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EPA Gets Collared

Posted: March 27, 2014, 10:45 a.m. EDT


By Clay Jackson

The court of public opinion has rendered its decision on sugary drinks and junk food, but what about the chemicals tetrachlorvinphos (TCVP) and propoxur? Both are used in some dog and cat flea collars.

The Natural Resources Defense Council wants the chemicals eradicated from the pet industry and sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Feb. 6 in an attempt to force a decision.

Manufacturers such as Hartz Mountain Corp., Sergeant’s Pet Care Products Inc. and Wellmark International defend the formulation of their flea collars.

"We have provided all of the relevant data to the EPA to support the safe use of our products,” a Hartz representative stated.

Dr. Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, called the two neurotoxic pesticides particularly dangerous to children and cited scientific literature that linked the chemicals to neurodevelopment problems.

The chemicals may be transferred when a child touches a collar and then puts her hand in her mouth, the New York environmental action group stated.

Both chemicals crossed the organization’s radar in 2000 when the council released its first "Poisons on Pets” report. The document identified seven pesticides, including TCVP and propoxur, that are used in flea-control products and that the group considered particularly dangerous to children.

"In 2008, our second report found that although some of these pesticides had been removed from the market due to safety concerns, [TCVP and propoxur] were still widely used in flea collars and other flea-control products,” Rotkin-Ellman said.

The council petitioned the EPA in 2007 and 2009 to no effect. The tepid response forced the organization’s hand.

"The lawsuit we filed is to compel the EPA to respond and make a decision,” said Mae Wu, a health attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

How the EPA rules this time will determine the council’s next move.

"It depends on how they articulate their decision in response to our lawsuit as to whether further litigation will be necessary,” Wu said.

The EPA isn’t saying much.

"All I can share is that the EPA will review the petition,” said Nahal Mogharabi, a public affairs specialist with the agency’s Los Angeles office.

In the meantime, the Natural Resources Defense Council is urging pet owners to shy away from flea collars manufactured by Secaucus, N.J.-based Hartz, Omaha, Neb.-based Sergeant’s and Schaumburg, Ill.-based Wellmark.

Hartz does not use propoxur in any of its products, a spokesperson said. The company’s UltraGuard Plus collars are formulated with tetrachlorvinphos as an active ingredient.

"Hartz products containing tetrachlorvinphos are registered with the EPA, meet current safety requirements and have been on the market safely for decades,” the representative said. "We have confidence in the products that we sell to our consumers and believe that they are safe for their pets and family members.”

Sergeant’s, whose Dual Action flea collars contain propoxur, was unfazed by having its products called out.

"Sergeant’s focuses on developing innovative flea and tick, health care and consumable products, and we are always working on developing new products in these areas,” a spokesperson said. "Sergeant’s does provide a line of natural flea and tick control products under the Sentry Natural Defense brand that are ideal for consumers seeking a natural alternative.”

A spokesperson for Wellmark, whose Adams Plus collars contain propoxur, could not be reached to comment.

Some veterinarians have questioned the value of flea collars, Wu said.

"I know from vets we’ve spoken to that flea collars in general are not effective and they advise other methods,” she said, admitting that most of the remarks were anecdotal and originated with a handful of small animal veterinarians.

Just how big of a threat are flea collars containing pesticides such as TCVP and propoxur?

"We drew upon an extensive body of independent research which has found measurable impacts to children’s neurodevelopment linked to exposure to organophosphate pesticides,” Rotkin-Ellman said.

She found 26 studies linking harm to a child’s developing brain with exposure to organophosphate pesticides. Cognitive, behavioral and motor developmental defects were cited.

Tetrachlorvinphos is in a class of pesticides called organophosphates, while propoxur is part of the carbamates family of pesticides.

In one 2010 study, a link was documented between organophosphate pesticides such as TCVP and higher rates of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

"It wasn’t until 2011 that [a study] found defects similar to that shown in the organophosphates studies—particularly around motor development—linked to prenatal exposure to propoxur,” Rotkin-Ellman said.

She also pointed to a Natural Resources Defense Council review of 10 years of calls made to the California Poison Control Center.

"We found nearly 300 reports which were related to exposure to a flea collar,” she said.

Another rub against the EPA is the agency’s 2010 determination that the risks to children from exposure to pets wearing propoxur flea collars was "of concern.”

Propoxur made news in 2009 when the Natural Resources Defense Council sued 18 pet product retailers and manufacturers over the sale in California of flea and tick collars containing the chemical.

A settlement agreed to with the defendants required a warning label on collars formulated with propoxur, which was added to California’s list of known carcinogens in 2006.

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