California Court: Toxic Pet Products Must Have Warning Labels

NRDC Lawsuit Halts Retailers and Manufacturers from Selling Potentially Harmful Flea Collars Without a Warning Label

SAN FRANCISCO (December 16, 2010) -- Major pet product retailers and manufacturers  will not sell flea and tick collars in California that contain a cancer-causing chemical without a warning label, according to a settlement in a lawsuit brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“When you pick up a flea collar at the pet store, you just want to stop your dog or cat from scratching; you don’t want to put their health -- or your family’s -- in jeopardy,” said NRDC Scientist Miriam Rotkin-Ellman. “Warning labels will now help pet owners better avoid bringing dangerous chemicals into their homes against their will.”

Under the settlement, 18 pet product retailers and manufacturers, including PetSmart and PETCO, agreed not to distribute or sell flea collars containing propoxur without a warning that they include a chemical listed as a known carcinogen in California. By law, these products should have received warning labels as of August 11, 2007.

NRDC filed the lawsuit against the companies in California Superior Court in Alameda County last year for failing to comply with California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. This law prohibits businesses from knowingly exposing consumers to any chemical “known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive harm” without proper warning.

In addition to securing warning labels in California, NRDC petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency last year to remove these toxic chemicals altogether from pet products nationwide. The petition is still pending. NRDC testing and careful calculations reveal that the EPA’s decision to leave these products on the market may create a significant health risk to pets and pet owners, most notably young children. EPA’s most recent risk assessment of flea collars with propoxur also confirms that these products pose unacceptably high risks for children.

“The bottom line is -- these products are so dangerous that they don’t belong on store shelves,” said Rotkin-Ellman. “EPA, PETCO, PetSmart and the rest of the pet product industry know this and should do the right thing. Ultimately the only way to truly protect people and animals from the toxic, cancer-causing chemicals in flea collars is to ban them from the products altogether.”

A 2009 NRDC scientific analysis, Poison on Pets II, found high levels of propoxur and tetrachlorvinphos (TCVP) -- both chemicals common in household pet products that can damage the brain and nervous system, as well as cause cancer -- on pet fur after use of ordinary flea collars. This not only poses serious health risks for the pets who wear the collars, but exposes their human owners and families to the dangerous chemicals. This is a particular concern for children because their neurological and metabolic systems are still developing, and they are more likely to put their hands in their mouths after petting an animal, causing them to ingest the hazardous residues.

A 2000 NRDC report, Poison on Pets, has already led to the ban of six other dangerous pesticides in pet products, but products containing propoxur and TCVP are still on store shelves. 

There are safer methods of flea and tick control available that won’t poison pets or people, including frequently using a flea comb, and regularly bathing pets, washing their bedding, and vacuuming. If chemical-based flea control is necessary, the safest options often containing the least toxic chemicals are those dispensed by pill. NRDC offers a free online flea and tick product guide for pet owners that ranks more than 125 products, categorizing them by the level of their potential health threat, at