In a troubling twist on the continuing controversy over the plastic chemical compound bisphenol A (BPA), researchers at Texas Tech University recently discovered that retrieving dogs may be fetching a mouthful of potentially dangerous chemicals while training with the popular plastic "bumpers" often used to teach dogs to retrieve.

While the as-yet-unpublished research by master's student Kimberly Wooten and associate professor of terrestrial ecotoxicology Phil Smith raises more questions than answers, the issue is worth looking at. At minimum, it should put dog owners on alert to the long-term impact of BPA and phthalates on man's best friend and the potential leaching of the chemicals used to give elasticity to plastic and vinyl.

The U.S. government banned the use of BPA in baby bottles this year after some studies cited adverse health effects on humans. According to Wooten, BPA and phthalates can have effects on developing fetuses and can have a lifelong effect on offspring in lab animals.

"I raise and train Labrador retrievers and hunt with them as well," Smith said, explaining what inspired him and Wooten to conduct the experiments. "In the process of training a lab, you do a lot of work with these plastic bumpers. I have a lot of bumpers in my garage, and they spend a lot of time in the mouths of my retrievers. Well, lots of attention has been given to chemicals in plastics lately regarding their effects on humans."


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The researchers also found the chemicals in many plastic chew toys found at pet stores, although at significantly lower concentrations. Older bumpers and toys weathered outside showed increased concentrations of the chemicals.

In a presentation of the results at the Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry conference in California, Wooten said questions remain about how much of a dose a dog may get from playing with the bumpers, since it's difficult to say how much of the chemicals may actually leach into a dog's mouth.

"The interaction of pet health and environmental chemicals is understudied," Wooten said. "What may be a safe dose for one species isn't always a good measure for another species. But the amount of BPA and phthalates we found from the bumpers would be considered on the high end of what you might find in children's toys."

Walsh new director. Denver resident Noreen Walsh was recently appointed as the regional director for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Mountain-Prairie Region. The 22-year veteran of the USFWS has served as deputy regional director for the region since December 2008.

Walsh will oversee USFWS activities in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas — one of the largest geographic jurisdictions in the service. Walsh will lead more than 1,000 employees from her office in Lakewood.

Senator wants feedback. Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet is seeking feedback on a draft bill for the management of Thompson Divide before the comment period closes Friday.The Thompson Divide is a resource-rich, 221,000-acre parcel of public land in Pitkin, Gunnison and Garfield counties that falls mostly under the surface jurisdiction of the U.S. Forest Service. Bennet is seeking input on legislation drafted at the request of local governments seeking to manage the multiple uses and economic interests that support the local community. Interested parties can read the draft bill and add their input at bennet.senate.gov/thompsondivide.

Scott Willoughby: 303-954-1993, swilloughby@denverpost.com