WASHINGTON - A measure intended to prevent poisoning of children and animals by making antifreeze taste bitter has a good chance of becoming law, says the prime sponsor of the bill in the Senate.
The bill would apply only to aftermarket antifreeze sold in retail stores. It would not affect coolants in new vehicles or the drums of replacement fluids used by garages.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. George Allen, R-Va., is an ardent conservative believed to have presidential aspirations. He says he usually resists putting more laws on the books. "But this one just makes sense," Allen says.
The problem: Ethylene glycol, a component of antifreeze, has a sweet taste - and is poisonous.
At a Senate subcommittee hearing last week, witnesses testifying in favor of the bill included the leader of an animal welfare group and an executive of Prestone Products Corp., a leading antifreeze supplier.
Asked about the exemption of automakers and dealerships from the measure, Allen says he will consider broadening its scope.
Members of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers don't have a position, says spokesman Eron Shosteck.
Jeffrey Bye, vice president of Prestone, says his company would be open to a requirement that a bittering agent be added to coolant sold in bulk to automakers and garages. The preferred agent, denatonium benzoate, adds less than 3 cents to the $4 to $6 it costs to make a gallon of coolant, Bye says.
Prestone supports federal legislation because a hodgepodge of state laws would be a nightmare, Bye told the Senate subcommittee on consumer affairs, product safety and insurance.
Oregon, California and New Mexico require bittering agents in antifreeze. Other states are considering similar legislation, Bye says.
Sara Amundson, legislative director of the Doris Day Animal League, cited a study showing that as many as 10,000 dogs and cats are poisoned by antifreeze each year.
She said another study says as many as 1,400 children ingest antifreeze annually, but most are treated soon enough to prevent death.