Purifying Your Pet

The Ecology Center of Ann Arbor, Michigan, a nonprofit environmental research group, has spearheaded and publicized analysis of toxic chemicals in toys, cars, and children's car seats for several years now. It has made its findings accessible on HealthyToys.org and HealthyCar.org, so concerned parents can protect the most vulnerable consumers: children.

Last Wednesday, the Center unveiled important new data on HealthyStuff.org involving another vulnerable population: animals.

This is the first year that the Center's research has expanded to include items manufactured for the use and enjoyment of the pet population. It's no small acknowledgment that childless people with pets are parents too -- and that pets are as vulnerable as kids to toxic substances (if not more so, by virtue of their smaller size).

Using an XRF (shorthand for X-ray fluorescence analyzer), researchers examined some 900 common consumer products, over 400 pet products among them, for such hazardous chemicals as lead, cadmium, mercury, bromine, chlorine (PVC), and arsenic. These have been linked to reproductive and endocrine problems, developmental and learning disabilities, liver toxicity, and cancer in people.

Currently, there are no government standards for hazardous chemicals in pet products. So shockingly -- or rather, not surprisingly -- one quarter of the pet products tested, including all tennis balls manufactured exclusively for dogs, were found to have detectable levels of lead. Seven percent of the products screened showed levels higher than 300 ppm, the current Consumer Products Safety Commission standard for lead in children's products. For those with dogs who live to play fetch and retrieve, this is very bad news. (Happily, balls made for human tennis players were found to be free of hazardous chemicals.)

Worried yet? Kitty toys don't just contain catnip; while Puss is batting, clawing, hugging, and licking them, she's also taking in hazardous bromine particles, scattering them about your home and licking them off her fur as she self-grooms. That's because the toys' fabric component is treated with brominated flame retardants, as are the covers of many pet beds. A 2007 EPA study linked BFRs to hyperthyroidism in cats. Meanwhile, chew toys for dogs contain arsenic as well as lead (for a complete listing by brand, visit HealthyStuff.org).