Bitter, Sweet Victory
Each year, tens of thousands of animals — principally pets and wildlife — die after accidentally ingesting antifreeze. Even some kids suffer that fate. We’ve been working hard for more than two decades to prevent this misery — by urging manufacturers to make the product unpalatable — and 2012 will be the year we took a big step toward achieving that goal.
Last week, to prevent poisoning of animals, animal protection groups and manufacturers of antifreeze and engine coolant announced a landmark agreement, with the seven major corporations involved agreeing to add a bitter flavoring agent to their products for the consumer market in all 50 states. The Humane Society Legislative Fund and the industry’s trade group, Consumer Specialty Products Association, jointly made the announcement.
The agreement will protect pets, wildlife, and children
from accidental antifreeze ingestion.
The agreement is the culmination of a 20-year dance between antifreeze manufacturers, animal protection groups led by the Doris Day Animal League, scientists, state and federal regulators, and lawmakers. Both children and pets are naturally attracted to the bright color patterns and sweet taste of antifreeze and engine coolant. People who flush their own car radiators are often unaware of the lethal nature of ethylene glycol, the primary ingredient in these products. Pets and wildlife can come into contact with antifreeze through containers not tightly sealed or discarded carelessly in garages. And, unfortunately, pets have also been known to chew through sealed containers to drink the antifreeze. It makes for a terrible death.
Less than a teaspoon of the product has proven fatal for cats. Ethylene glycol can cause nausea and vomiting, central nervous system failure, fluid build-up in the lungs, heart or kidney failure, seizures, coma and rapid death. One survey estimates that 2 out of 3 veterinarians in the United States see at least one case of antifreeze/engine coolant poisoning each year. Estimates of deaths range from 10,000 to 90,000 pets each year.
After years of battling over legislation in the states, the manufacturers agreed to work with us at the state and federal levels to pass mutually-agreed upon language that gets us to the goal of better regulation of these dangerous chemicals. Oregon was the first to pass legislation in 1991, and California passed the second law in the country to require the addition of denatonium benzoate, often referred to as the bitterest substance known to humankind, in 2002. Since 2005, 15 additional states have enacted laws — with high-profile poisonings in Georgia and New Mexico providing vivid reminders of the urgent need for action.
The states that enacted these laws provided critical mass for the national campaign and for last week’s announcement. This situation also gives us a great example of industry and animal advocates working through a problem and prescribing a solution that’s good for people, good for animals, and good for business.