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Should Massachusetts ban the use of poison for rodent control?

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Laura Kiesel

Arlington resident, freelance writer who often focuses on environmental issues

Laura KieselChristine Langill

As someone who is academically trained in wildlife biology and has written about anticoagulant rodent poisons, I am intimately acquainted with the devastating effects this common rodenticide can have on other animals like owls, foxes, and even cats. Anything that eats a poisoned mouse or rat is also exposed to poison. And like rodents, these animals can die from the poison, a slow and painful process in which they hemorrhage internally, often choking on their own blood.

Birds of prey are particularly vulnerable. The Boston Globe has reported on some of these fatalities, including Ruby the Red-Tailed Hawk of Fresh Pond in 2014 and a bald eagle in 2018 in Barnstable. But that offers just a tiny snapshot of the overall impact. A Tufts Wildlife Clinic study found anticoagulant poisons in the liver tissue in 86 percent of 161 Massachusetts raptors they necropsied, while a follow-up survey detected poison in 96 percent of 94 birds sampled.

It’s time we banned use of these dangerous toxins — and all rat poisons. As a first step, my state representative filed legislation at my request to establish an independent committee to measure the impacts of these poisons on the environment and public health and investigate more sustainable and humane alternatives.


The irony is that by using poisoned bait, we are literally luring rodents into an area, while at the same time endangering our best defenses against them: their natural predators. Poisons cannot compete with predators. One California study found that native raptors were approximately 50 percent more effective at controlling resident rodents than anticoagulant poisons.

By eradicating raptors with these poisons, we actually ensure our rat problems will not only continue, but likely worsen, especially as some rats can become immune to poisons. This is a shame, considering many viable alternatives exist — like better trash management, targeted applications of dry ice, and even rat contraception — that if applied correctly poses minimal risk to other wildlife or pets.


While my citizen bill was sent to committee recently — meaning it’s effectively dead for this legislative session — the effort to rein in and phase out these extremely dangerous poisons in Massachusetts will continue.


Galvin Murphy, Jr.

Wilmington resident, vice president of Yankee Pest Control, in Malden; president, New England Pest Management Association

Galvin J. Murphy

Human beings and rats have been at odds at least since the Black Death plague that devastated Europe in the 1300s. During those and other plague pandemics, people were infected with the disease by fleas riding on rodents. The bacteria in these plagues can still be found in wild rodents today. More importantly, rodents are among the vectors in the spread of Lyme disease by deer ticks. Each year, 30,000 new cases of the disease are reported in the United States. And ingesting or breathing dust contaminated with rodent fecal matter can result in various other diseases.

Licensed and insured pest management professionals are trained to utilize Integrated Pest Management when handling any rodent infestation, whether it be in a three-family building or a five-star hotel. This means we investigate and suggest repairs to broken trash barrels, improving sanitation, installing door sweeps, fixing broken pipes, and making structural alterations to exclude rodents from entry into a building or home.


When infestations cannot be controlled through mechanical and biological intervention, trained professionals will install and monitor applications of rodenticides on the interior and exterior of structures when necessary. There are many tools in our pest management tool box such as traps, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide injection devices, and even K-9 service, but the most practical and affordable is rodenticide application.

Professionals work with products that are approved by the US Environmental Protection Agency for safe use in today’s market. The Massachusetts Department of Agriculture handles complaints of misapplication of rodenticides in this state. Our industry is not aware of any reports showing a pattern of misapplication or non-target pest poisoning arising from improper use of anticoagulant rodenticides in Massachusetts.

If we were to remove the option of using rodenticide as part of pest management, tenants in urban multifamily housing buildings, in particular, would face sub-par sanitation and rodent infestation issues, leading to larger-scale health care concerns and poor living conditions.

The people of the Boston area deserve to live in clean sanitary conditions with proper rodent control measures protecting the health and property of our residents.

This is not a scientific survey. Please vote only once.

As told to Globe correspondent John Laidler. To suggest a topic, please contact laidler@globe.com.