Saturday, March 17, 2007

Preventing child poisonings

In recognition of National Poison Prevention Week (March 18-24), the US EPA has issued recommendations regarding the tens of thousands of children who are sickened by rodenticides - rat poison - every year in the United States. Rat poison is extremely dangerous to children because of its high toxicity - rats have strong constitutions - and because the little pellets can look just like candy to a small child. Low-income and minority children have been most heavily affected - EPA's recommendations note for example that the vast majority of children hospitalized in New York state for rodenticide poisoning are black and Latino.

EPA is now soliciting public comment on a new decision that will end the sale of the pellets, and require that all rat poison sold in the United States be sold as blocks within tamper-resistant bait stations. EPA has finally come up with the right decision, but much too late.

For many years EPA bowed to pressure from pesticide manufacturers who protested against changing their rat poison formulations, despite a 1998 scientific review that would have required them to add bittering agents and indicator dyes to the pellets to protect children. This position was reversed in 2001, when EPA decided the protective measures would make the poisons "less attractive to rats."

A 2005 court ruling in a lawsuit from West Harlem Environmental Action and the Natural Resources Defense Council ordered EPA to undo its 2001 mistake and enact the children's protections. A full two years later (and nine years after the scientific review that recommended it in the first place), EPA is finally issuing the rules that will pull dangerous pellets off the shelves and prevent many thousands of unnecessary childhood poisonings every year.

If I were writing my comments to EPA on this proposed decision, I think the only thing I could say is "what took you so long?".

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