EPA on Flea Collars - Right Action, Wrong Timing

After more than six years of trying to get unsafe flea collars off the store shelves, I wish I was celebrating today.  The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) announcement of an agreement with flea collar manufacturers to phase out their products with the neurotoxic pesticide propoxur should be good news.  However, my celebrations are
tempered by the reality that EPA’s action will leave these toxic products on store shelves for years to come.  Unfortunately, two safety assessments (first in 2010 and then again in September of 2013) finding risks to the nervous system and brains of kids does not translate into fast action from EPA.flea collars with propoxur.jpg

EPA’s announcement included a number of confusing and scientifically unsubstantiated statements.

To explain why it’s OK for these products to remain on the shelves, EPA claims:

“Although the products do not meet the current safety standard they do not pose a public health risk if label directions are followed.”

The safety standard is that a product will not harm human health when used as directed.  So how can it not meet this standard but still be safe when used as directed?  Also, EPA found risks of concern from kids getting the pesticide on them when they play with a pet wearing a flea collar.  The label directions do not warn parents about allowing their kids to play with dogs or cats after using a flea collar. So, even if a parent follows the label directions, their kids may face the risk to their nervous system EPA identified.

EPA tried to fix this problem by including the following advice to parents in their announcement:

“…try to keep the pet away from your young children for a day after putting on the pet collar…”

Realistically, will this warning ever reach parents shopping at pet stores, like PETCO or PETSMART?  I doubt it.  EPA is not requiring any kind of label change or notification to consumers. Pet owners will continue to see these products on the shelves and won’t know that the agency in charge of keeping their kids safe from pesticides and the manufacturers of the products have agreed to take it off the market because of safety concerns.

EPA’s action today is a step in the right direction but I remain worried about all the kids who are going to continue to be exposed to this toxic product and other flea collars with the related pesticide tetrachlorvinphos (TCVP).  See my previous blog for more information about the science behind why these products are dangerous for kids. 

Families shouldn’t have to worry about the safety of the products they use on their pets.  While EPA gave the manufacturers a sweet deal, let’s hope pet stores can step up and take action by not selling these products anymore.

About the Authors

Miriam Rotkin-Ellman

Senior Scientist, Health and Environment program

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