Lawsuit Seeks to Protect Consumers from Toxic Pet Products

New NRDC Analysis Reveals Flea Collars Create Toxic Chemical Residues on Pet Fur that Threaten Human Health

SAN FRANCISCO (April 23, 2009) – The Natural Resources Defense Council has filed a lawsuit in California against major pet product retailers and manufacturers for illegally selling pet products containing a known cancer-causing chemical called propoxur without proper warning labels.

In new scientific analysis also released today, NRDC found high levels of propoxur and tetrachlorvinphos (TCVP), another carcinogenic neurotoxin common in household pet products, on pet fur after use of ordinary flea collars. NRDC is also petitioning the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), calling for the removal of these chemicals from pet products.

“Just because a product is sold in stores does not mean it is safe,” said Dr. Gina Solomon, NRDC senior scientist and physician. “Under California law, consumers have a right to know if a flea control product exposes them to health risks before they buy it.”

NRDC filed its lawsuit in California Superior Court in Alameda County against 16 retailers and manufacturers including Petsmart, PetCo, and, for failing to comply with California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, known as Proposition 65, which prohibits businesses from knowingly exposing consumers without proper warning to any chemical “known to the state to cause cancer or reproductive harm.” These companies have failed to caution consumers about exposure to propoxur from the use of their products, which should have been labeled with a warning as of August 11, 2007.  Proposition 65 provides for penalties of up to $2,500 for every violation.

NRDC’s new report, Poison on Pets II, found flea collars containing TCVP and propoxur pose serious neurological and cancer risks. These chemical-laden flea collars expose humans to highly hazardous chemicals that can damage the brain and nervous system and cause cancer. Children are particularly at risk from these pesticides because their neurological and metabolic systems are still developing. They are also more likely than adults to put their hands in their mouths after petting an animal, leading to the ingestion of hazardous residues.

Poison on Pets II tested the fur of dogs and cats wearing flea collars to measure the invisible pesticide residues left on the pets from these collars. This analysis, which was the first study of propoxur residues on pet’s fur, found that propoxur levels are so high in some products that they pose a cancer risk in children that is up to 1,000 times higher than the EPA’s acceptable levels, and up to 500 times higher for adults. The study also showed that after three days, 100 percent of the pets wearing collars containing propoxur and 50 percent of the pets wearing collars with TCVP posed a significant neurological risk to toddlers. Testing also revealed that unsafe levels of pesticide residue remain on a dog’s or cat’s fur two weeks after a collar is put on an animal. Families with multiple pets that wear flea collars have even greater exposure risks.

The EPA has never compiled data on pesticide levels found on a pet’s fur after use of flea collars. NRDC’s testing and careful calculations reveal that the EPA’s decision to leave these products on the market may create a significant health risk to pet owners, most notably young children.

The availability of many effective and safer alternatives for flea and tick control makes the continued use of these pesticides an unnecessary risk. NRDC’s groundbreaking 2000 report “Poison on Pets” led to the ban of six other pesticides in pet products, but products containing TCVP and propoxur are still on store shelves. 

“The EPA’s evaluation of these chemicals was dangerously flawed and underestimates the risks to children,” said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, NRDC scientist. “There is no reason to use carcinogens and neurotoxins to fight fleas and ticks when there are other safer and effective treatments available. The EPA should not allow these toxic chemicals in pet products.”

NRDC’s recommendations for safe flea and tick control include the frequent use of a flea comb, regular bathing of pets, as well as vacuuming and washing of their bedding regularly. If chemical-based flea control is necessary, the safest options often containing the least toxic chemicals are those dispensed by pill. Visit NRDC’s free online flea and tick product guide for pet owners that ranks more than 125 products, categorizing products by the level of their potential health threat, at NRDC’s consumer-oriented Green Paws website: