No More Poisons on Pets: The EPA Must Act

The science shows that TCVP flea control products harm developing brains—yet the EPA is allowing them to stay on the market. So NRDC is taking the agency back to court.

Aleksei Tkachev/Alamy

NRDC goes back to court today to protect kids from toxic pesticide residue on their pets. Despite finding unacceptable risk from flea control products containing the brain-harming pesticide tetrachlorvinphos (TCVP), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under President Trump has allowed these products to remain on the market. Our children can’t tolerate the EPA’s excuses any longer, and we’re asking the court to stop the agency's delay.

TCVP is part of a family of pesticides (organophosphates) known to be very toxic to the nervous system. Even exposures at low doses can interfere with a child’s brain development, resulting in an increased risk of learning disabilities. Because of this risk, the EPA no longer allows the rest of these chemicals to be used indoors where kids can be exposed. TCVP’s cousin, chlorpyrifos, was found to be so risky to kids that the EPA under the Obama administration was poised to ban it from being used on food crops. Recent scientific reviews have recommended eliminating exposures to all the chemicals in this family.

In 2009, we realized that the EPA was relying on a faulty health assessment, missing key scientific information, to allow TCVP to be used in flea collars and powders. These products are designed to leave chemical residues on a pet's fur. Children playing with their cat or dog get theses residues on their hands, where the chemical can be absorbed through the skin or ingested when they put their hands in their mouths—and young kids, especially toddlers, put their hands in their mouths a lot. When we redid the calculations, we found that these vulnerable children could be exposed at levels that put their developing brains at risk.

It took two lawsuits, but NRDC got the EPA to fix the calculations, resulting in a revised assessment that found huge risks to kids from these products. The agency's own calculations now show that the toxic residue can expose young kids up to 1,000 times above the EPA’s safety level. But the agency has delayed any action, which means these toxic products remain on the market.

While we fight to get these toxic products off store shelves, pet lovers have much safer options to control fleas. Baths and regular cleaning of pet bedding can help prevent flea problems. And, if needed, treatments that are sold as a pill are a better option because there is no toxic residue. 

About the Authors

Miriam Rotkin-Ellman

Senior Scientist, Health and Environment program

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