Toxic Lead Lurking in Baby Food? What You Need to Know

The Environmental Defense Fund released a study in June, 2017, showing the presence of detectable levels of lead in a surprising number of baby food samples tested over a decade-long period.

For the study, the EDF evaluated data collected by the FDA between 2003 and 2013. They collected 2,164 baby food samples and found that:

  • 89% of grape juice samples contained detectable levels of lead
  • 86% of sweet potato samples contained detectable levels of lead
  • 47% of teething biscuit samples contained detectable levels of lead
  • In total, about 20% of baby food samples were found to contain detectable levels of lead

The group said in the report:

“Eight types of baby foods had detectable lead in more than 40 percent of samples. Baby food versions of apple and grape juices and carrots had more samples with detectable lead than the regular versions.”

Study author Tom Neltner, of the EDF, said:

“The levels we found were relatively low, but when you add them up — with all the foods children eat … it’s significant.”

None of the samples exceeded the FDA’s allowable level of lead, which is good, but does it really matter? Many argue that there is no “safe” level of lead exposure, and the agency is in the process of reviewing its standards over concern that they don’t reflect the latest science about the potential health risks.

Exposure to Lead can be Quite Serious

Lead poisoning in children is extremely serious. It most often occurs when the heavy metal builds up in the body over time, often months or years. Even small amounts can cause severe and irreversible effects on a child’s mental and physical development. So it’s important to consider lead exposure, especially since it is present in small amounts everywhere – not just in baby food.

Source: The Sacramento Bee

Pediatrician Jennifer Lowry, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Environmental Health, said:

“The levels we found were relatively low, but when you add them up — with all the foods children eat … it’s significant.”

She added that the FDA has “old standards… and they haven’t been updated in decades.”

Lead Standards Need Some Updating

In 2012, the CDC updated its guidance on lead in children. Currently, it considers 5 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood to be high in children. But, again, there is no safe level of lead. In fact, the CDC concluded that:

“Protecting children from exposure to lead is important to lifelong good health. No safe blood lead level in children has been identified. Even low levels of lead in blood have been shown to affect IQ, ability to pay attention, and academic achievement. And effects of lead exposure cannot be corrected.”

Pediatricians say children should eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, as this helps minimize the risk from a single food. Additionally, a diet high in iron, calcium, and vitamin C can limit the absorption of lead.

The problem of lead in grape juice is easy solvable: the American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended that children under 1 should not drink any juice, and fruit juice for children of any age is unnecessary. Whole fruit is better, nutritionally.

What is unclear is how lead got into the products tested. If it comes from the soil, it can be absorbed by crops. If that’s the case, the lead “cannot simply be removed,” the FDA says in one of its fact sheets. But that’s worrisome, because the veggies contained the highest levels of lead.

The Environmental Defense Fund writes:

“Eight types of baby foods had detectable lead in more than 40 percent of samples. Baby food versions of apple and grape juices and carrots had more samples with detectable lead than the regular versions.”

Just 4% of the baby cereals contained lead.

Sarah Vogel, vice president of EDF’s health program, said:

“The only thing parents can do right now is to reach out to their favorite brands and ask them what they are doing (to ensure products are lead-free).”

Lead paint is the #1 source of lead exposure in children, followed by water, then food.

The city of Flint, Michigan, has been wrestling with extremely high lead levels in its drinking water for nearly 2 years now, and in 2015 a state of emergency was declared over high levels of lead in children’s blood. However, in the case of Flint, the high lead levels occurred after the city switched its water source, which corroded pipes.

It’s clear that we need to tackle this issue on a larger scale to reduce exposure to this toxic heavy metal – especially for children.


[1] NPR

[2] NBC News

The Sacramento Bee

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Group of Senators Push for Ban of the Toxic Pesticide Chlorpyrifos

A group of senators introduced a bill on July 25, 2017 in the hopes of banning Chlorpyrifos, a toxic pesticide implicated in the poisonings of farm workers. Introduced by Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico, the bill challenges President Trump’s efforts to loosen environmental regulations. [1]

Chlorpyrifos Ban and Recent History

  • In April 2017, the EPA said it would not ban chlorpyrifos, despite the agency’s own chemical safety experts, who had recommended under the Obama administration that the pesticide be permanently banned from agricultural use nationwide, due to the dangers it poses to farm workers and young children.
  • In late 2016, the EPA concluded that chlorpyrifos exposure was causing potentially significant health issues, including learning and memory declines, especially among farm workers and young children.
  • On July 18, 2017, a federal appeals court denied a petition by green groups to force the EPA to ban chlorpyrifos. [2]

Several manufacturers produce chlorpyrifos, including Dow Chemical. It is listed as a neurotoxin by the CDC’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

EPA: 97% of Endangered Species Threatened By 2 Pesticides, Including Chlorpyrifos

According to Philip Landrigan, a pediatrician who is dean for global health at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, the toxicity of chlorpyrifos was proven “to damage the brains of children, especially those of fetuses in the womb” in 3 long-term, independently-funded studies “beyond a shadow of a doubt.”

Toxic residues of chlorpyrifos are regularly found on fruits and vegetables, including under the peels of oranges and other citrus fruits, as well as in the flesh of melons under the rind. Simply washing a piece of fruit before eating it is not enough to remove the pesticide. [2]

The EPA’s own scientists concluded that the amount of chlorpyrifos ingested by young children could exceed safety levels by 140 times.

The agency’s failure to ban chlorpyrifos could be construed as criminal, considering it is illegal under federal law to apply pesticides to food crops if the EPA can’t prove that they can be used safely.

Under the bill, the EPA would be required to conduct a broad review of the uses of chlorpyrifos to determine which groups are most vulnerable to the toxin. Should that review conclude that people are being exposed to harmful levels of the pesticide, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt would be forced to take “appropriate regulatory action” within 3 months by either suspending or revoking chlorpyrifos’ registration, or lowering the amount that can be legally applied. [1]

Udall stated:

“Congress must act because Administrator Pruitt has shown that he won’t.”

Senators Ben Cardin of Maryland, Kamala Harris of California, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Richard Durbin of Illinois and Ed Markey of Massachusetts are co-sponsoring the piece of legislation. [1]


[1] Reuters

[2] National Resources Defense Council

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