I’m a lifelong animal lover. But until recently, I didn’t stop to think about how air pollution is hurting our animals – in many of the same ways it harms our children! Throughout my childhood on the farm, we had a wide variety of animals. My favorites were always our draft horses: Bob and Duke, Bill and Vinny, and Annabelle and Isabelle; our Golden Retrievers: Rusty, Arliss and Duke; our Old English Sheep Dogs: Patch and Eddie, various animals in our petting zoo including calves, goats, sheep, llamas, and even a pet deer named Bambi. Some of these animals are still around the farm and others are up in that big pasture in the sky.
I was raised to treat animals like they’re family members. Our dogs slept in our beds and most certainly were allowed on the couch, our horses got many apples and carrots, and all of our animals got lots of love. And so when I think about air pollution and its effect on people, I can’t help but think about its effect on our beloved animals, too.
The biologist in me knows the mammals I love all function similarly to humans. They breathe in oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. They also breathe in pollutants like mercury, pollutants that we know cause damage to human cells, tissues, organs and systems. I had never seen any research on it, but I knew animals’ health must be affected by air pollution. I wanted to learn more – I found “Effects of Air Pollution on Animals” by E.J. Catcott, D.V.M, M.Sc., Ph.D., M.P.H.to be informative. Some key points:
- A well-known smog incident in Donora, PA in 1948 is known to have made 15% of dogs sick and even killed 10 dogs out of the 229 included in survey records. Sicknesses included respiratory and digestive issues as well as refusal to eat. Out of 165 cats included in survey records, 12 got sick and 3 died. Poultry farmers also reported that their birds got sick, and 40% of those sick birds died.
- The sulfur dioxide from the London fog incident of 1952 reportedly affected cattle with bronchiolitis, emphysema and heart failure. Some cattle died or were euthanized.
- In 1950 in Poza Rica, Mexico, hydrogen sulfide is reported to have killed 100% of canaries and approximately 50% of other animals who were exposed to the pollution.
- In lab tests, ozone has been shown to adversely affect dogs, cats, guinea pigs, rabbits and mice. It impacted their respiratory systems and also led to deaths.
The implications of these findings are far-reaching. In terms of the ecosystem, it’s important to note that many of these animals are a part of the food chain. If they are inhaling toxins or drinking contaminated water, we can become exposed by eating their meat and eggs, or drinking their milk. Animals in urban areas are at particular risk of smog and exhaust pollutants, while suburban and rural animals can be exposed to the toxins sprayed as insecticides, fungicides and herbicides.
Please check out a Mom’s Clean Air Force summary and illustration of How Mercury Poisoning works. And make your voice heard to STOP the TRAIN Act that would delay instituting Cross-State Air Pollution Regulations and Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants that could potentially harm our animals.
We’re animals, too, so we should realize that if the animals get sick from air pollution, so can we. Remember the “canary in the coal mine” that indicated to miners that the air was dangerous? Smaller animals who display sensitivities to toxins should be considered warning signs of the damaging human health effects. I personally choose to abide by the precautionary principle and avoid substances that are dangerous to smaller animals.
Finally, I love my animals like family and I care about their health and longevity. I want my dog to live as long as he can and be healthy enough to play, run and jump into his old age. I want my horses to run with fresh, clean wind blowing through their manes. I want wildlife to breathe crisp, clean air. As a mom who is fighting for the health of my child, I’m also fighting for my animal babies’ health.
When we fight for clean air for our children, we’re also helping to ensure the health of our animal friends. Do your dogs and cats call you “Mom” or “Dad”? If you’re a doggie mom or a kitty dad, won’t you please join the Moms Clean Air Force in our quest to clean up the air we all breathe? After you join, please tell us all about your animal babies in the comments!
Photos: Abbie Walston