'Bittersweet' solution to antifreeze poisonings

Conflict not compassion dominates the political landscape in Washington this Christmas season.

But animal lovers can celebrate one breakthrough agreement that got little attention amid the partisan budget battles, but will save thousands of lives.

Earlier this month, animal welfare groups and manufacturers of antifreeze and engine coolant announced a deal to curb deaths from this highly toxic product.

Product makers agreed to add a bittering agent, making the liquid -ethylene glycol - far less attractive to animals - and children.

Both children and pets are naturally attracted to the bright color patterns and sweet taste of antifreeze and engine coolant.

People who flush their own car radiators are often unaware of the lethal nature of ethylene glycol, the primary ingredient in these products. Pets and wildlife can come into contact with antifreeze through containers not tightly sealed or discarded carelessly in garages. Pets have also been known to chew through sealed containers to drink the antifreeze. It makes for a terrible death.

Less than a teaspoon of the product has proved fatal for cats. Ethylene glycol can cause nausea and vomiting, central nervous system failure, fluid build-up in the lungs, heart or kidney failure, seizures, coma and rapid death.

One survey estimates that two out of three veterinarians in the United States see at least one case of antifreeze/engine coolant poisoning each year.

Not all antifreeze poisonings are accidental. In 2004, two mixed-breed dogs owned by a Wilkinsburg, Pa. woman were poisoned by an angry neighbor who dipped pieces of bread in antifreeze and threw them in her yard. The dogs died a slow, painful death as the owner and her vet tried to figure out what was wrong with them. The man, John Cassase, was later convicted of animal cruelty.

There have been countless cases of accidental poisonings across the country, affecting an esimated 10,000 to 90,000 pets a year.

The Humane Society of the United States said it has worked 20 years to find a solution to pet - and wildlife - anti-freeze poisonings.

Over the years least 17 states - Pennsylvania was not among them - passed laws requiring the products be sold with a bittering agent, denatonium benzoate, known as the most bitter substance known.

The agreeement with manufacturers will ensure products sold in all 50 states contain the bittering agent.