Law Targets Poisonings by Antifreeze
By Morgan Saunders
Capital News Service
RICHMOND, Va. – Beginning in 2011, antifreeze sold in Virginia must contain a bittering agent to make it unpalatable to people and animals, according to a new state law aimed at preventing poisonings.
The law requires that any engine coolant or antifreeze manufactured after Jan.1, 2011, and sold in Virginia must contain denatonium benzoate. Seven other states – Arizona, California, Maine, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee and Washington – have similar requirements. Last month, Vermont also enacted a law like Virginia’s, effective in 2011.
“Antifreeze poisoning is a very alarming issue,” said Delegate Kirkland Cox, R-Colonial Heights, who sponsored the Virginia law.
Under the law, violators will face a civil penalty of up to $100 a day.
Ethylene glycol, an ingredient in antifreeze and other products, is a sweet-tasting poison with a sweet aroma attractive to animals and children.
Experts estimate that at least 10,000 dogs are poisoned annually by spilled or discarded antifreeze. It happens more often than many people think, animal protection groups say.
“Every veterinary clinic has a case or two,” said Ann Church, the Virginia director of U.S. Humane Society.
She said animals will drink antifreeze because “it tastes so good.”
Diagnosis and treatment can be delayed because the symptoms are hard to recognize: After ingesting antifreeze, a dog initially gets sick and then appears to get better. All the while, the animal is suffering renal failure until it is too late to recover.
“The bittering agent doesn’t affect the purpose of antifreeze one bit. It has no negative impact and saves animals and humans from tremendous pain and death,” Church said.
Cox sponsored the law at the request of Yvonne Royster, a retiree and animal lover. Her friend’s two dogs were poisoned accidentally by antifreeze in October. A few months later, Royster contacted Cox.
“I just met with Delegate Cox the first of December, and it just took off,” Royster said.
Cox filed the bill on Jan. 23. It passed through the House and Senate in February and was signed into law by Gov. Tim Kaine on March 30.
“I’d like to see every state have it in place,” Royster said.
But she said she didn’t believe Virginia’s law went far enough. Royster said she wished the law took effect sooner, and “I would like to see the penalty a whole lot higher.”
In contrast to Virginia’s penalty of $100, legislators in some states have proposed fines of up to $5,000 for selling antifreeze without a bittering agent.
Congress is considering federal legislation to require that all antifreeze sold in the United States contain a bittering agent.
The Consumer Specialty Products Association, which represents antifreeze manufacturers, opposes laws requiring the addition of denatonium benzoate to engine coolant.
William L. Lafield, the association’s vice president, stated his objections in a letter to Tennessee legislators when they considered the issue in 2003.
“While we support the goal of protecting human and animal health, this bill would not offer any substantial increase in protection and could result in unintended negative environmental impact,” the letter said.
Lafield said denatonium benzoate could end up polluting the environment.
Antifreeze Used as Murder Weapon
Pets aren’t the only victims of antifreeze poisonings. Antifreeze has been used to murder people.
In Syracuse, N.Y., a woman was convicted in February of murdering her husband by poisoning him with antifreeze.
A jury found Stacey Castor, 41, guilty in the 2005 death of her second husband, David Castor. Prosecutors said the defendant used a kitchen baster to give antifreeze to her husband and then staged the scene to make it look like a suicide.
Stacey Castor’s first husband, Michael Wallace, died in 2000. An exhumation and autopsy revealed that he also had been poisoned by antifreeze poisoning.
In March, a judge sentenced Castor to more than 50 years in prison.
For more information, see:
The Humane Society of the United States: www.hsus.org/pets/pet_care/antifreeze.html
The Virginia General Assembly: http://leg1.state.va.us/. Look up the bill HB2629.
The Antifreeze Bittering Act of 2009, a bill before Congress: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-615
Morgan Saunders is a journalism student at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Tags: Antifreeze , Law , Virginia
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