Sunday, January 10, 2010

Antifreeze - What's a dog's life worth these days?

Bailey - our 6 year old Brittany

A few weeks ago I did a post about a proposal to require residential sprinkler systems in New Hampshire and I tried to find estimates for the "cost per life saved" for these systems in order to help put the cost into perspective.

So naturally, when I saw this AP report at about legislation to require a bitter-tasting additive in retail antifreeze sold in NH, my first question was - What's the cost per pet life saved?

If you've been wondering this too, fear not. I'm on it!

To compute the cost, I decided to go with a national estimate, since NH specific numbers were too hard to find. First, I learned that as many as 10,000 pets die each year in the US as a result of antifreeze poisoning.

Next, I found a rough cost estimate from this 2005 US Senate committee report on the issue:

Under S. 1110, if the CPSC determines that the use of the bittering agent in engine coolant or antifreeze would have no adverse effects on the environment, coolant and antifreeze manufacturers would be required to add the agent to certain product mixtures. The bill would exempt coolant and antifreeze distributed to original manufacturers (such as motor vehicle manufacturers) and garages that purchase wholesale engine coolant or antifreeze for purposes other than retail sales. According to industry sources, about 160 million gallons of coolant and antifreeze are sold in the U.S. retail market each year. Industry and government sources indicate that adding the bittering agent to product mixtures would cost manufacturers less than $0.03 per gallon of coolant or antifreeze. Furthermore, the industry expects to incur some costs associated with upgrades necessary for storing denatonium benzoate at manufacturing plants. Industry sources estimate such costs to fall between $50,000 and $70,000 per plant. Based on those data, CBO estimates that the costs associated with this mandate would not exceed $6 million per year.

This is all pretty rough, but it should be good enough for a ball park estimate. The CBO cost figure of $6 million per year along with an (admittedly high) estimate of 10,000 pets saved per year, yields a cost per pet saved of around $600.

This is probably a best case scenario, since there's concern that the bitter tasting additive may not deter all pets from drinking antifreeze. Also, most of these initiatives exempt manufacturers and garages that purchase antifreeze in bulk, so some cases of poisoning will likely still occur from leaks and improperly disposed untreated antifreeze.

I found conflicting data on whether many people are killed by antifreeze poisoning in the US. One report indicated as many as 1400 children are treated for poisoning each year, however reports of deaths seem rare. In fact, according to this site, most of the recent human deaths from antifreeze were intentionally self-inflicted or due to homicide.

New Hampshire's proposed antifreeze legislation comes on the heels of similar initiatives in several states including Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, Arizona, Tennessee, Vermont, Maine, Virginia and California.


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