MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.
Now, chemicals and your pets. An environmental group has come up with some odd findings. Here is one: your cat probably has more mercury in its system than you do, and your dog has more of the chemicals found in stain-resistant carpets and couches.
The environmental group tested pets for a wide range of chemicals.
NPR's Jon Hamilton explains.
JON HAMILTON: If you just walk on a stain-resistant carpet, you may get a tiny, tiny dose of chemicals called PFCs. But what if you stretched out on that carpet for a while and then licked your fur? Richard Wiles and his colleagues at the Environmental Working Group wanted to know.
RICHARD WILES: It occurred to us that no one had actually tested pets, who live in the same environment as we do, for the toxic contaminants that we know are in people.
HAMILTON: The group took samples from several dozen healthy dogs and cats at a clinic in Virginia. That's a pretty small sample. Still, Wiles says lab tests revealed some interesting stuff.
WILES: Teflon chemicals, stain-resistant coatings that you find in your carpet, flame retardants that you may find in your furniture, mercury that might be in, say, cat food.
HAMILTON: Levels of some chemicals were lower in pets than in people. But dogs had more than twice the levels of stain-fighting chemicals called PFCs. In cats, mercury levels were five times which usually found in people, and levels of flame-retardants called PBDEs were 23 times higher.
Wiles says the findings suggest that pets could serve as a warning system for people.
WILES: It's the canary in the coal mine, if you will. They're picking up the same chemicals that we're exposed to, they have shorter life spans, and they develop diseases more quickly. And so, they may be providing some insight into human health problems from these same contaminants in our homes.
HAMILTON: But only if the chemicals are making pets sick. So far, there's not much evidence. One exception is a study done by Larry Glickman of Purdue University. He was trying to explain an epidemic of thyroid disease in cats.
LARRY GLICKMAN: We were able to show that cats that had clinical signs of hyperthyroidism had significantly higher intake of canned cat foods.
HAMILTON: Glickman suspects the culprit is a chemical called bisphenol A, used to line the cans. But to know for sure, scientists would have to deliberately expose cats to the chemical.
GLICKMAN: While I'm not a proponent of experimenting on dogs and cats, Sometimes very small experimental studies can tell us a whole lot more and answer questions that you just cannot do by studying cats or dogs in the home.
HAMILTON: The Environmental Working Group hopes that better studies of pets will bring stronger regulations to protect people.
Jon Hamilton, NPR News.
NORRIS: And you can read the study on chemicals in pets at npr.org/science.
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