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[Annual Rodent Control Issue] Are OTC Rodenticide Changes a Boost to Pros?

Annual Rodent Control Issue

D-CON is cancelling 12 DIY products in response to tightened EPA regulations. What does this mean for the professional market? By Steve Smith

August 26, 2014

The great thing about rodents is they can’t be ignored. A few ants in the kitchen can be squashed out of a homeowner’s mind, at least temporarily, with a stomp of the foot. But for most consumers, a rodent equals action. Once a mouse is sighted, alarm bells go off in the minds of John and Jane Homeowner.

The key question, of course, is just what Mr. and Mrs. Homeowner do next. Do they pick up the phone and call you, the PMP, or do they head to the hardware store to outfit themselves with an arsenal of DIY products?

This summer that question became a tad more interesting.

PMPs likely know in 2008 the Environmental Protection Agency conducted a major review of rodenticides and implemented label restrictions that impacted both professional and over-the-counter (OTC) products. EPA’s “Risk Mitigation Decision for Ten Rodenticides” (RMD) required all baits sold in the DIY market be secured in tamper-resistant bait stations, reduced the amount of bait that could be packaged for consumer use and restricted the sale of second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides (SGARs) — brodifacoum, bromadiolone, difenacoum and difethialone — to professionals only.

Most manufacturers of OTC products complied. One, however, held out. Reckitt Benckiser, producer of the d-CON line, contested the EPA changes. Hearings were held, court challenges were issued and lawyers on both sides were primed for a fight.

As of this summer, however, the fight is over. On May 30, 2014, EPA announced Reckitt Benckiser had voluntarily agreed to stop marketing the 12 d-CON products in question. By March 2015 those out-of-compliance products will no longer be shipped to retailers. Similarly, in California, as of July 1, 2014, SGARs are no longer available OTC and only can be used by licensed professionals.

PCT posed questions to rodent control experts and suppliers about what impact these changes will have on the professional market. Here’s what they had to say.

Will limitations on the types of rodent control products available OTC cause DIYers to increasingly seek the help of professional pest management companies?

Rick Bell, vice president of government affairs, Arrow Exterminators: I sure hope this change means more consumers will turn to pest management professionals, but we never really know how things are going to shake out. The whole key to that would be for the consumer to really feel confused about how to use the product going forward and maybe just decide that it’s something that he or she doesn’t want to deal with anymore, and that, obviously, would be a great thing (for the professional market).

Steve Levy, president, Bell Laboratories: One of the results of the EPA’s RMD is that bulk quantities of bait are not going to be available to the consumer via consumer retail outlets. A natural consequence of that is any consumer who has a large infestation is going to have difficulty getting products that they may have otherwise been able to get in the past. That certainly has the potential to drive some consumers, who ordinarily do it themselves, to professional pest controllers, especially with larger infestations.

Also, second-generation anticoagulants are no longer available to the consumer and they have proven to be a good active ingredient in the fight against rodents. If consumers gravitate toward first-generation baits, they may find that they are not able to get the control they desire and that also may drive them to the professional.

Bobby Corrigan, Ph.D., president, RMC Pest Management Consulting: I think it will be hard to predict outcomes with any degree of certainty. The DIY market dynamics, especially for rodent control, are I think a bit fickle. My best guess, based on doing a fair amount of “Master Gardener” trainings and seminars with city apartment dwellers, is that I don’t think this marketplace segment will turn to professionals to any greater degree. I think most of the consumers who do it themselves do so for financial reasons, not for convenience reasons. Moreover, most consumers who bought the OTC products probably did so because their rodent problem was of a minor nature. They figured they could control the single basement mouse with a little box of bait or an ordinary snap trap.

The consumers who try DIY for serious infestations and do not get control because of improper application — yes, these consumers eventually call in a pro.

ElRay Roper, senior technical representative, Syngenta Professional Pest Management: I don’t believe the current restrictions by EPA will have any effect on do-it-yourself consumers, at least not initially. For the most part, they do not recognize the changes in the active ingredients in the products that are available over the counter. Since the same brands are on the shelf in essentially the same packaging, they will not be aware that there has been a change in the active ingredients or what that change means for rodent control. To a consumer, bromethalin looks the same as bromadiolone or brodifacoum. After they have had limited success with the new baits, they may seek the aid of a professional, but the expense will generally keep them away unless they have a serious problem they can’t solve.

So are these changes a good thing?

Gene Harrington, vice president of government affairs, NPMA: One of our biggest concerns about these products being in the hands of homeowners was that it was obvious that they were being misused by homeowners. Those instances of misuse by homeowners were jeopardizing the future availability for professionals. These are incredibly valuable tools and we don’t want to lose them due to untrained people misapplying them. We were happy to see the agency agreed after reviewing all the information and real-world data. They concluded the overwhelming majority of misuse was from homeowners and non-professionals. At the same time, they recognized the importance of keeping these tools in the hands of PMPs to effectively manage destructive and devastating rodent infestations.

Dale Baker, vice president of sales, J.T. Eaton: I think, in general, this will be a good thing for the industry to be able to keep these baits in the hands of professionals. I think that the industry is pleased that some of these baits are not going to be available over the counter without a station, and therefore more difficult for the consumer to get. There are many very good professionals out there who really understand how to use these baits and the typical consumer may not.

In low-income areas, where residents have traditionally not been able to afford professional services, will we see an increase in rodent populations?

Corrigan: Low-income areas that also suffer from rodent problems will by far be the most impacted by the OTC changes. I would expect the mice — and with rats also, but to a lesser degree — to increase in severity in cases where the mice were at least kept in check with the OTC products. These clients may try to substitute tools that are less effective than bait, due to the skills necessary for effective application, such as glue traps and snap traps. Or, it’s possible this market will simply purchase the more expensive bait that comes pre-packaged in the OTC tamper-resistant bait stations.

Bell: I haven’t seen one of the new consumer rodent stations, but I tend to think there is probably a way to get inside of those stations and get the bait out, and I would think somebody in that economic strata who might purchase one of these stations might decide to not use the station and just get the rodenticide out. That could be one thing that happens. So as far as the population spiking, I’m not clear on how that would change. Further, a lot of health departments do the rodent control in these kinds of settings anyway, and the OTC changes aren’t going to change what they are doing.

Jim Doll, senior marketing manager, professional pest management, Lipha-tech: I think it is definitely something to be aware of. It goes back to the question of what groups of people compose the DIY segment. I think it’s basically two groups. There’s a group that can’t afford other options and then there is a group of DIYers who have a minor amount of rodent pressure around their property and just kind of want to take care of it themselves.

For the segment who can’t afford professional services, there is concern there. The rodent population in those lower-income areas could quite possibly increase. I don’t think the rodent population is necessarily going to skyrocket or be overrun by “super rats,” nor are we going to see a rodent apocalypse — although I’m sure the mainstream consumer media may talk about it that way — but sure, the rat populations in those areas may increase and the quality of life there suffers just that much more.

This will just be another difficulty for those who are already facing several difficulties, and so it’s just something for all of us to be aware of, especially in the professional segment. Maybe there are things we can do as professionals for outreach to that segment of the population.

If the consumer market is being subjected to greater EPA restrictions, do you foresee the professional market also eventually facing greater limitations?

Baker: Obviously the RMD ruling a few years ago involved some big changes and what’s happening in California right now is a shift as well. And typically as California goes, the rest of the country starts moving towards that. So, I can see (the general public) becoming more sensitive to the issue. That being said, there’s always a need for what our industry does. Typically, common sense eventually prevails when it comes to solving problems with pests, particularly rodents. Obviously rodents carry a lot of disease, so there seems to be a balancing act here. For example, I think the industry and the NPMA specifically were really fantastic in being able to make a strong case that changed “the 50-foot rule.”

Levy: If the professional market continues to use second-generation actives responsibly, in moderation and in bait stations, I do not see anything on the horizon that would prevent them from using those. Rodents are a public-health pest and the EPA is very sensitive to that. They realize that any decision they make influences the possibility of rodent outbreaks. It certainly gives the agency pause in terms of how many restrictions they put in place, and that was the rationale behind leaving SGAR available for professional use.

Roper: If history has taught us anything, it is that our industry will always face greater restrictions on the products we can use. As the second-generation anticoagulant rodent baits are removed from the consumer market any time there is a problem, such as a secondary poisoning, the finger will have to point at the professional pest management market, as we are the only ones who have access to these products in urban areas. I think the best way for the industry to protect the use of single-feeding anticoagulants is to be very judicious about when, where and how much bait we use to control rodent infestations.


The author is a Cincinnati-based freelance writer.


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