11/21/2014

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Scientists: Ubiquitous household chemical could be killing cats

Scientists: Ubiquitous household chemical could be killing cats

SEATTLE -- A chemical threat lies hidden in millions of American homes, and top government scientists believe it could be killing cats.

Right now in the special session of the state legislature, lawmakers are fighting powerful interests to ban versions of the chemical.

Dr. Dennis Wackerbarth is a top expert on hyperthyroidsim, and he said countless numbers of cats die from the disease each year.

Millions of indoor cats have been hit in recent decades by thyroid glands that go crazy, switching their metabolism into high gear. They become ravenous, yet their bodies waste away until they die.

Scientists examined the places where indoor cats spend their time, especially on furniture and the floor. A groundbreaking government study found "significant association" between the cat illness and certain flame retardants.

The chemical, in one variation or another, is added to all sorts of things found in nearly every American home, including foam padding, carpet pads, appliance chords, electronics, children's clothes and more.

At precisely the time flame retardants became heavily used in the 70s and 80s, indoor cats started dying of thyroid problems. Now those flame retardants are widely viewed with concern about unintended effects.

The next question scientists asked was that if the chemicals are harming cats, then what are they doing to humans? That's where the state legislature comes in.

"I mean, everything right now has these toxins in it. And we're not giving our kids a chance, at all," said Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island.

Nelson is among the lawmakers fighting to extend existing bans on flame retardants that have become so pervasive they're now found in nature, wildlife and almost certainly in people. Experts believe you would find traces of the chemical in everyone.

"We're hearing a lot from citizens," Nelson said. "The difficulty of being in Olympia is the strength of different lobbyists."

The chemical industry and business lobbyists say it would be too expensive and burdensome to ban more kinds of retardants, which several other states have already done.

Some of the more toxic forms have already been banned. The chemical industry creates replacement forms of flame retardants they feel are safer, but critics say they're still too toxic.

"It's time for the toxic treadmill to stop," Nelson said.

The state House passed a ban on additional flame retardants in household items and children's products. Lawmakers also created a system to stop chemical companies from switching to yet another version deemed just as bad.

But lobbyist kicked in and the Senate passed a watered down version without the system to stop bad replacements.

"If you get 'XYZ chemical,' it proves toxic. Then you can't just replace it with another one, you know, 'Flame Retardant 1000,' which is just as bad or almost as bad for our kids," Nelson said.

In fact, scientists say humans and cats are the only mammals with skyrocketing hyperthyroid rates. For cats, the problem has gotten so bad that Wackerbarth has a thriving practice treating only cats and a clinic treating only hyperthyroid cats.

A lifetime of pricey pills can treat the disease, but Wackerbarth used a one-time radiation injection that he says kills only the bad cells without the thyroid.

"It's just a little bit of magic," Wackerbarth said.

The problem, of course, is that once the treated cats return home, the chemical still exists.

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Read a manufacture's fact sheet about flame retardants or hear from the North American Flame Retardant Alliance.

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