The U.S. EPA announced today that it would be tightening up the safety requirements on ten nasty rodenticides that are blamed for poisoning around 10,000 children — mostly black and Latino inner-city kids — every year. Those ten chemicals will no longer be available in the form of little pellets that look like candy, and that small children are so prone to stick in their mouths. The new rules will require non-agricultural users of rat poison to use it only inside tamper-resistant bait stations designed to protect kids.

This is great news, and a long time in coming. There’s just one catch: These new safety requirements aren’t going into effect for a while. Manufacturers get three years to change their practices. EPA has determined a final “release for shipment” date for the last batch of deadly pellets on June 4, 2011.

Three years … let’s see, three years times 10,000 poisonings a year … let me get my calculator … That means about 30,000 more sick kids before we clean this mess up. You’ve got to be kidding me.

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It’s not like the manufacturers couldn’t see this coming. The EPA first issued restrictions on these pesticides in 1998, finding that in their current form, they posed an “unreasonable risk” to children, but rescinded the rules in 2001 after chemical companies balked.

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In 2004, the Natural Resources Defense Council and West Harlem Environmental Action filed suit against the U.S. EPA for failing to protect children from rat poison. In 2005, a federal judge sided with the children’s advocates, and directed the EPA to make the manufacturers change their practices.

Ten years hence, EPA has finally issued the regulations. But why rush things? From EPA’s Final Risk Mitigation Decision:

The anticoagulants interfere with blood clotting, and death can result from excessive bleeding. Bromethalin is a nerve toxicant that causes respiratory distress. Cholecalciferol is vitamin D3, which in small dosages is needed for good health in most mammals, but in massive doses is toxic, especially to rodents. Zinc phosphide causes liberation of toxic phosphine gas in the stomach.

The second-generation anticoagulants are especially hazardous for several reasons. They are highly toxic, and they persist a long time in body tissues …

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… not to mention that children who already suffer the multiple burdens of substandard housing and urban pollution are disproportionately exposed.

The EPA has been quibbling over the details of this change for more than ten years. What possible reason could there be for delaying this much-needed action any longer? It’s time to get candy-shaped rat poison off the market and out of the mouths of inner-city kids, without wasting another day to appease the manufacturers.