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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Columbia: Your Sofa Could Be Making Your Cat Sick — Research Links Feline Hyperthyroidism and Exposure to Flame Retardants in Sofas

Housecats exposed to flame retardants found in sofas may be at greater risk for feline hyperthyroidism, a disease in one in ten middle-aged and older animals. The Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and Oregon State University study is in the journal Environmental Science Technology and was highlighted by National Institute of Environmental Health Science (NIEHS) as one of four “Papers of the Month.”

The study focused on 78 cats aged 7 or older living in NY and Oregon homes. The cats wore silicone pet tags on their collars that picked up contaminants in the air for a week, and owners filled out a questionnaire.

Researchers found higher levels of Tris (1,3-dichloro-2-isopropyl) phosphate (TDCIPP, commonly called ‘TRIS’) — a flame retardant found in stuffed furniture, air fresheners, and plastics — on the tags of hyperthyroid cats. Among non-hyperthyroid cats, higher TDCIPP levels were associated with elevated blood levels of a hormone elevated in hyperthyroidism, potentially making them more likely to develop hyperthyroidism in the future.

PBDEs — one class of flame-retardant chemicals — was phased out in 2004 after research by Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, professor, Dr. Julie Herbstman and others uncovered evidence of associated health risks. PBDEs were replaced by other chemicals, including TDCIPP. The amount of TDCIPP in use has risen more than 50-fold over the last 20 years; cases of feline hyperthyroidism have also climbed precipitously during this period.

“There is evidence that TDCIPP exposure can disrupt the human endocrine system,” says Herbstman, a study co-author, and director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at Columbia Mailman. “What we’re seeing in cats should be taken as a warning sign that exposure to these chemicals may disrupt the human thyroid system as well.”

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