***Updated, Aug 26, 2019***
California Rodenticide Ban Dies in State Senate
As reported in August PCT, AB 1788 (the California Ecosystems Protection Act), had advanced through committee and only needed to be passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee, the full Senate and the Assembly before Governor Gavin Newsom signed it into law.
AB 1788 had a lot of momentum due to concerns about the poisoning of non-target wildlife. AB 1788 states that despite a consumer sales and use ban of SGARs in 2014 by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), studies have found that the number of non-target wildlife with detectable levels of SGARs in their systems has not declined.
As such, the bill proposed to ban any pesticide containing brodifacoum, bromadiolone, difenacoum or difethialone. In addition, it proposed to ban the use of first-generation anticoagulant rodenticides containing chlorophacinone, diphacinone and warfarin on state-owned property in California.
The pest control industry has been steadfast in its opposition to AB 1788, arguing that SGARs are critical to the management of rodent populations and the protection of public health in California because of diseases that rodents can carry.
Led by members of the National Pest Management Association (NPMA) and Pest Control Operators of California (PCOC) – the pest control industry has been working diligently to preserve this important rodent management tool. As NPMA reported in its “Policy Week in Review” e-blast, California pest management professionals sent 7,285 grassroots messages to California lawmakers and 2,001 grassroots messages to Newsom in opposition to the bill.
The association wrote, “NPMA SPARs (State Policy Affairs Representatives) Jim Steed, Darren Van Steenwyck, and Mike Bullert, PCOC Executive Director Chris Reardon, and countless other members that never took their foot off the gas. Members of our industry walked many miles in the halls of Sacramento, attended hundreds if not thousands of meetings, and brought their A-game to every single committee hearing. By preventing this bill from becoming law in 2019, we better protected the health of nearly 40 million Californians and our country’s food supply.”
NPMA added that “after meeting with CAL EPA and DPR, and seeing he had no path forward, AB 1788’s author Rep. Bloom (D) decided to place the bill in the suspense file.”
The State of California is steps away from banning most uses of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs) for pest management professionals.
Called the California Ecosystems Protection Act, Assembly Bill 1788 has advanced through committee and only needs to be passed by the Senate appropriations committee, the full Senate and the Assembly before Governor Gavin Newsom signs it into law.
That could happen by mid-September, said Chris Reardon, executive vice president of Pest Control Operators of California (PCOC). The bill has a lot of momentum and people in the industry believe its passage is likely.
The bill aims to reduce the poisoning of non-target wildlife. It states that despite a consumer sales and use ban of SGARs in 2014 by the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR), studies have found that the number of non-target wildlife with detectable levels of SGARs in their systems has not declined. From 2014 through 2018, the Department of Fish and Wildlife found SGARs in more than 90 percent of mountain lions, 88 percent of bobcats, 85 percent of protected Pacific fishers (forest-dwelling mammals) and 70 percent of northern spotted owls that were tested.
As such, the bill proposes to ban any pesticide containing brodifacoum, bromadiolone, difenacoum or difethialone. In addition, it proposes to ban the use of first-generation anticoagulant rodenticides containing chlorophacinone, diphacinone and warfarin on state-owned property in California.
“This is going to be big. They’re taking one of the most efficient tools away that PMPs have been relying on to protect public health,” said John Murphy, technical support manager of rodenticide maker Liphatech. That means PMPs in California will need to rethink their rodent control strategies.
“If they want to use a rodenticide, they’ll have to switch to a first-generation anticoagulant, which is a multiple feed, or use an acute rodenticide; both of those actives have different properties that make them either not as effective or not as palatable as the second-generation actives,” said Patrick Lynch, a senior vice president at rodenticide maker Bell Laboratories and a member of PCOC’s rodenticide task force.
PMPs will need to perform more inspections, surveys, monitoring and trapping, which will increase the frequency of service visits, as well as perform exclusion/rodent proofing, improve sanitation and modify habitat. “In the end the expense is going to fall back on the client. They’re going to spend more money for these services,” said Murphy.
Experts also said rodent populations could grow, causing economic damage and public health issues by spreading disease. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rats and mice worldwide are known to spread more than 35 diseases.
In 2018 the City of Los Angeles declared an outbreak of typhus, possibly due to fleas from rodents that have found favorable living conditions in the city’s growing homeless encampments.
Exemptions to the proposed ban allow government agencies and employees to use SGARs for vector control and during public health emergencies. This exemption raised questions in the pest management industry. “Are they waiting for major outbreaks to occur and then allow rodenticides to be used?” asked Murphy.
Other exemptions to AB 1788 state that SGARs can be used to eradicate nonnative invasive species on offshore islands, and for agricultural activities, including use at food-production plants, food-storage warehouses and biotechnology facilities.
TRYING TO BE HEARD. PCOC has proposed its own amendments, but as of July 9 had failed to gain purchase with the bill’s author, Assemblymember Richard Bloom, his staff and the groups that support the bill.
“They keep telling us they want to sit down and talk to us about it, but they really haven’t,” said Reardon, who says he feels “this has been slow walked” to limit collaboration by the industry.
PCOC would like the bill to specify a deadline for the ongoing re-evaluation of SGARs by California DPR, which has authority to implement additional mitigation or product restrictions on these pesticides. PCOC says legislators should examine data from this scientific evaluation before voting to ban the products.
Other PCOC amendments would add provisions to improve enforcement efforts against the illegal purchase or use of SGARs, and require additional record-keeping by pest control operators regarding locations and frequency of SGAR use.
Reardon said PCOC continues to work behind the scenes to get the bill amended, but time is running short. “Am I optimistic? No. But we’re not done yet,” he said.
“This is a very emotional issue,” Reardon added, and that has made it difficult to hold objective discussions with bill supporters on science, licensing and how PMPs use rodenticides in the field.
“We’ve tried to relay the message that in California, with 40 million people in this state, we need every tool possible to deal with urban rodent management,” he said.
Lynch said California’s most vulnerable human populations could be impacted most by the ban.
“Passage of this bill is going to disproportionately affect the most socio- economically disadvantaged of California’s citizens,” he said. It will take away PMPs’ ability to provide the best rodent control at a reasonable price, and this will increase the risk of rodent-borne disease and cause further economic damage to their communities, he explained. “I think that’s morally and ethically unfair.”
THE PATH OF SGARs. How SGARs end up in predator animals is unclear, said Reardon. (Wildlife groups strongly disagree; see related article at right.)
Dr. Niamh Quinn, a wildlife ecologist with the University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources who is working with PCOC, has undertaken several research projects to identify where and how rodenticide exposure is occurring. “If you don’t know how something is broken you can’t fix it,” she said.
She and researchers from California State University, Fullerton, have analyzed the stomach contents of 311 urban coyotes from Southern California to determine what they eat and potential sources of rodenticide exposure. They have explored how wildlife like skunks, possums and squirrels might be exposed to rodenticide through bait station applications in suburban backyards, and they are studying the impact of sub-lethal exposure of rodenticides in coyotes and how this might affect the animal’s physiology and behavior. She also is looking at ways to isotopically label rodenticide, which would allow her to trace a legal application of rodenticide through multiple consumptions up the food chain.
“Anticoagulant rodenticides should not be occurring to the level that they are in wildlife species,” said Quinn. More than 90 percent of the Southern California coyotes that her team tested had one or more active ingredients in their systems. Still, “exposure does not mean death,” she said.
“It’s very likely that anticoagulant rodenticides do not have population-level effects on any wildlife species in the United States,” added Quinn, who says she doesn’t believe there’s enough evidence at present to show that restricting PMPs’ use of SGARs will have any impact on wildlife exposure.
FIFTH TIME THE CHARM? According to Reardon, this is the fifth time in five years that legislation banning rodenticides has been proposed in California. Four previous attempts died. This time around, the bill has more political support.
“I think the election had a lot to do with it,” said Reardon, referring to the mid-term elections. Seats in the California Assembly and Senate are now held by a “veto-proof” majority of Democrats, he said.
The National Pest Management Association is supporting PCOC in this effort and encourages members to express their opposition to the bill by contacting California Governor Newsom, Assemblymembers and Senators through its ‘Take Action’ website.
From a regulatory standpoint, California is considered a bellwether state. “There are other states looking at what California is doing. There’s more to this than just California,” cautioned Murphy. He said rodenticide makers are constantly innovating new technologies, but this development takes time.
The regulatory environment in California is changing rapidly, added Reardon. “This is an activist governor who’s going to appoint activist people to run these agencies and departments. We’re going to have to make sure that we have an opportunity to sit down and explain what we do,” said Reardon.
The author is a frequent contributor to PCT.