Wildlife Advocates, Lawmakers Seek to Restrict Rat Poison That's Killing Other Animals

Second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides, or SGARs, pose a great risk to predatory species that feed on animals affected by rat poison; a bill restricting their use passed the Massachusetts House, but stalled in the Senate and is set to expire at the end of the week

NBC Universal, Inc.

Time is running out for proponents of a Massachusetts House bill that aims to curb the use of rat poison, which wildlife advocates say is killing other animals at an alarming rate.

It's been four years since Jane Newhouse opened the door of her home to hundreds of wild animals in dire need of help.



Watch NBC10 Boston news for free, 24/7, wherever you are.


Get Boston local news, weather forecasts, lifestyle and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Boston’s newsletters.

Beavers, possums, racoons and porcupines are there, and a fox with mange is one of her latest rescues.

"If we're dealing with rat poison, it complicates things so much more," Newhouse said.

About four out of five foxes she comes across a year, Newhouse says, are found sick from rodenticide.

"I was shocked at how many of the animals I was receiving had secondary rat poisoning," she said.

Second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides, or SGARs, can only be used by pest control companies due to Environmental Protection Agency regulations.

Companies that spoke with NBC10 Boston say SGARs are their most effective tool to kill rodents. But the poison is making its way up the food chain.

The EPA warns SGARs pose a greater risk to predatory species that feed on these poisoned animals -- some of which also help control the pest population.

"You're putting a bomb inside that animal and then sending it off, and it's disrupting nature's normal way of dealing with these things," Newhouse said.

In March of last year, a bald eagle died in Natick in what MassWildlife classified as the first confirmed death from SGAR in the state. An eaglet died months later by the same poison.

It compelled Jodi Sylvester to become a wildlife advocate.

"It was literally like a knife in my heart," Sylvester said. "Ever since then, I said, 'You will not die in vain.'"

Sylvester has looked over other animals with signs of illness, including a family of great horned owls in Arlington. Four of them have died this year, with the latest casualty a few weeks ago.

Cape Ann Wildlife ordered a blood test, which came back positive for two known rat poisons.

"I'm begging people to please find safer ways, and if you do contact a pesticide company, contact a green company," Sylvester said.

"It's the pest control companies that are using it. But the reports on their use of it is not on paper. So it's impossible to track," said Massachusetts Rep. Jim Hawkins, a Democrat serving Bristol County.

Hawkins got a bill passed through the House that would implement education programs and require pest control companies to disclose the use and the effects of these chemicals to clients. They would also have to report their use in an electronic database.

"This is the fastest way to move the needle, to cut back on the use of these rodenticides," he said.

But that bill has stalled in the Senate and will expire by the end of the week.

"It makes me a little anxious," Hawkins said.

"For wildlife rehabbers, we're so adamant about it because we have helped these animals while they've died, and it's awful to witness," Newhouse said.

Some pest control companies describing themselves as "green" use rodenticides. MassWildlife says other methods are available, such as snap traps. It suggests using SGARs only as a last resort.

Contact Us