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Toxic Danger to Cats and Employees at LA Animal Services ‘No Kill’ Shelters Ignored by GM Brenda Barnette


ANIMAL WATCH-If you have worked, volunteered or visited a Los Angeles Animal Services' Animal Shelter, or know someone who has, this information is important to you. 

With a recently reported $3,900,400 in donated funds languishing in the Animal Welfare Trust Fund, according to Los Angeles Animal Services' General Manager Brenda Barnette, why would the City that boasts of being the "No Kill" humane leader of the United States deliberately ignore a known hazard to the health of employees, impounded cats and potentially to adopters at city shelters? Let's hope it’s not to hoard money that was intended for the care of the animals. 

Let's also hope the congested noses, wheezing lungs and the mucous-filled eyes of the cats in the shelter are not intended to be used as evidence that it is better to just dump lost/stray/homeless cats in the streets -- called TNR (Trap/Neuter/Release) or RTF (Return to Field)," as is being proposed by GM Barnette, Councilman Paul Koretz and Mayor Eric Garcetti.

It appears that the use of an inappropriate product as cat litter could be one of the causes of the high number of respiratory infections in cats at LA Animal Services. Could it also affect the health of former and present employees and anyone visiting the shelters? 


Would the individual and estate donors who have enabled GM Brenda Barnette to amass almost $4 million in surplus funds excuse the use of low-cost Oil-Dri 'Absorb It" (oil and gas absorbent) -- which contains printed warnings that the silica in it is a "known carcinogen," rather than professionally formulated "cat litter" for the animals? 

Oil-Dri makes quality cat litter, but that is not what Barnette is buying! Oil-Dri Corporation makes several well-known brands of cat litter. Why isn't LA Animal Services -- like other local shelters -- using a product that is safe for the cats and shelter staff? 


A few months ago, I received a message from a volunteer at LA Animal Services' shelters, calling my attention to the use of Oil Dri "Absorbs it" as cat litter. This person had concerns about personal health issues as a result of exposure to the silica in this product, which is not intended to be used as cat litter. 

I immediately provided the contact information for the SEIU shop steward for LAAS and also personally asked if the union had investigated this issue as a health hazard. 

The shop steward ultimately reported back that he had contacted the safety officer for LAAS, who was aware of the product LAAS is using and claims it has been in use for many years. Apparently, there is no intention to change to a legitimate cat litter product at LAAS shelters. Or, if so, that was not indicated in regard to this inquiry. 


Oil Dri "Absorbs-it" is described on the bag as "Ideal for Oil and Grease." 

Here's the information by the manufacturer: 

"Absorbs-it Has Many Industrial Uses. . .Service Stations, Industrial Plants, Shipping Docks, Warehouses, Machine Shops, Aircraft Companies, Meat & Poultry Plants, Parking Lots"

"Absorbs-it is Perfect for Home Applications. . .Gardens, Trash Cans, Garages, Driveways, BBQ grills, Traction in Snow and Ice." 



"May cause cancer if inhaled. Causes damage to the lungs through prolonged or repeated inhalation exposure. 

H350 - May cause cancer by inhalation.

H372 - Causes damage to lungs through prolonged exposure by inhalation.

Prevention P202 - Do not handle until all safety precautions have been read and understood.

P260 - Do not breathe dust.

P264 - Wash thoroughly after handling.

P280 - Wear protective gloves and clothing.

P270 - Do not eat, drink or smoke when using this product."

Response:  P308 + P313 IF exposed or concerned: Get medical advice/attention. 


This is not a discussion of requirements for respirators, but the following provides information on how seriously exposure to particulate risks is taken by governmental agencies. There has been no mention of LAAS employees using any type of particulate respirators. 

It is unlikely OSHA has checked the type of "cat litter" to which employees and the public are being exposed at LA Animal Services. Dust is also carried by both the employees and pets on clothing and fur, which could expose others, according to experts. 

(See: Osha Regulations On The Use Of Particulate Respirators;  Particulate Respirators Required By Cdc Niosha (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) 


An OSHA check should also be conducted at the Los Angeles Animal Services' Mission shelter, occupied rent-free by Best Friends Animal Society, where LAAS animals are transferred. It is important to determine whether contaminants are accompanying the pets (especially cats) that are moved to this location and the type of cat litter being used at that facility. 


A CPRA was submitted to obtain verified information on the alleged inappropriate product usage and the LAAS first response (12/24/2019) showed the following annual costs for cat litter for thousands of impounded cats:  

  1. Total Cost for the annual period:

 (2018) $7,431.11

 (2019) $8,171.90. 

  1. Brand and type of litterAbsorbs.It- all purpose absorbent - clean, quick, natural earth product 
  1. Total amount of litter purchased each year:

2018 - 1,178 (50 lb. bags)

2019 - 1,273 (50 lb. bags) 

A second CPRA requested copies of the contract and specifics of the purchase of cat litter. The LAAS response was that the General Services Department handles the contract for cat litter. 

However, a CPRA to the GSD brought an immediate response that they have "no contract for cat litter." 

I then requested to see all LAAS invoices showing the purchase of cat litter for 2018 and 2019. 

The large stack of invoices received did not indicate any cat litter was purchased but showed purchases from the City's General Services Department for monthly periods; for example, on March 6, 2018, LAAS ordered $31.17 (5 bags) of ABSORBENT GRANULES FOR OIL SPILLS, 50-LB. BAGS to be shipped to 20655 PLUMMER STREET, CHATSWORTH, CA 91311 (West Valley Animal Shelter).  

On Nov. 1, 2019, a Material Stock Request showed an order for $205.24 (30 bags) ABSORBENT GRANULES FOR OIL SPILLS, 50-LB. BAGS to be shipped to 3201 Lacy St., Los Angeles CA 90031 (North Central Animal Shelter.) 

There was no purchase by LAAS shown for cat litter -- all are for ABSORBENT GRANULES FOR OIL SPILLS. 

In fairness to the General Services Department, it is not their job to determine whether a product is being properly used, but merely to fill the order. However, it would take a lot of oil spills to use thirty 50-lb. bags of granules and the subsequent monthly orders. 


When an employee or volunteer at a Los Angeles Animal Services' shelter opens a bag of Oil-Dri "Absorbs-it" and dumps it into a large trash container for accessibility, it creates a cloud of dust which settles all around it, including on the employee. Some of these containers are in areas accessible to the public.  

Following are comments by experts regarding the use of any clay cat litter: 

The Nest discusses, "What is a Healthy Cat Litter? by providing some basic differences and concerns. The first is "dust" and the fact that cats dig and paw a lot in any type of cat litter and the dust will fly up. This means that both anyone working with the cats (which are in huge numbers in LAAS shelters) and the cat itself "gets a lungful of the stuff" and also it will get on the cat's fur, where grooming will cause it to be ingested by the animal.  

The article states that, "Choosing less dusty litter reduces the chance that your cat will develop lung and respiratory infections." We can't forget that the human working with the cat is also inadvertently breathing in the dust while scooping or replenishing the litter. Other articles suggest that silica can build up in human lungs. 

The article also advises that silica litters can be dangerous if ingested by the cat. 

A Feb. 9, 2019, article by Pets Stack Exchange warns, "Silica litter puts our feline counterparts at risk whenever nature calls. Silica dust can be kicked up and inhaled by both cats and humans. . .. Prolonged exposure to crystalline silica dust has been associated with silicosis (a non-cancerous, but sometimes fatal lung disease), bronchitis and tuberculosis in humans." 

Spillfix.com also claims, ". . .clay absorbent products can pose a dangerous health risk to workers. The dust associated with clay absorbents contains crystalline silica – a known lung carcinogen. By using clay products, workers put themselves at risk for a number of lung diseases," (See case studies: The Top 5 Reasons You Should Stop Using Clay Absorbents.) 

"Like many medical professionals on the pet and human sides of the aisle...we found a staggering number of stories from physicians, veterinarians, and pet parents about the hazards of clay litter," writes Pretty Litter in The Truth About Clay Litter, "Since clay can be found in the natural world, pet parents and manufacturers assumed it'd be a safe potty-box medium. However, the aluminum silicates. . . minerals clay is made of have some problematic traits." 

"In addition to being a natural irritant for people with asthma and other respiratory issues, clay cat litter can lead to toxoplasmosis infection. . .Toxoplasma gondii causes toxoplasmosis. If a pregnant woman is infected, it can lead to birth defects and problems later in life, like blindness or mental disability, according to the CDC.   


GM Barnette has been the head of LA Animal Services for almost ten years and, before that, was associated with humane societies. With so many identified health risks from the use of clay litter and silicates, shouldn't she already have known that the use of an oil absorbent made of "natural clay" would be a toxic hazard to cats and humans in the shelter? Yet, the employees and the public who have trusted her with their safety have been let down. 

Could Brenda Barnette be justifying a betrayal of public confidence with a plan to use the money donated for impounded animals to spay/neuter feral cats and release them in the streets all over the City, in accordance with the City's $1.3 million Environmental Impact Report (EIR)? (Read Los Angeles Citywide Feral Cat-Trap/Neuter/Release Plan: A 'Fix' or a Fraud? 

Another troubling aspect of that plan is that the exact number of alleged sterilizations of feral cats cannot be audited because the animals described are unowned, which leaves us never being certain of how our donated or tax money was spent. 

Both GM Barnette and Councilman Paul Koretz (head of the Personnel and Animal Welfare Committee) have refused to enforce the City's mandatory spay/neuter ordinance for cats (as they have for dogs) and also have rejected any discussion of mandatory microchipping of cats to establish ownership and responsibility. Yet, Barnette decries the increase of cats and kittens coming into the shelter at every Commission meeting. 

If there is no plan to turn off the spigot, do we think the City dumping feral cats in residential and business communities will accomplish any notable reduction in the unplanned breeding and irresponsible ownership that create the steady flow of felines into shelters? 


GM Brenda Barnette needs to clean up the increasing dangers inside Los Angeles Animal Services' shelters -- including the recent surge in serious attacks on her employees and the public. (See: Pit Bull Terrier Brutally Attacks Another LA Animal Services Shelter Employee as Visitors Watch) If she cannot even get the cat litter issue right, can she be entrusted with the health and safety of 4 million residents and their pets in this city? 

 And, who in City government is overseeing Barnette's mismanagement -- Mayor Eric Garcetti? Councilman Paul Koretz? City Attorney Mike Feuer? Controller Ron Galperin? These are elected LA officials to hold responsible professionally and personally for the toxic and dangerous conditions being ignored at LA Animal Services' shelters.                                                            


(Phyllis M. Daugherty is a former City of LA employee and a contributor to CityWatch.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.