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Underhood Service: Directions, August 2004

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Congressman Gary Ackerman (D-NY) is on the right road. Ackerman, alarmed at the concept that as many as an estimated 10,000 animals die annually after ingesting automobile antifreeze containing ethylene glycol, last fall introduced H.R. 1563, legislation to “require engine coolant and antifreeze to contain a bittering agent so as to render it unpalatable.”

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As many shop owners and technicians are aware, ethylene glycol used in antifreeze today is a colorless, sweet-tasting liquid that can have deadly effect. (Did you know that ethylene glycol was used in World War I as a substitute for glycerol in explosives?)

Anyway, because consumption of spilled antifreeze “poses a danger to our youngsters playing outdoors, dogs being walked by their owners, cats being let out of the house, and even stray animals such as birds, squirrels, raccoons, etc,” Ackerman introduced the “The Antifreeze Safety Act.”

Ackerman’s bill, co-sponsored with Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), calls for all engine coolants or antifreeze that contain ethylene glycol also to “include denatonium benzoate at a minimum of 30 parts per million.” You see, denatonium benzoate is considered by many to be the most bitter substance known to humans. And, it’s unlikely that animals would ingest a liquid containing this unpalatable substance, which is already used as a bittering agent to repel deer from chewing up plants in people’s yards.

As any tech will tell you, antifreeze spills may be inevitable. But animal poisonings as a result can be minimized dramatically with enactment of this modest, but vital legislation.

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New Mexicans became familiar with the tragedy of an antifreeze poisoning when Scooby, a golden retriever in Albuquerque, survived being shot in the head by an off-duty police officer, only to die a few weeks later as a result of ingesting antifreeze. The City of Albuquerque passed an antifreeze safety ordinance (noted as “Scooby’s Law”) and the state also is considering legislation to have a bittering agent added to antifreeze sold in New Mexico.

Granted, I favor this bill because I am a pet owner. But I expect the bill to get a bit more attention of late, due to the recent news where a New Jersey woman was accused of killing her brother-in-law by spiking his smoothie with antifreeze. The woman, who admitted putting chemicals in the drink to make the brother-in-law sick, pleaded not guilty to murder at her court appearance. (Apparently, she wanted to just get the victim ill enough to control his money, not actually kill him.)

According to New Jersey state police, the woman in question allegedly concocted a drink that included pineapple juice, maraschino cherries and antifreeze. Because the antifreeze contained sweet-tasting ethylene glycol, the victim didn’t realize he was drinking a poisonous solution.

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So this bill could also prevent future poisonings from others who might try to copy this plan.

I, too, request that the antifreeze manufacturers that use ethylene glycol in their product add a bittering agent. Even if it makes the product cost a little bit more, I think most vehicle owners would favor this plan. It’s the right thing to do.

What is your position on this issue? E-mail your comments to [email protected]

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