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.

Sources:

[1] NPR

[2] NBC News

The Sacramento Bee


Storable Food


Chemicals Banned in Kids’ Toys Found in Mac and Cheese

Boxed macaroni and cheese is often a favorite food among youngsters, but a recent study suggests the packaged food contains dangerous, endocrine-disrupting chemicals that have been banned in toys: phthalates. [1]

Phthalates are a group of toxic additives in plastics. They’re used to make plastics soft and flexible, and are commonly found in artificial fragrances, inks, coatings, adhesives, and other consumer and industrial products, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) explains.

These chemicals are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in equipment and materials for food handling, processing, and packaging. Because of this, phthalates often wind up in high-fat, highly-processed foods.

The Coalition for Safer Food Processing & Packaging – which includes the NRDC – recently sent a small sample of mac and cheese and other popular cheese-food items for laboratory testing, and received some unsettling results.

Phthalates were found in 10 varieties of macaroni and cheese, including 8 out of 9 Kraft products. [2]

It’s Time to Remove Phthalates from Food Products

The coalition believes the federal government should step in to regulate and ultimately ban phthalates, but since that is unlikely to happen anytime soon, the onus is on Kraft Heinz to remove phthalates from its food products.

Kraft not only has the largest market for powdered cheese in the industry, but the company has taken action in the past to remove unsafe ingredients from its products (largely due to increasing consumer pressure). For example, in 2016, the company quietly removed artificial dyes from its Mac & Cheese recipe and replaced them with paprika, annatto, and turmeric.

In total, the coalition tested 30 samples – 10 cheese powder, 5 sliced cheese, and 15 natural cheese samples – and 29 of them were found to contain phthalates. Some of the products tested were labeled organic. The highest levels of phthalates were found in the powdered macaroni and cheese samples.

Mike Belliveau, the executive director of the Environmental Health Strategy Center, said:

“The phthalates concentrations in powder from mac and cheese mixes were more than 4 times higher than in block cheese and other natural cheeses like shredded cheese, string cheese, and cottage cheese.” [3]

These chemicals are accidentally making their way into the food system, via processing and packaging. It’s not that Kraft workers are standing over giant vats of powdered cheese, dumping phthalates into them. The key to keeping dangerous substances out of the bellies of hungry kiddos is to ensure safer food processing and packaging methods are in place. [2]

The European Union (EU) has already taken the crucial step of banning phthalates in food contact materials.

Coalition member Peter Lehner said in a statement:

“Parents and their children should not have to wait longer to know that their food does not contain toxic chemicals. We are asking manufacturers to act now.”

No word from Kraft Heinz just yet.

Tom Neltner, the chemicals policy director for the Environmental Defense Fund, said:

“A chemical is not allowed in food unless there is a reasonable certainty it will cause no harm. We don’t think the FDA can say there is a reasonable certainty of no harm.” [3]

Phthalate Dangers

Once you consume phthalates, they can travel through your bloodstream to your organs. Prenatal phthalate exposure is especially concerning, since the chemicals can easily cross from the mother’s body into the placenta. Phthalates can also wind up in breast milk. [1]

Researchers have linked prenatal phthalate exposure to impaired neurological development in children, lower IQ, learning and memory impairment, and antisocial behavior. Boys that are exposed to phthalates in-utero run the risk of genital defects.

In 2008, Congress prohibited the use of DEHP, a chemical known to negatively affect the development of the testicles and the production of normal sperm in young animals, in toys and childcare products. It is considered a “gender-bending” chemical because it can cause males of all species to adopt more female traits.

In 2015, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) proposed a ban on several additional phthalates used in toys and other children’s products, but the proposal has yet to be finalized.

A report released in late 2015 showed that more than 81% of 164 dollar-store products tested contained concerning levels of at least 1 toxic chemical. Everything from toys to jewelry, to personal care products contained chemicals that were carcinogenic, or otherwise hazardous.

Sources:

[1] Natural Resources Defense Council

[2] New York Daily News

[3] Popsugar


Storable Food


EPA Delays Rule That Would Help Prevent Pesticide Poisoning

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has delayed a safety rule aimed at ensuring that pesticides (which are linked to human health problems) are safely applied by adult agricultural workers. This, just days after 50 farm workers in California were sickened by pesticide poisoning. [1]

The Certification of Pesticide Applications safety rule had been scheduled to go into effect on March, 2017, but the EPA has proposed delaying it until May, 2018. The rule would require that workers be 18 years old to apply atrazine, chlorpyrifos, and other restricted-use pesticides for agricultural use. In addition, the rule would enforce other protections for workers applying pesticides out in the field.

Source: U.S. Geological Survey

The public was given less than a week to comment on the EPA’s proposed delay, which falls short of the 30 days federal agencies traditionally give for open comment periods, according to Colin O’Neil, the agriculture policy director at Environmental Working Group (EWG).

“In general, federal agencies normally hold open comment periods ranging from 30 to 60 days and in certain circumstances, when the issue is complex or the rule-making is complex, they extend it up to 180 days. It’s nearly unheard of, and very unprecedented, for agencies to have such short public comment periods.”

O’Neil’s fear: That the move sets a precedent for future public comment solicitations.

“This has an alarming tone for how the EPA under the Trump administration plans to solicit public comments and shows how the brazen disregard for the public’s input on issues important to parents, families, and kids’ health.”

The EPA says that “the agency has determined that a full 30-day comment period is impractical, unnecessary, and contrary to the public interest.”

Pesticide Dangers – Atrazine and Chlorpyrifos

Atrazine is one of the most commonly-applied pesticide in the United States. It’s mainly applied to corn, and is a known hormone disruptor that is linked to decreased fetal development, and increased risk of miscarriage and abdominal defects. It is also a possible carcinogen, according to the Pesticide Action Network.

Chlorpyrifos is similar to atrazine, but is mainly applied to oranges, apples, and other fruits. It attacks the nervous system, and short-term exposure can cause weakness, nausea, and headaches. Exposure to the pesticide over longer periods can lead to neurodevelopmental issues, lower IQ among children, and can act as an endocrine disruptor.

The Obama administration mulled banning chlorpyrifos, but Trump’s EPA has rejected calls to ban it outright, citing a need to “provide regulation certainty to the thousands of American farms that rely on chlorpyrifos.”

The Need for more Research and Safety Protocols

There is currently no minimum age to how old farmworkers must be to apply pesticides, and it’s a downright crime. Research has shown that children who live near pesticides applied to soy – including chlorpyrifos – suffer serious genetic damage. Chlorpyrifos has also been linked to brain disorders in children.

O’Neil said:

“For the first time, EPA was going to make sure that kids and youths are not applying restricted-use pesticides. We felt it was alarming and appalling that the Trump administration would put aside health and safety in further delaying this important rule aimed at protecting farmworkers and young Americans from dangerous pesticides.”

Restricted-use pesticides are defined by the EPA as those with the “potential to cause unreasonable adverse effects to the environment and injury to applicators or bystanders without added restrictions.” [2]

By law, anyone who applies restricted-use pesticides must complete safety training. The proposed rule would have required workers who use the pesticides to be re-trained every 5 years, as well as to “verify the identity of persons seeking certification.”

In early May, more than 50 farmworkers in Bakersfield, California, were sickened when a nearby mandarin orchard was sprayed with a chlorpyrifos-based pesticide. A dozen farmworkers sought medical attention, but the others left before medical personnel and local authorities arrived. Officials believe they may have left because they were undocumented workers. [1]

Jeannie Economos, the project coordinator for Pesticide Safety and Environmental Health at the Farmworker Association of Florida, said:

“We had farmworkers tell us outright that their contractors or their supervisors will tell them ‘if you complain, I’m going to turn you into immigration. Whether they would or they won’t isn’t the point, but it’s enough of an intimidation and threat to the farmworkers to not stand up for their rights.”

Sources:

[1] Think Progress

[2] Mother Jones

U.S. Geological Survey


Storable Food