For the first time in 20 years, a company has declined to voluntarily implement the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) risk mitigation measures for a pesticide product. And that company, Reckitt Benckiser, makers of the d-CON branded mouse and rat poison products, said it has done nothing wrong, and would rather fight than switch.
And so goes this cat-and-mouse game that will eventually be decided by the courts.
While the EPA has charged that 12 d-CON products fail to comply with its current safety standards agreed upon in 2011; pose "unreasonable risks to children, pets and wildlife;" and thus should be removed, d-CON's take is that the government agency is "forcing consumers to choose from 'inferior' or 'less safe' rodent control product."
Hal Ambuter, d-CON director of regulatory and government affairs, said the company has spent "considerable time" over the past several years trying to work with the EPA to develop alternate mitigation measures "to address our mutual concerns about accidental exposures to children, pets and non-target wildlife."
But removing d-CON products from the shelves is not the answer, according to Ambuter, who argues that doing so would leave consumers with less effective alternatives and "could put the public health and environment at greater risk."
Some competitors disagree with d-CON's stance that the new EPA standards, which focus on packaging and the elimination of certain toxins, render products less effective. "We developed new products that met EPA guidelines and, since June 2011, have manufactured and sold rodent control products that incorporate these new safety standards," said Steve Levy, president and CEO of Bell Laboratories, makers of the Tomcat pesticide. "When faced with the new EPA requirements, we chose the responsible route."
In lieu of product cancellation, d-CON proposed alternative measures for the EPA to consider, among them modifications that eliminate all outdoor uses of its second-generation anticoagulant products and a thorough redesign of the product labels that make them easier to read and understand through pictures, icons and Spanish language text with simplified directions. Ambuter claims the EPA has used some of these measures on other household use products, such as flea/tick treatments and insect foggers. "The mitigation measures we proposed combine the best practices of all these other programs," Ambuter said.
However, on Feb. 5, 2013, the EPA rejected d-CON's "alternative measures" and announced it was proposing to cancel the registrations of 12 d-CON bait products. In response, d-CON on March 6 filed documents objecting to the proposed cancellation and requested a hearing before an EPA administrative law judge.
"During these proceedings we intend to present evidence demonstrating why EPA's proposal should be modified or rejected," Ambuter said.
James Jones, acting assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said the agency has worked with several companies during the last five years to develop safer rodent control products that are effective, affordable and widely available to meet the needs of consumers. He cited Tomcat products, PM Resources' Assault brand products and Chemsico's products as meeting the standard.
The EPA now requires rodenticide products for consumer use to be contained in protective tamper-resistant bait stations and prohibits pellets and other bait forms that cannot be secured in bait stations. In addition, the EPA prohibits the sale to residential consumer products that contain brodifacoum, bromadiolone, difethialone and difenacoum because of their toxicity to wildlife. The EPA estimates that approximately 10,000 children a year are accidentally exposed to mouse and rat baits, and 1% of those need medical attention, an agency spokesman said, citing data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
The 12 d-CON mouse and rat poison products under probe are sold to consumers as pellets or powder without adequately protective bait stations that prevent access by children and pets, the EPA said. Eight of the 12 products also contain one of four second-generation anticoagulants.
d-CON counters that "there are better solutions to addressing those concerns than removing the affordable and effective options from consumers that d-CON products provide," Ambuter said. "We agree with the EPA and environmental groups that non-target wildlife should not be exposed to consumer-use rodenticides. We don't agree that consumer products are the issue. Our d-CON brand consumer products are packaged in small-size containers of 1 to 3 ounces in shapes and sizes that can be placed out of reach and behind appliances."
d-CON also believed consumers "should have the ability to choose wisely and to use the product they choose appropriately. With additional consumer education and awareness on the proper use of our d-CON bait products, the incidents of accidental exposures of children and pets can be reduced even further, which is a goal we all share," Ambuter said.
Until the issue is resolved, the d-CON products will be available at retail stores. "We remain confident that, at the end of this process, our products will remain available for consumers to use to treat and manage rodent problems in their homes," Ambuter said.
The EPA, meanwhile, is encouraging retailers to stock "only those products that meet EPA's safety standard."