The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will ban the sale of flea and tick collars containing a chemical linked to neurological damage in children, the agency announced this week.

The collars, which contain the chemical tetrachlorvinphos, make up more than half of flea and tick collars sold in the U.S., according to the EPA. They are much cheaper than many name brand collars and are largely aimed at low-income pet owners.

Tetrachlorvinphos, often shortened as TCVP, is a type of organophosphate chemical, which were originally developed as nerve agents in World War II. Most organophosphates were banned for in-home use, after the passage of the 1996 Food Quality Protection Act.

The EPA will publish a regulation in the coming months, called a Notice of Intent to Cancel, explaining its rationale and will open the rule up to public comment, the agency announced. The agency said that Hartz is conducting more research into TCVP, and it will incorporate any studies into its future decision.

Hartz, the largest seller of collars containing TCVP, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Natural Resource Defense Council, which petitioned the EPA to ban the chemical in 2009, praised the move.

“It’s great news,” said Miriam Rotkin-Ellman, an NRDC senior scientist. “It’s unfortunate that it took this long.”

It is unclear how long it will take until the products are removed from the shelves, Pete DeMarco, an attorney with NRDC, said. DeMarco said that’s because the agency “very rarely” takes an adversarial process to ban a product. Instead, it usually negotiates a voluntary cancellation with the product’s makers.

“It’s not a quick process,” DeMarco said.

{Read more: Seresto pet collars under EPA review, but the fight over their safety could take years}

In response to questions, the EPA provided its announcement. In it, the agency said it has given Hartz the opportunity to submit new information in response to the human health risk assessment, and that information could change the agency’s decision to cancel the product.

“Should data be submitted to EPA by the end of the year that demonstrates that there is no longer a risk of concern for any TCVP pet collars, the Agency would no longer pursue” the Notice of Intent to Cancel, it said.

DeMarco said the NRDC would monitor the process.

“EPA said they may reevaluate this decision based on new information, but we’re going to remain vigilant to ensure EPA protects kids and pet owners,” he said.

The EPA’s decision is a result of a yearslong legal battle over the chemical that included four separate lawsuits. The EPA lost two cases and refused to defend itself in two cases. 

In the risk assessment released this week, the EPA threw out a Trump administration-era study into TCVP and returned to science conducted in the Obama administration.

That study by the Obama administration, in late 2016, had found that children are exposed to TCVP at such high levels in the collars that they are at risk of delayed mental development, lowered IQ scores and increased chances of autism and attention disorders in children. The administration pledged to take action within 90 days, but the Trump administration never took action until forced by a court to do so.

Photos of a Hartz Ultraguard collar on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (Photo by Darrell Hoemann/The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting)

After the court decision, the Trump administration conducted a new risk assessment, which downplayed those risks.

Earlier this year, a panel of federal judges ruled that the EPA had violated the law in that risk assessment and needed to take action within 120 days. 

“EPA returned to that (Obama-era) risk assessment for the basis of this decision,” Rotkin-Ellman said. “Six years later, unfortunately.”

The EPA is currently evaluating all uses of TCVP, which include use on animal agriculture and liquid pet sprays. The agency is supposed to review chemicals every 15 years, and last approved the use of TCVP in products in 2006. Children can be exposed to TCVP through their diet, and the EPA is evaluating the risk that exposure takes.

Flea and tick collars have come under increased scrutiny at the EPA in recent years. The agency is conducting a formal review of Seresto, a popular flea and tick collar that has been linked to nearly 100,000 incidents of harm to pets and people. The agency’s internal watchdog has also launched an investigation into the EPA’s handling of incident reports. 

A Congressional subcommittee has called for the EPA to ban Seresto because of the risks associated with the collar. 

An Investigate Midwest and USA TODAY investigation published earlier this year found that EPA scientists have raised concerns about Seresto to their superiors for years.
Elanco, the company that sells Seresto, has repeatedly defended the collar, saying that its own extensive studies into the collar show that the incidents of harm related to the collar are likely related to factors other than the two pesticides in the collar, imidacloprid and flumethrin.

Top image: Photos of a Hartz Ultraguard collar on Tuesday, June 22, 2021. (Photo by Darrell Hoemann/The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting)

Type of work:

Johnathan Hettinger focuses on pesticide coverage for Investigative Midwest. Growing up in central Illinois, Johnathan saw and had family members working in all aspects of agribusiness, from boots-in-the-field...