what is Integrated Pest Management/IPM anyway?
Answer: Unfortunately, there are no legal guidelines associated with the use of terms like “green,” “natural,” “sustainable,” “environmentally-friendly” or even “IPM.” Companies that have these words even in their names, or use them in their advertising, can and often still do use rat poisons. In fact, SAW regularly receives reports from disgruntled current or former customers who realized the pest control companies they were contracting had put poison down on their property despite advertising claims of caring about the environment or even at times assuring them they were not using poisons.
As for “Integrated Pest Management,” the term does not actually mean poisons are not used at all, just that they are supposedly used conservatively or “judiciously” and (often but not always) as a last resort when other pest control methods fail. That being said, there again is no legal protocol or guidelines obligating companies claiming to adhere to IPM standards to be conservative with their use of poisons. As such, pest companies may claim to use IPM practices and still rely heavily on poisons or even apply them as a first line or default method for dealing with rodents. In the absence of regulations on these terms and claims, it is sadly usually up to the customer to be vigilant in making sure no poisons are used on their property if that is not what they want.
If you do contract with a pest control company, ask to watch while they are stocking the bait stations to see for yourself what the contents are, demand they be appropriately labeled in accordance with all existing state and federal laws, and request the Material Data Safety Sheet for the product. However, if you want to be really sure there are no rat poisons or pesticides on your property, you could instead opt to hire a Problem Animal Control (PAC) agent who is NOT also a licensed pest control professional or try DIY (Do-It-Yourself) methods to try to rein in your rodent problem as listed on SAW’s website.
- If SGARs are so dangerous, why don’t towns or cities just ban them? Why hasn’t the state or EPA banned them? Doesn’t legal mean safe?
Answer: Unfortunately, state law prevents municipalities from banning or restricting ANY pesticides used on private property, including rodenticides like SGARs. This is known as “preemption” and the pest control lobby depends on it to ensure their businesses can keep using the chemicals they do. The National Pest Management Association even wrote regarding preemption that:
“Regulating pesticides at the state-level is a fundamental pillar to the success of the structural pest management industry…. In states that prevent local governments from regulating pesticides, our industry must mount an impenetrable defense of existing state law, as activists relentlessly attempt to chip away at pesticide preemption laws in state legislatures.”
Any town or city that wants to ban SGARs in Massachusetts has to ask the state for permission by submitting what is known as a “Home Rule Petition.” Despite that the law only relates to the municipality that submits it, the Home Rule Petition has to be voted on by the entire state legislature.
As for SGARs not being banned on the state level, the New England Pest Management Association has a very strong lobbying presence in Massachusetts. Massachusetts is notorious as being one of the most difficult to pass laws on the state level and has one of the most convoluted legislative processes in the nation.
Regarding the EPA, as noted in the Question #1, the EPA encountered lengthy and costly lawsuit by the pest industry when they merely attempted the relatively conservative move of banning SGARs from over the counter sales in response to child poisonings. If the bar is so low for child safety, how can we expect it to be even higher for the safety of our pets and wildlife unless the public begins demanding it? In the meantime, the pest control lobby wields enormous influence at all levels of government and at their respective agencies. Additionally, the EPA in recent years has had their funding slashed, particularly in their regulatory divisions tasked with analyzing the safety of pesticides and chemicals–while the agency also retains a revolving door with the pest industry (meaning many staffers at the agency actually are former employees of the pesticide manufacturing and control sectors, so they are biased in favor of these industries).
Finally, it is just a sad truth that what is legal is not necessarily safe or just, especially in the United States, where we do not follow the precautionary principle as many other industrially advanced nations do. DDT was legal for many decades before it was permanently banned in the US. That effort took overwhelming public pressure and outcry over the course of a decade to achieve. By the time DDT was banned, many species were at the brink of extinction, including the Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon. Even more recently, as evidenced by SGARs, it was allowed to be sold in brick and mortar stores as loose pellets for years even as the pest control industry and EPA were well aware that thousands of children were being poisoned by them every year. If one of the only arguments a government official, landlord, or business owner can give to support the use of SGARs is that they are legal, then that shows there is a lack of understanding about the history of poisonings in our country and how they are enabled by lax governmental oversight.
- If municipalities can’t ban SGARs or other rat poisons on private property, what can they do?
Answer: Municipalities do have the right to ban SGARs/ARs or other pesticides on public properties they own/manage such as school grounds, libraries, and parks. Even if municipal officials claim they are not currently using SGARs/ARs on their properties, they may have used them in the recent past or can still use them in the future, so getting a ban or restriction codified into law is critical for trying to enhance the safety and well-being of our pets, wildlife, and children. Furthermore, passage of a ban of SGARs on municipal lands in one town or city can help leverage other SGAR bans in neighboring communities that may be active users of SGARs, as well as help build momentum and legal precedent that increases the likelihood of eventual restrictions of SGARs on the state level. This is especially important as wildlife cross municipal borders and their safety is ultimately dependent on more unified/uniform laws.
Additionally, as discussed above, municipalities can pass Home Rule petitions to submit to the state asking for a waiver to the preemption protocols to allow them to ban SGARs or ARs on private properties. While Home Rule petitions are admittedly long-shots, as more municipalities submit them on a specific issue, it increases the likelihood the state will review/revise its current guidelines on these chemicals and possibly change them without the need of legislation (as precedent on other environmental issues in the state shows). Municipalities can also adopt a formal Integrated Pest Management (IPM) policy and/or earmark funds to embark on a Contrapest pilot.
- Are there any pieces of proposed legislation at the state level that address SGARs–and what are their current statuses? How can I support them?
Answer: There are three main pieces of legislation currently being considered on Beacon Hill that can directly impact the availability of SGARs. Two of them have already been discussed here. The first is Arlington’s Home Rule petition to ban SGARs on private property (Arlington has already banned SGARs on its public properties). Even though the bill is specific to Arlington, it must be voted on by the entire state legislature and ultimately approved by the governor for it to pass as law in Arlington. While it only directly affects Arlington, it is still important for people from other towns and cities to support this bill because its passage will establish precedent that other communities can build on when arguing for their own restrictions to SGARs.
Another proposed bill is titled “An Act Relative to Pesticides,” and informally known as the Hawkins bill, so named after its main sponsor, James Hawkins, a Democrat from the Bristol district of Massachusetts. This bill would basically create a digital database that would track where and when SGARS are being used. This is important as we cannot mitigate what we do not measure. The bill also initially had language requiring pest control professionals to disclose the effects of SGARs on pets and wildlife to customers and get a signed consent form before applying it to their property. However, that language was stripped from the bill and remains absent.
Finally, another proposed bill–known informally as the “local control bill”–would offer towns and cities the right to ban pesticides–including rodenticides–without the approval of the state. While this isn’t directly about SGARs, this bill would empower municipalities to ban SGARs and other dangerous chemicals as we are currently prevented by preemption as discussed in # 15.
As of this writing, all three of these bills had their hearing in the Joint Committee for the Environment and Natural Resources in May 2023 and are awaiting a vote from said Committee. If votes are favorable, they will potentially go on to another Committee and/or then eventually to the House and Senate for respective votes in those chambers as well. SAW strongly endorses all three bills (though it has pushed to add back the language into the Hawkins bill requiring that pest companies disclose the risks of SGARs to prospective customers). You can find out more about these bills on the “Ways to Get Involved” page.
If you haven’t already, please write to the Committee on the Environment to voice your support for these bills as well as your MA House Rep and Senator to urge them to support these three bills in any way they can. More information can be found on the Save Arlington Wildlife homepage.
- I am very worried about the prevalence of SGARs and rat poisons in general in my community and Massachusetts as a whole and want to become more involved in raising awareness and getting them restricted….what can I do?
Answer: That’s great! Save Arlington Wildlife recently drafted an Activist Toolkit for starting a Save Wildlife initiative or chapter in your own community. Even if you do not want to take your advocacy fully to that level yet, you can borrow tips and guidance from that toolkit and draw from it what your schedule and personal bandwidth allows. You can also visit Save Arlington Wildlife for more information, especially our “Ways to Get Involved” page.