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Groups Sue EPA For Failing to Protect Children From Rat Poisons
(Beyond Pesticides, November 11, 2004) The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has failed to protect children from exposure to chemical rat poisons (rodenticides), according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday by West Harlem Environmental Action (WEACT) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). According to the press release, tens of thousands of children are poisoned by rodenticides every year, and African-American and Latino children suffer disproportionately.

"The EPA is allowing the chemical industry to continue to sell rat poisons without adding ingredients that would protect children," said Aaron Colangelo, an NRDC attorney. "There is an easy and effective solution to the problem, but the agency sided with industry instead of our kids."

In 1998, when EPA determined that rat poison exposures are an unreasonable health risk in violation of federal pesticide laws, EPA refused to approve rat poisons unless manufacturers included two safety measures aimed at protecting children: an ingredient that makes the poison taste bitter and a dye that would make it more obvious when a child ingested the poison. Studies have found that these safety measures do not undermine the effectiveness of the rat poisons.

In 2001, however, EPA revoked the safety regulations, announcing that it "came
to a mutual agreement with the rodenticide [manufacturers] to rescind the bittering agent and indicator dye requirements." (See Daily News story). WEACT and NRDC are filing the lawsuit to challenge EPA's reversal of the child safety measures, charging that the reversal violates the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) and the Administrative Procedure Act.

The number of reported child poisonings has increased annually since EPA's policy reversal, according to Poison Control Center data. Every year more than 15,000 children under age six accidentally eat rat poisons, and several hundred require hospitalization. Poisoned children can suffer from internal bleeding, bleeding gums, and anemia, and can go into a coma.

Rat poisons harm children in all communities, but African-American and Latino children and children living below the poverty level suffer a disproportionate risk. In New York state, for example, 57 percent of children hospitalized for rodenticide poisoning are black, although only 16 percent of New York state's population is black; 26 percent of hospitalized children are Latino, although Latinos comprise only 12 percent of the
state's population. Additionally, a disproportionate percentage of children hospitalized are below the poverty level.

Millions of pounds of rat poisons are applied nationally every year. In New York City, for example, rat poisons are used heavily in public housing, public schools and city parks. To learn more about rodenticides, see our factsheet. Also see our alternatives factsheet for ideas about least toxic ways to control a rodent problem.

TAKE ACTION: Keep the pressure on EPA. Let the Bush Administration know that you think it should NOT delay action to protect children and wildlife from rat poison. Send an email to EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt and to president@whitehouse.gov. Also let your elected members of Congress know how you feel. Contact your U.S. Senators and U.S. Representative.