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DDT IS GONE, BUT NOT THE POISONS THAT THREATEN US
George Fenwick's op-ed column on "Silent Spring": poisons continue to abound.

 Rodenticides have reduced the numbers of rats, but threaten humans and their pets, too.
Sharon Theimer/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Date published: 10/7/2012

THE PLAINS

--As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the landmark book "Silent Spring," I am constantly reminded of how far we still need to go to address the concerns illuminated so eloquently by Rachel Carson. Examples of lessons not learned continue to emerge on both the local and national levels.

Amid central California's avocado and orange orchards, a rancher in 2009 hired a rodent-control company to handle a rat infestation affecting her livestock and chickens. The pesticide professional assured the rancher that the poisons were safe for the abundant wildlife in her area. Indeed, for the next three years she had no problems and found countless dead and dying rats near her chicken coop.

Last month, her 90-pound, 5-year-old golden retriever, Franz, was acting restless as the family prepared for bed. Later that night, he died in the car on the way to the emergency vet. The beloved pet had showed no symptoms until those last three hours. A necropsy revealed that Franz had died from internal bleeding caused by the rodenticide brodifacoum. The rancher was mortified that she had killed her own dog. It turned out that the vet had handled six other brodifacoum-poisoned pets in the past year in that small farming community.

On the other side of America, a celebrated 22-year-old red-tailed hawk, Pale Male, faces danger every day from the ubiquitous use of the same deadly rat poisons around New York's Central Park. Pale Male and his first mate built a nest on the ledge of an exclusive Fifth Avenue apartment building in the early 1990s. Soon he became a local celebrity with his own Facebook page, website, and "official" YouTube video. In February, Pale Male lost his fifth mate, Lima. A necropsy revealed three poisons in her body: all were anticoagulants found in rat baits--one of them the highly toxic brodifacoum.

This was the same poison that would later kill Franz the golden retriever. Pale Male found a new mate, Zena, and they had three chicks. In July, two of the chicks had to be caught to undergo lifesaving treatment--also for anticoagulant poisoning. The third chick is believed to have died from poisoning.


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DDT IS GONE, BUT NOT THE POISONS THAT THREATEN US

George Fenwick is president of the American Bird Conservancy.