After years of battling federal environmental officials, the maker of d-CON has agreed to stop producing for the consumer market certain rat poisons that have accidentally harmed children, wildlife and pets.
The company's rodent-control products will be replaced next year with a new line of baits the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has approved for use in every state.
Environmental activists hailed the agreement announced Friday.
"This is a significant victory for environmental protection and corporate responsibility," said Jonathan Evans of the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco. "While the fight isn't over until all of these hazardous products are off the market, this decision keeps the worst of the worst products from residential consumers."
The poisons will still be available for use in agriculture and by licensed pest-control operators.
The rat poisons that Reckitt Benckiser Group has agreed to discontinue contain "second-generation anticoagulant rodenticides." These are more toxic and persistent than the previous generation of products. The poisons are designed to kill rodents by thinning the blood and preventing clotting.
Scientists say the products have for years wreaked havoc by working their way up the food chain.
The state of California took sweeping action in March, when the Department of Pesticide Regulation signaled plans to halt retail sales of second-generation rat poisons to consumers after July 1. Reckitt Benckiser, the maker of d-CON, lost its bid to stop the ban.
The department said the national agreement would not affect the state's action, and it urged stores to continue the process of removing the products from shelves.
Some activists credited California's action with inducing the company to give in.
"California is a huge market," said Greg Loarie, an attorney with Earthjustice, a public interest environmental law firm in San Francisco. With the July 1 deadline looming, he added, "I suspect [Reckitt Benckiser] took a look around and saw the writing on the wall."
Reckitt Benckiser is one of 17 manufacturers of rodent poisons, but it is the only one that had not altered its packaging and ingredients to comply with federal safety standards.
During nearly two decades of research in and around the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, National Park Service scientists have documented widespread exposure in carnivores to common household poisons. Of 140 bobcats, coyotes and mountain lions evaluated, 88% tested positive for one or more anticoagulant compounds. Scores of animals are known to have died from internal bleeding, researchers said.
The poisons also affect protected or endangered species, including golden eagles, northern spotted owls and San Joaquin kit foxes.
Among heavy users of the poisons are growers of illegal marijuana throughout California. Scientists have linked rat poisons to the deaths of Pacific fishers, which are small carnivores, that had eaten rodents poisoned by illegal pot growers.
Under the agreement, Reckitt Benckiser will begin to phase out production of 12 d-CON rat and mouse poison products next month and will stop production by year-end. The company will cease distribution of existing stocks by March 31, 2015. Retailers will be allowed to keep the products on shelves until stocks are depleted.