OSU Research Finds EPA Pesticide Warnings Effective: Cases of Pet Toxicity Continue to Decline

snailWith June fast approaching local gardeners are gearing up for their yearly battle with the common garden pests, slugs and snails. The most common tool for combating these pests are metaldehyde and iron-phosphate based Molluscicide.

Researchers, from OSU, writing for the National Pesticide Information Center, recently released a meta-analysis looking at the previous 11 years of reporting on iron toxicosis in pets due to exposure to molluscicides and the results are heartening. Their intent was to determine whether or not EPA mandated warning labels had reduced incidents of canine exposure to toxic garden pesticides.

The EPA, in 2006, began requiring pesticide manufacturers to clearly label pesticides with metaldehydes in them because pets, dogs specifically, exposed to metaldehydes can experience severe muscle tremors, hyperthermia, and metabolic acidosis(renal failure).

Metaldehyde baits are attractive and toxic to more than just slugs and snails. Dogs,because of the addition of food byproducts like molasses, are also very attracted to these kinds of baits.  According to the researchers, “Dogs tend to eat all of the bait available, even digging to retrieve buried bait applications.”

In the analysis, the researchers found that 1,500 molluscicide animal exposures had been reported between 2001 and 2011, with the majority, 81%, coming from the West coast. Of these 1500 exposures, 1285 stemmed metaldehyde exposure and resulted in 35 canine deaths and 603 symptomatic events. The remaining 215 exposures were from iron phosphate exposure and resulted in no canine deaths and only 86 symptomatic events.

Because there is no antidote for metaldehyde poisoning the EPA and these researchers feel it is important that all gardeners who have dogs, or whose neighbors have dogs, be aware of the dangers of using metaldehydes and instead opt for alternative compounds for dealing with garden pests.

Thankfully, gardeners appear to be getting the message. The researchers noted that there was an apparent increase in the number of exposures from 2001-2006, pre EPA mandate, and an apparent decrease subsequently. They attribute this to an  increasing usage of Iron-phosphate based alternatives.

So this year when you head to your local garden shop for slug and snail bait, make sure you reach for the Iron-phosphate based molluscicides instead of the metaldehydes. Your dogs and your community’s dogs will thank you.

By William Tatum