"Today, Tennessee Walking Horses are known throughout the industry
as the breed that shows abused and tortured horses."

~ Jim Heird, Ph.D., Do Right By The Horse, February 2010

"If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity,
you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men."

~ St. Francis of Assisi

Thursday, June 21, 2012

RESEARCH - How GC/MS Technology Works

So I constantly hear all the crap the sore horse industry is spewing about how all those chemicals found on those horses was just fly spray and shampoo.  Then things get even STUPIDER on the chats...people are saying that maybe their hand lotion might get on the horse's pastern, or they might be walking past someone filling up their lawn mower with gas and the particles in the air will get on the horse's pasterns and that will show up.


Obviously, there is an extreme misconception about how GC/MS technology works.  And of course, no one wants to research it because they don't want concrete confirmation that yes, soring is still going on.  So I'm going to talk about it here.  And here's the thing, folks: I used to work for environmental consulting and construction.  I used to have to write reports that included GC/MS results and explanations of how the samples are taken and how the testing is done in the lab.  This is not new technology--it's been around for a LONG time, and the government and the private sector use it in lots of areas.  In environmental consulting and construction, it's used to test soil, air, water, or other material for asbestos, lead, mercury, TCE, PCE, and all kinds of nasty chemicals that are harmful to humans. A solid sample is taken differently than an air sample, and a liquid/water sample is taken differently than both of those.  Now you can read about it on places like this website, but here I'm going to talk about it in plain terms so everyone can understand.

First, to point out, the USDA spent a few years establishing a baseline first.  They went to FOSH and NWHA shows, asked the exhibitors to prepare their horses as usual (with fly spray and shampoo and the like).  Apparently they also went to non-gaited breed shows as well, but I'm not sure on that.  These wee regular shows, just like anywhere else.  Pesticides were used on the grasses, lawns were mowed, water trucks were used in the arena, all the usual stuff was there that you'll find at any horse show.  But most important is this:


So where does that leave the fly spray and shampoo issue?

Well, this is how the GC/MS works.

When a swab is taken, it must be taken with a specific procedure.  You must be trained in how to handle the swabbing kit.  It can be done in the open air because it is ONLY TESTING FOR SOLIDS.  Therefore, it is NOT going to pick up on fuel particles in the air if someone walks their horse by a can of fuel.  Unless they are literally standing and holding the swab over the can as the liquid is being poured into gas mower, then there is no way the swab can be contaminated by air or liquid particles.  Now of course, if someone drops their swab on the ground, they can't just pick it up and reuse it--they have to use a new one.  Which of course, we want.  I certainly wouldn't want a surgeon to drop his needle while he's stitching me up and then reuse it, for the same reason: contamination.

Then the swabs are correctly packaged to prevent contamination and included with their chain of custody forms (which includes the date, time, location, weather condition, person who performed the swab, and other pertinent info) and sent to the lab.  Any package received by the lab that has been broken or tampered with is rejected.

Next, samples are taken from the swabs and are put in the GC/MS machine.  This is done in a clean lab in a controlled environment.  I won't go into how the machine does everything here because it's kinda complicated, but it involves heating the samples to break up the solid particles.  Then a printout is made of all the substances found in the sample.  These substances are literally broken down to the tiniest, minute microbe.  We know what chemicals are found in shampoo and fly spray, so the person who is trained to read the printout can eliminate substances found in shampoo and fly spray.  Then the substances left behind are checked to see if they are caustic.

Now there are levels of toxicity of substances.  Some are toxic when even a little bit is put on, some take quite a lot to become caustic.  So the level of toxicity can also be confirmed by the amount of micrograms that come back from the test.  So anything that shows up under that substance's level of toxicity can be ruled out.

Now, of all the swab test results that came out, especially the 52 out of 52 horses at the Celebration last year, ALL of those chemicals are considered caustic and not safe for use on skin.  They were also at levels that are unsafe to use.

Now, there are chemicals in some fly sprays and cleaners that are also considered caustic.  For example, a complaint was made by someone that they got a ticket for having the chemical piperonyl butoide on their horse.  So, here's the National Pesticide Information Center fact sheet about it.  Note that in the table Toxicity Category, when used on the skin it is corrosive.  Obviously on this particular horse, piperonyl butoide was found at toxic levels.  So my question is this: what in the world are you doing having high levels of this chemical on your horse's pasterns?  Most people don't stand there and coat their horse in fly spray on their pasterns.  In fact, most people I see just mist the fly spray over the horse's legs.  It seems that this horse had high levels for other reasons.

Let's not forget that the industry uses household chemicals to sore their horses, such as Gojo, Kopertox, Kwik Cleen, and various other products that are not to be used for purposes other than what is printed on the labels.  That's also what the GC/MS is picking up on.  Now the machine isn't smart enough to say hey, that guy's using Gojo!  But the person reading it can certainly see the elements of diesel fuel, which is used in Gojo--that's how it cleans the grease and gunk off your hands, combined with pumice.

So basically, it comes down to this: the GC/MS will give a printout of all the substances it will find, safe or not.  Then, the person reading the printout will determine what substances are considered toxic and what levels the substances are showing up at to find out if a toxic amount is being used.  The machine does not lie, and it's very difficult to mess up taking the swabs and understanding the results.

So, after all of that, if you're still worried about having fly spray or shampoo on your horses' legs, then worry not: buy organic fly spray and shampoo, and only use those shampoos on show days.  Natural-based color enhancing shampoos are also safe.  And as far as I know, flies don't congregate around horses' pasterns, so if you are STILL worried, don't put fly spray on his pasterns--just wipe fly spray on his legs and knees with a cloth. Viola!  Problem solved!

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