January 30, 2013

Environment: The Silent Killer



Unfortunately there’s no foolproof way to predict potential health problems for companion animals. Just as human health, how well they fare often boils down to five main factors: environment, diet, heredity,  preventative maintenance and pure luck.

First things first, environment.

I suspect that most of us vastly under-estimate the impact of environment, as in indoor and outdoor air, water, landscape, furniture and flooring, on health. For example, we drink fluoridated water, clean and polish our homes with chemicals and aerosol sprays, purchase bedding and furniture with foam inserts, install window treatments and carpeting treated with fire-retardant.

On the one hand, all contribute to "the good life." On the other hand, all contain chemicals or give off noxious fumes that are harmful to the health of our pets, children and ourselves.

Harmful Effects of Fluoride

Dr. Yiamouyiannis received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Rhode Island and served his post-doctoral fellowship at the Western Reserve University School of Medicine. He then became editor at Chemical Abstracts Service, the world's largest chemical information center, where he first became aware of the health damaging effects of fluoride. He is the former science director of the National Health Federation; he is the executive director of Health Action and president of the Safe Water Foundation.

Dr. John Yiamouyiannis, a world-leading authority on the biological effects of fluoride,  reports that fluoride is used as an insecticide and a roach killer. Even at the level fluoride is used in your public water supply, usually at the rate of about 1 part fluoride for every million parts of water (1 ppm) by weight, it causes severe problems.Fluoride in the drinking water leads to fluoride levels in tissues and organs which damage enzymes.This results in a wide range of chronic diseases. Fluoride weakens the immune system and may cause allergic type reactions including dermatitis, eczema and hives. It causes birth defects and genetic damage. Fluoride is likely to aggravate kidney disease, diabetes and hypothyroidism. The amount consumed in drinking water has been shown to lower thyroid activity in humans. It also causes the breakdown of collagen which results in wrinkling of the skin and the weakening of ligaments, tendons and muscles. There are a number of ways that fluoride can be administered. The most insidious way is through the drinking water.
Formaldehyde 

Formaldehyde is a chemical compound that exists in various forms. At room temperature, it is a colorless, distinctive, strong and even pungent smelling, flammable and gaseous substance. It is classified by the National Toxicology Program as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen in its “11th report on carcinogens.” The EPA has also declared formaldehyde a cancer-causing agent. 

Yet formaldehyde is used pervasively in home-construction materials, home furnishings as well as household and personal products including paper towels, photographic film, shampoo, deodorant, toothpaste, lipstick and nail polish, some glues, various forms of inks and wrinkle-free fabrics. You'll also find formaldehyde used as a preservative in embalming as well as both human and animal vaccines.

And this is just for starters.

The Organic Consumers Association expands the list.

Household Cleaners

Cleaning ingredients vary in the type of health hazard they pose. Some cause acute, or immediate, hazards such as skin or respiratory irritation, watery eyes, or chemical burns, while others are associated with chronic damage such as cancer. Corrosive drain cleaners, oven cleaners and acidic toilet bowl cleaners are among the most acutely dangerous according to Philip Dickey of the Washington Toxics Coalition.

Fragrances

Fragrances added to many cleaners, most notably laundry detergents and fabric softeners, may cause respiratory irritation, headache, sneezing and watery eyes in sensitive individuals or allergy and asthma sufferers. The National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health has found that one-third of the substances used in the fragrance industry are toxic. But because the chemical formulas of fragrances are considered trade secrets, companies aren't required to list their ingredients.

Other Ingredients

Other ingredients in cleaners may have low acute toxicity but contribute to long-term health effects, such as cancer or hormone disruption. Some all-purpose cleaners contain the sudsing agents diethanolamine (DEA) and triethanolamine (TEA). When these substances come into contact with nitrites, often present as undisclosed preservatives or contaminants, they react to form nitrosamines - carcinogens that readily penetrate the skin. 1,4-dioxane, another suspected carcinogen, may be present in cleaners made with ethoxylated alcohols. Butyl cellosolve (also known as ethylene glycol monobutyl ether), which may be neurotoxic (or cause damage to the brain and nervous system), is also present in some cleaners.

Now I'm just scratching the surface here and I haven't even begun to catalog the toxic and noxious chemicals we use on lawns and in out gardens. But I think you've got the picture.

What is the effect on dogs and cats?

Polluted Pets

The Environmental Working Group, a non profit organization comprised of scientists, engineers, policy experts, lawyers and computer programmers pore over government data, legal documents, scientific studies and their own laboratory tests to expose threats to our health and the environment as well as to find solutions. In 2008, EWG undertook a study to investigate the extent of exposures pets face to contaminants in our homes and outdoor environments.

Their findings are shocking.
Just as children ingest pollutants in tap water, play on lawns with pesticide residues, or breathe in an array of indoor air contaminants, so do their pets. But with their compressed lifespans, developing and aging seven or more times faster than children, pets also develop health problems from exposures much more rapidly. The National Research Council has found that sickness and disease in pets can inform our understanding of our own health risks (NRC 1991). And for anyone who has lost a pet to cancer or another disease potentially linked to chemical exposures, this sentinel role played by pets becomes a devastating personal loss.
Dogs and cats were contaminated with 48 of 70 industrial chemicals tested, including 43 chemicals at levels higher than those typically found in people, according to our study of plastics and food packaging chemicals, heavy metals, fire retardants, and stain-proofing chemicals in pooled samples of blood and urine from 20 dogs and 37 cats collected at a Virginia veterinary clinic.
 Average levels of many chemicals were substantially higher in pets than is typical for people, with 2.4 times higher levels of stain- and grease-proof coatings (perfluorochemicals) in dogs, 23 times more fire retardants (PBDEs) in cats, and more than 5 times the amounts of mercury, compared to average levels in people found in national studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and EWG (Figure).
It makes sense.

Pets concentrate environmental toxins more than humans because their exposure is higher. Their bodies are closer to the ground. They ingest whatever substances into which they come into contact by cleaning fur and paws.They roll in grass and play in dirt.And if you let them, they drink out of any muddy puddle. Thus, they are over-exposed to whatever toxic chemicals are found around us. In addition, they suffer more exposure indoors - the foam in their beds, plastic in their toys as well as linings on the lids of pet food cans, linings of pet food bags all contribute to toxic levels of chemicals in the thyroid, skin and other organs.

The effects are not pretty

From the Environmental Working Group Polluted Pets: Chemical Exposure and Pet Health.

Pet cats and dogs have been noted to suffer harmful health effects from chemical pollution in the environment, often earlier than humans. In Minamata Bay in Japan during the 1950s, neurobehavioral symptoms were first observed in cats that consumed mercury-contaminated fish (Koya 1964; Muraki 1965; Tsuchiya 1992). The disturbed behavior of suffering animals has been dubbed by the locals as “dancing cat fever.” Compared to humans, cats and dogs live shorter lives. They also have correspondingly shorter latency periods for the development of life-threatening diseases such as cancer (Kelsey 1998). At the same time, behavioral patterns of pets (living close to the ground, ingesting dust, chewing on domestic objects, licking and self-grooming) are similar to the behavior of human toddlers (Betts 2007). Thus, the presence of toxic chemicals in cats and dogs sounds a cautionary warning for the present and future health of children. As emphasized in a report by the National Academy of Science, "Animals as Sentinels of Environmental Health Hazards," systematic evaluation of chemical exposure-related diseases of companion animals could lead to identification of unsuspected chemical hazards to vulnerable human populations that might otherwise go unnoticed (National Research Council 1991). EWG reviewed veterinary research literature published over the past three decades, and identified numerous studies documenting illnesses linked to chemical exposures in companion animals. The list spans diverse diseases and exposures starting from lead toxicosis in cats and dogs to asbestos-related canine mesothelioma and oral carcinoma in cats related to use of flea and tick products. 
 Among the 10 key research observations in the scientific literature, I find these most alarming.

Bladder cancers in dogs and the use of insecticides and herbicides. In a case-control study of bladder cancer in household dogs, cancer risk was significantly increased by the use of topical insecticides. For 1-2 topical applications per year, bladder cancer risk was increased by 1.6 times, while more than 2 applications per year the risk was 3.5 times greater (Glickman 1989). As the authors noted in their publication, in addition to active insecticides, flea and tick dip products contain up to 96% organic solvent carriers such as benzene, toluene, and xylene, all known carcinogens, which could act as additional risk factors for bladder cancer (Glickman 1989; Kelsey 1998). A more recent study demonstrated that the risk of bladder carcinoma was significantly increased among dogs exposed to lawns or gardens treated with both herbicides or insecticides (7.2 times greater risk) or with herbicides alone (3.6 times greater risk), and was also increased for dogs exposed to lawns or gardens treated with insecticides alone (1.6 times greater risk), compared with dogs exposed to untreated lawns (Glickman 2004).
Canine malignant lymphoma and yard herbicide application. As demonstrated by a study of over 1400 dogs performed by National Cancer Institute (NCI) researchers, exposure to a common herbicide, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) which is associated with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in humans (McDuffie 2001), increases the risk of malignant lymphoma in dogs (Hayes, Tarone and Cantor 1995; Hayes 1991). High concentrations of 2,4-D were found in urine of dogs exposed to 2,4-D treated lawns, providing evidence that dogs living in and around residences with recent 2,4-D treatments absorb measurable amounts of the herbicide through normal activities and behaviors (Reynolds 1994). Although the NCI study was attacked by the pesticide industry and the Professional Lawn Care Association of America, the conclusion remains strong: lawn application of insecticides puts the health of household animals at risk (Hayes, Tarone and Cantor 1995; Reif 2006); as discussed above, herbicides and insecticides are also a risk factor for bladder cancer in dogs (Glickman 2004). 2,4-D herbicide remains a potential health hazard for pets and for children, who share similar exposures to environmental sources that can be contaminated with this insecticide such as soil, outdoor air, indoor air, and carpet dust (Morgan 2008).
 Oral squamous cell carcinoma in cats and the use of flea control products. In a study by epidemiology researchers at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, flea control product use and canned food intake were significantly associated with risk of oral squamous cell carcinoma in cats (Bertone 2003). Further, the same group of researchers noted that household tobacco smoke increased the risk of both oral carcinoma and malignant lymphoma (Bertone 2002, 2003). In addition to concern for cancer risk, acute toxicosis in cats from flee control products has also been reported (Linnett 2008); and anti-flea products used regularly on cat’s bed or bedding have been linked to a high risk for hyperthyroidism (Olczak 2005).
Chemical contamination of pet food. A massive recall was initiated in March 2007 after many pets became sick or died after eating certain brands of pet foods (FDA 2007). Poisonings of pets were traced to the presence of melamine and cyanuric acid in imported wheat gluten that was used for pet food production (Burns 2007a, b). These events highlighted the vulnerability of pets and their owners who, due to insufficient government oversight over chemicals present in pet food, are left to trust that the pet food industry will regulate itself. Following hearings in the House and Senate on the need for additional food safety regulations, Human and Pet Food Safety Act was passed in September 2007 (Nolen 2007). This act set in place an early warning system to alert the public about unsafe pet food; however, much yet remains to be done to protect both animal and human food supply before dangerous incidents occur.
 High levels of brominated flame retardants (polybrominated biphenyls or PBDEs) in cats. In a 2007 paper published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, total PBDE serum concentrations of 4.3-12.7 ng/mL have been reported in cats (Dye 2007). For comparison, the EWG study detected the sum of PBDEs in cat serum at 5.2 ng/ml concentration. As demonstrated by these two studies, PBDE levels in cats are 20- to 100-fold greater than median levels in US adults (0.1-0.2 ng/mL). A significant portion of PBDEs in pet cats may come from dietary sources; at the same time, cats likely ingest 7-fold more dust than adult humans (Dye 2007), and household dust is laden with flame retardant chemicals (Stapleton 2005). One of the hypotheses posed by the researchers in this study was that high PBDE levels in cats could be linked to hyperthyroidism, a feline disease that has increased dramatically since 1980s (Peterson 2007). Although high sample variability precluded detection of association between PBDE levels and hyperthyroidism in this study, other studies have noted the connection of this disease with consumption of canned cat food (Edinboro 2004; Kass 1999; Martin 2000). 
Chemical contamination of pet food. A massive recall was initiated in March 2007 after many pets became sick or died after eating certain brands of pet foods (FDA 2007). Poisonings of pets were traced to the presence of melamine and cyanuric acid in imported wheat gluten that was used for pet food production (Burns 2007a, b). These events highlighted the vulnerability of pets and their owners who, due to insufficient government oversight over chemicals present in pet food, are left to trust that the pet food industry will regulate itself. Following hearings in the House and Senate on the need for additional food safety regulations, Human and Pet Food Safety Act was passed in September 2007 (Nolen 2007). This act set in place an early warning system to alert the public about unsafe pet food; however, much yet remains to be done to protect both animal and human food supply before dangerous incidents occur.
Recent statistics reported in the Wall Street Journal tell us that one in every three dogs and one in every four cats will get cancer at some point.

Is it any wonder?






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