Poison

The Internet Has a Rat Poison Problem

My shopping spree was born out of boredom. On a lazy July morning I was in bed browsing Amazon when I decided to follow up on a tip I had received. I plugged the word “brodifacoum” into Amazon’s search bar, and a second later my screen filled with what are known as second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides, a class of rat poison so dangerous to humans and wildlife that the Environmental Protection Agency strove to keep them from being sold in consumer stores. After clicking around for a few bewildered minutes, I ordered something called Motomco D 31402 Jaguar Rodenticide Pail Pest Control. It cost $69.99, its delivery was free, and it had a 4.8-star rating. The top customer review said, “Kills them all, but the dead mice smells is not what I need,” which sounded like a solid testimonial. 

To be clear, I never intended to use this product. In fact, I had doubts as to whether the package would actually arrive. But a few days later, a big plastic bucket was waiting on my doorstep. It contained 12 pounds of waxy pink seed-size pellets laced with brodifacoum, a chemical engineered to trigger massive internal bleeding and hemorrhaging when digested, whether by rat, dog, bird, or child. 

Reactions to my purchase among experts familiar with the hazards of these products ranged from shocked to annoyed. “It’s both alarming and surprising,” said Mark Ruder, an epidemiologist at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, who has documented widespread exposure to these rat poisons in eagles across the United States. “It’s definitely concerning,” agreed Andrew Vitz, an ornithologist with the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, which in 2021 recorded the state’s first two cases of Bald Eagles dying from these poisons. Jonathan Evans, a senior attorney and environmental health legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity who has for years been tracking the problem, quipped, “Congratulations on being the owner of a bucket of toxic waste.”

My Amazon order invited plenty of questions, and for good reason. Four chemicals are classified in the United States as second-generation anticoagulants: brodifacoum, bromadiolone, difenacoum, and difethialone. According to the EPA’s rules, companies that register rat poisons containing any of these active ingredients are not allowed to sell or distribute them “in channels of trade likely to result in retail sale in hardware and home improvement stores, grocery stores, convenience stores, drugstores, club stores, big box stores, and other general retailers.”

So, what was Amazon, I wondered? And, for that matter, what was the internet? In attempting to find answers, I soon got lost in a rat’s nest of toxic e-commerce and murky regulations.

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n the weeks after that initial purchase I bought more deadly poisons—lots more—to see how porous the EPA’s restrictions were when it came to online shopping. The products were made by a variety of manufacturers and sold through all types of websites. Over at diypestcontrol.com, I ordered a 16-pound bucket of JT Eaton’s “Nectus”-brand bait.

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