Advocacy Group Challenges EPA Over Flea Collar Chemicals

Natural Resources Defense Council wants to eradicate the chemicals tetrachlorvinphos (TCVP) and propoxur from dog and cat flea collars.

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Advocacy group challenges EPA over flea collar chemicals

Senior scientists from the advocacy group say the chemicals found in flea collars are dangerous to children.

The chemicals tetrachlorvinphos (TCVP) and propoxur are used in some dog and cat flea collars, and the Natural Resources Defense Council wants the chemicals eradicated from the pet industry. To that end, it sued the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Feb. 6 in an attempt to force a decision.

Manufacturers Hartz Mountain Corp., Sergeant's Pet Care Products Inc. and Wellmark International defended 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 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 representative said. The company's UltraGuard Plus collars are formulated with tetrachlorvinphos as an active ingredient.

"Hartz products containing [TCVP] 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.

"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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