Read NEAVS' science paper 'Review of Evidence of Environmental Impacts of Animal Research and Testing,' published in 'Environments,' here.
Millions of animals are bred, used, and ultimately disposed of as dangerous or potentially dangerous waste in research and toxicity testing. Estimates for global annual use in research and testing are variable, with the most comprehensive estimates ranging from 115.3 million to 126.9 million non-human vertebrate animals (1,2). Both estimates are considered conservative.
According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare, “A research animal facility generates a significant amount of waste that must be removed and disposed of on a regular, frequent basis (3).” Animal research involves the production, use, and/or discarding of materials and supplies such as food, caging (including disposable caging), chemicals, excrement, bedding, waste feed, needles, syringes, unused or expired medications and drugs, and other supplies and equipment. Animal use in research and testing contributes to air and water pollution; biodiversity and public health concerns; and the release of wastes, including hazardous, chemical, pathogenic, and pharmaceutical wastes, into the environment.
The use of more predictive non-animal research and testing methods helps to reduce or completely eliminate many of these sources of environmental waste and harm.
“NEAVS is committed to challenging the use of animals in research, testing, and science education at every front. It is an outdated method of science that, along with the enormous and destructive amounts of biological and chemical waste that it generates, needs itself to be buried. Animal research is not only hazardous waste, it is also a hazard to human health breakthroughs and a waste of precious lives, dollars, and time.”
-NEAVS President Theodora Capaldo, EdD
Sources of environmental harm include:
- Keeping animals for research and testing has an environmental impact – for example, in 18 months from 2011 to 2013 waste collection reports from the NIH Division of Intramural Research Laboratories indicate that just these labs produced over 1.5 million pounds of animal bedding, excrement, and excess food waste (4). That’s equal to the amount of waste produced by 637 people in the same time-period. Another facility housing a Novartis Pharmaceutical laboratory produced nearly 15 tons of animal waste in one year alone (June 2011 to 2012) (5).
- Large amounts of food are required for animals in research – contributing to the environmental harms associated with agriculture. NIH research labs in Maryland spent more than half a million dollars on food for the animals for just over 18 months in 2012 and 2013 (6).
- A vast array of chemicals – some with unknown dangers – is involved in every step of animal research and testing, including chemicals for sanitation, disinfection, sterilization, animal care, analgesia, anesthesia, euthanasia, and research and testing procedures.
- Millions of animal bodies, many of which are contaminated with toxic or hazardous chemicals, viruses, infectious diseases, etc., are discarded after use in research and testing every year. These carcasses as well as other laboratory waste such as animal excrement, bedding, and excess feed, which may be hazardous or infectious due to exposure of the animals to diseases and chemicals, may not just be toxic or infectious, but may be multi-hazardous and contain a combination of chemical, radioactive, and/or biological hazards.
- In 2011, just 13 of hundreds of facilities engaged in animal research and testing generated approximately 700 tons of hazardous wastes at research related facilities which the Environmental Protection Agency considers large generators (7) - equivalent to the amount of waste 892 people would generate in the same time-period. However, the waste produced by these facilities is all hazardous. These 13 facilities used more than 160,000 monkeys, dogs, cats, guinea pigs, hamsters, pigs, rabbits, and other animals (which excludes the vast majority of animals used in research who are not required to be reported: mice, rats, and birds bred for research, cold-blooded animals, and farmed animals).
- Incineration is the most common disposal method for U.S. laboratories, including at universities. Air pollution is produced by the emission of gases and fine particulate matter resulting from incineration of animal carcasses and laboratory supplies such as bedding that often contain experimental chemicals, drugs, and other toxins. A recent study found that 2.1 million deaths have been associated with human-produced fine particulate matter – a main component of smog (8). In 2010 one incinerator at a research facility in Michigan that uses animals, MPI Research, emitted through incineration approximately 15 pounds of particulate matter along with 164 pounds of carbon monoxide, 195 pounds of nitrogen dioxide or nitric oxide, 1.2 pounds of sulfur dioxide, and 11 pounds of volatile organic compounds. Further, incineration releases global warming pollutants (9). One Boehringer Ingelheim facility in Connecticut, a company that conducts animal research, emitted nearly 18,000 tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gasses in 2011 and over 16,000 tons in 2012 (10).
- Ground water contamination is caused secondarily by soil contamination, and also by the runoff of drug- and toxin-containing animal waste and other debris related to drug and chemical testing.
- The toxic effects of animal research can be long-lasting. Among the reasons several Superfund sites continue to be environmental hazards is animal testing. Twenty years after the experiments, the U.S. Department of Energy and the University of California Davis are still cleaning up an animal research facility that tested the effects of radiation on hundreds of beagles. The land, air, and water were contaminated by toxins such as chloroform, which was used for anesthesia. Fort Detrick Area B Groundwater is a Superfund site in Maryland where “simulant materials used included Bacillus globigii, Serratia marcescens, and Escherichia coli” and test animals were buried in trenches or pits. Among wastes of concern at this site are “animals potentially contaminated by anthrax.” After live pathogens were discovered in medical wastes in part of Area B during clean-up of this site in 2004, clean-up was suspended and contaminants remained buried. This site is within 100 feet of a residential community – potentially contaminating residential wells (11). Not only are these environmental disasters, but the cleanup has cost millions of dollars so far.
- We are in an era of unprecedented threats to biodiversity. The current loss of species is estimated to be 50 to 500 times higher than the natural background rates found in the fossil record. Tens of thousands of monkeys have been captured from the wild and transported to research facilities in the U.S. and other countries over the past few years. This alarming fact raises not only animal welfare concerns but also population and biodiversity concerns. This trade in monkeys also raises concerns about the growth and spread of dangerous pathogens due to conditions during trade.
- Not only does animal research and testing contribute to environmental harm, but final products tested on animals are often less environmentally friendly than those not tested on animals. A NEAVS survey of final cosmetic and household products showed that cruelty-free products are much more likely to be environmentally friendly than non-cruelty-free products (12).
- Additional areas of concern include: international facilities’ environmental harm, radioactive waste, and natural disasters at labs with animals.
1) Taylor, K, N Gordon, G Langley, and W Higgins. “Estimates for Worldwide Laboratory Animal Use in 2005.” Alternatives to Laboratory Animals 36 (3): 327–42.
2) Knight, Andrew. 2011. The Costs and Benefits of Animal Experiments. Basingstoke [etc.]: Palgrave Macmillan.
3) Office of Laboratory Animal Welfare. 2002. “Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee Guidebook”. National Institutes of Health. http://grants.nih.gov/grants/olaw/guidebook.pdf.
4) Department of Health and Human Resources. Received via FOIA request July 2013.
5) Novartis Pharmaceuticals. New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Annual Generator Report: Regulated Medical Waste. Reporting period June 22, 2011 to June 21, 2012. Received via FOIA request July 2013.
6) Department of Health and Human Resources. Received via FOIA request July 2013.
7) Hazardous waste reported here is waste subject to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Amount of waste was obtained via the EPA’s reporting tool EnviroFacts (Environmental Protection Agency 2013).
8) Silva, Raquel A., J. Jason West, Yuqiang Zhang, Susan C. Anenberg, Jean-François Lamarque, Drew T. Shindell, William J. Collins, et al. 2013. “Global Premature Mortality Due to Anthropogenic Outdoor Air Pollution and the Contribution of Past Climate Change.” Environmental Research Letters 8 (3) (September 1): 034005. doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/3/034005.
9) Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. 2013. “Michigan Air Emissions Reporting System Facility Information: MPI Research.” Accessed July 25. http://www.deq.state.mi.us/maers/facility_info.asp?SRN=B2050&EI_Year=2010.
10) Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Bureau of Air Management Engineering and Enforcement Division. “General Permit to Limit Potential to Emit Annual Compliance Certification Form.” Received via open records request in June 2013.
11) US EPA Region 3 Hazardous Site Division. 2013. “Fort Detrick Area B Groundwater, Maryland | Mid-Atlantic Superfund | US EPA.” Accessed July 25. http://www.epa.gov/reg3hwmd/npl/MDD985397249.htm.
12) Determined by comparing the Environmental Working Group’s ratings of products or their chemicals of Leaping Bunny certified products and products that were not certified.