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Forget those water bottles: Pity the pets

Posted by: Adam Aston on April 21, 2008

Amidst all of the hullabaloo going on over the toxic threat of plastics containing BPA—and the ensuing panicked rush to dump pretty much every water bottle in sight—a report surfaced that deserves more attention. House pets are accumulating alarming concentrations of synthetic, potentially harmful chemicals.

Last week, Environmental Working Group released a report revealing that tests on house cats and pet dogs revealed staggeringly high toxin levels. The chemicals discovered are linked to increases in cancer and hyperthyroidism in cats and dogs, according to the study.

o Among cats tested, brominated flame retardants like those used in furniture, fabrics and electronics 23 times higher than in humans and mercury levels, probably from fish in pet foods, 5 times higher.
o In dogs, levels of perfluorinated chemicals, likely originating in stain- and grease-proof coatings, were 2.4 times higher than in people.
o Testing blood and urine samples, researchers found some 35 chemicals in dogs and 46 in cats.

It makes sense pets would absorb a disproportionate amount of these noxious molecules. Dogs and cats live in closer contact—sniffing, chewing and eating—to the floor and the ground where chemicals and pesticides concentrate. Paw-licking and toy-chewing compound the accumulation of any trace chemicals.

And as if worry for you’re pets health weren’t enough of to cause for concern, decades of research show that pets can act as “sentinels” for problems that later emerge in humans.

So what’s one to do? One option is likely to improve the health of both pet and owner. Opt for green cleaning agents, paints and wood stains in your home and on your furniture. Cat foods with high fish content may be a culprit in mercury accumulation and could be avoided. And above all, push policymakers to institute stricter testing of chemicals before they’re put into the environment as well as post-approval testing of their effects. “Right now, it’s regulation by lawsuit,” Arlene Blum of Berkeley, a visiting scholar in the UC Berkeley chemistry department told the San Jose Mercury News (in the photo above). “We need to test chemicals before they enter the environment. And companies have no incentive to do that.”

Reader Comments

Jonathan from Chelsea Green

April 25, 2008 10:30 PM

Now commenting in my guise as employee of Chelsea Green Publishing... The comment you have at the end about "right now, it's regulation by lawsuit" is an interesting one. I hadn't thought much about it before until we were working on our semi-recent book by Mark Schapiro, Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power.

In the beginning of the book, one of Schapiro's interview subjects, a European employee of a large US consumer products manufacturer, makes the same point but without any sense of it being a problem. The interviewee suggests that the European method (legislating a 'precautionary principle' approach to regulation) and the US method (leave the fear of big lawsuits to induce safe behavior by firms) should result in about the same level of consumer safety. (One would hope, though it wasn't mentioned and isn't guaranteed, safety for factory employees as well.) Sure, I thought, that's not the worst argument in the world... but then Schapiro points out that this person's employer is simultaneously lobbying in the US for laws that will restrict consumers' ability to file lawsuits and that put stringent caps on the size of any lawsuit penalties. Lack of regulation + lack of lawsuit potential = worry.

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BusinessWeek correspondents John Carey and Mark Scott, cover the green scene, keeping on top of the business aspects of energy, the environment and climate change, as well as the technologies, policies, markets and people that are shaping how the earth's resources will be used in the century ahead.

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