July 22, 2011

Antifreeze made bitter for safety is on its way

When the product arrives, buyers will have to check the label to make sure it contains the bad-tasting chemical.

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

It could be months before Mainers have access to a new form of engine coolant or antifreeze that contains a bitter agent meant to deter children and animals from ingesting the normally sweet, toxic liquid.

When the new product does hit the shelves, buyers probably will have to scan the list of ingredients to see whether the agent has been added, because a new Maine law calling for the additive doesn't require special labeling.

A 2007 law that requires the bitter additive in smaller containers of antifreeze took effect Tuesday, a year after three other Northeastern states passed similar laws.

Retailers will be allowed to sell noncompliant antifreeze that's now on their shelves and in their stockrooms, said Hal Prince, director of quality assurance and regulation for the Maine Department of Agriculture.

"We'll be working with manufacturers and distributors in the months ahead to make sure that, going forward, the bittering agent is included in antifreeze sold by Maine retailers," Prince said. "We'll also be educating retailers that, as they sell their current stock of antifreeze, they should be replacing it with antifreeze that contains the bittering agent."

The law applies to pint- and gallon-sized containers of antifreeze that typically are sold at convenience, hardware and auto parts stores. It doesn't apply to coolant contained in motor vehicles sold in Maine or to wholesale containers of 55 gallons or more, which are used by larger auto-repair shops and oil-changing stations.

Implementation of the Maine law was delayed until one year after at least three other Northeastern states had passed similar legislation. Since 2007, New Jersey, Vermont and, a year ago, Massachusetts adopted similar laws.

Other states with similar laws are: Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

The national effort to pass the laws has been led by the Humane Society of the United States, which has more than 73,000 supporters in Maine.

An estimated 1,400 children and 10,000 animals are poisoned nationally each year by ingesting ethylene glycol, a highly toxic chemical that's used in antifreeze and engine coolants, according to the humane society.

The agent to be added by manufacturers is denatonium benzoate, which is considered the most bitter chemical available.

"If people don't see (denatonium benzoate) in the list of ingredients, they should probably err on the side of caution and assume it's not in there," said Katie Lisnik, Maine state director of the humane society.

Once antifreeze containing the additive is available in Maine, retailers could be fined $50 to $2,000 if they're caught selling untreated products, Lisnik said.

As more states pass similar laws, manufacturers may start adding the bitter agent to all antifreeze to simplify their production processes, said Prince in the Department of Agriculture.

Staff Writer Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com

 

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