Rats and mice are relatively small animals, but rodent infestations can cause some big problems. It only takes a couple of rodents to start a chain reaction that can cause untold damage to your property. Rats and mice can spread disease, spoil food and generally wreak havoc within any environment they call home.
Given the severity of the situation, it's little surprise that people often want to use the most extreme options available to them. Unfortunately, over time people have discovered that a lot of those extreme measures can hurt far more than rodents. Rat poisons in particular have caused countless instances where native wildlife, and even people, have been hurt alongside the rodents. Recognition of these problems has led to a plethora of laws and regulations regarding rat poisons. In fact, there are so many laws and regulations that it's often difficult to know where rat poisons are restricted and what that might entail. But understanding the legal restrictions on rat poison requires some examination of how these substances actually function.
How Do Rodenticides Work?
Second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides are one of the biggest reasons for increasingly strict regulation on rat poison. An anticoagulant inhibits the body's ability to stop bleeding. Think back to the last time you experienced a small cut on your body. The wound typically stops bleeding within a few minutes. This is because your body is able to essentially seal up the wound through coagulation.
Anticoagulant rodenticides inhibit a rodent's ability to seal up wounds. Anticoagulants are carried through a rodent's bloodstream so that eventually no part of their body can properly heal from even the smallest wounds. Some rodenticides carry this further by actually causing damage to blood vessels. This will, in turn, trigger internal bleeding. The anticoagulant factors then ensure that the internal bleeding will continue until the rodent's death.
We do see a lot of variation in potency between the first and second generations of anticoagulants. The first generation was developed and released before the 1970s. They tend to be a lot less potent than what people would create in the following decades. Rodents generally needed to return for multiple feeding sessions before enough of the drug built up in their body to take effect. This was an issue as far as controlling rat and mouse populations was concerned. However, the lessened potency does work as a benefit to the environment as a whole.
The second-generation anticoagulants were created in the 1970s and onward. Unlike the first generation, the second could typically take full effect within a day of ingestion. Rodents wouldn't even need to come back for multiple doses.
The Looming Issue of Secondary Poisoning
So far it probably seems like rodenticides are a solid choice to deal with rodent problems. However, there's a good reason why more localized solutions are preferable. The key issue stems from the fact that anticoagulants need to circulate throughout the rodent's body.
Once these forms of rat poisons do their job, a rodent will essentially act as a carrier for the substance which took it down. Any animal which takes advantage of a free meal in the form of the rodent's body will also ingest the rodenticide. Rodents can even end up spreading the poison into an area's water supply. The threat of secondary poisoning is so severe that many areas have set up strict restrictions regarding its use. And this is the point where we run into an often confusing aspect of rodent control. Where are these poisons restricted?
National and Local Restrictions Can Differ
In general, you'll need to consider two main points when looking at restrictions on rat poisons. The first issue is national law. These are the rules which bind everyone within the country. But on top of this, there are also local laws. These won't lessen any of the national restrictions. But they might provide additional restrictions on top of the national laws.
One of the largest restrictions involves pelleted baits. This form of rodent control has been banned on a national level for commercial application. You might find the occasional exception for specific cases. But for the most part, pelleted bait just isn't an option anymore. The potential for environmental contamination and secondary poisoning is just too high. Bait will instead usually come in the form of a block or paste.
Quantity Matters As Much as Type
In some instances, users are also required to keep track of the actual quantity of material in use. For example, refillable bait stations can be used with up to one pound of bait. If the bait station isn't refillable then you'll also need to make sure you properly dispose of it after use. Even the small amount of poison left as a residue within the traps is considered a danger to the environment.
Why and Where Special Restrictions Are in Place
Special restrictions are also typically placed on ready-to-use bait stations. This will usually be indicated on the product's packaging. The instructions will generally suggest whether the bait station is only for use indoors or if it can be used outdoors. Likewise, if it is safe for outdoor use the packaging should indicate how close to a building it should be. Typically bait stations that are allowed to be used outdoors must be placed within 50 feet of a building.
The reason for these restrictions usually involves the opportunity for the poison to get out into the environment. Children, dogs, cats and other pets are often able to get into bait stations that weren't designed with their protection in mind. And bait stations not designed for outdoor use probably won't do very well in rain or similar weather conditions.
If a child or pet manages to get into the bait then they have a significant risk of severe medical reactions. Anticoagulant based rat poisons will work on any mammal if ingested at a high enough level. And even if a child or pet doesn't eat much of the bait then they may have created a risk by opening the trap. Even traps intended for outdoor use might leak poison into the environment if a third party has tampered with it.
Professionals Have Different Needs, Products and Restrictions
Professionals receive special training that enables them to safely use rat poisons under more difficult conditions. One of the biggest differences is that professionals can use rat poisons up to 100 feet from buildings. The professionals can also take special steps to target burrows. In these situations, they're able to use rat poisons up to six inches down into rat burrows.
New Regulations To Keep in Mind
In addition to these national regulations, it's also important to keep local laws in mind. California in particular is taking extra measures to regulate rat poisons. The California Ecosystems Protection Act places additional restrictions on the use of second generation anticoagulant based rodenticides. The reasoning behind the rodenticide ban in California is largely based on findings that show 70% of tested wildlife has been exposed to rat poisons.
The act essentially functions as a rodenticide ban for most areas in California. However, there are some exceptions to the rule. Areas that manufacture alcohol, warehouses, factories and medical facilities are exceptions to the ban.
At the moment, this act only impacts people in California. However, it's quite possible that other states might follow California's lead. Because of this, and potential ecological harm, it's best to rely on safe and ethical rodent traps. These methods of rodent control ensure that only rats and mice are impacted by the pest control efforts.