EDF Health

House Oversight Committee draws renewed attention to heavy metals in baby food and calls for FDA to act

Tom Neltner, J.D. is the Chemicals Policy Director.

Last week, the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy released an important report summarizing baby food testing data submitted by four companies (Beech-Nut, Gerber, Happy Family, and Earth’s Best), finding that “baby foods are tainted with dangerous levels of arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury.” These heavy metals are widely recognized as harming children’s brain development.

The report found that three of the four companies (all but Gerber) used ingredients that had exceeded limits set in their internal standards. Additionally, the committee cited “grave concerns” that three other companies (Walmart, Plum, and Sprout) did not provide their internal standards and testing results in response to the legitimate request by the House Committee. Their lack of transparency undermines credibility and trust.

Due to the alarming nature of these findings about a food marketed as safe and healthy for infants and toddlers, the report garnered significant attention and has prompted calls for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and food manufacturers to do more on this issue.

Importantly, the report provides new insights into industry decision-making processes, highlights the need for greater oversight, and adds urgency to EDF’s ongoing efforts to reduce heavy metals in food.

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EPA’s three new service line notices: Critical to transparency and accelerating lead pipe replacement

Tom Neltner, J.D. is the Chemicals Policy Director

This is the second in a series of blogs evaluating various aspects of EPA’s December 2020 revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) and what they may mean for accelerating lead service line (LSL) replacements. The blogs cover: 1) new service line inventory; 2) three new LSL notices; 3) environmental justice implications; 4) communicating health effects of lead; 5) economic implications; and 6) sampling and trigger/action level.

Note that President Biden’s Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis directs agencies to review the former administration’s regulations and actions, including the Lead and Copper Rule. 

Three new notices required by the revised LCR from water systems to people with known or potential LSLs provide critical opportunities to build public support for LSL replacement by helping individuals better understand their situation and specific actions they should take. However, we recognize that, like all notices, many people may simply ignore them, especially if only delivered as an insert to a monthly or quarterly bill. We anticipate that notices will be most effective when coupled with broader outreach efforts and requirements that property owners share the notice with potential buyers and tenants.

As explained in a previous blog on the new service line inventories, water systems must assign all service lines to one of four categories. The rule treats three categories – “Lead,” “Galvanized Requiring Replacement,” and “Lead Status Unknown” – as known or potential service lines containing lead. People receiving water from a service line in any of these three categories must receive three new types of notices designed to prompt them to take steps to address the risk of lead in their drinking water pursuant to 40 CFR § 141.85(e) to (g). The three types of notices are:

  1. An annual notice;
  2. A notice of disturbance to service line; and
  3. A notice if trigger or action levels exceeded.

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Posted in Drinking Water, EPA, Health Policy, lead, Public Health, Regulation, States / Tagged , , , | Comments are closed

EPA’s new service line inventory: The good, the bad, and the absurd

Tom Neltner, J.D. is the Chemicals Policy Director

This is the first in a series of blogs evaluating various aspects of EPA’s December 2020 revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) and what they may mean for accelerating lead service line (LSL) replacements. The blogs cover: 1) the new service line inventory; 2) three new LSL notices; 3) environmental justice implications; 4) communicating health effects of lead; 5) economic implications; and 6) sampling and trigger/action level. 

Note that President Biden’s Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis directs agencies to review the former administration’s regulations and actions, including the Lead and Copper Rule. 

The backbone of the revised LCR is a new service line inventory[1] that all public water systems, whether large or small, rural or urban, must develop by January 2024 unless they can demonstrate that they have no LSLs. If properly designed and implemented, the inventory should transform how utilities, communities and states approach LSLs by moving from rough estimates to a data-driven approach that allows water systems to identify what is known and not known about the service lines, communicate that information to the public, and establish LSL replacement priorities.

Unfortunately, EPA has included an unfortunate and absurd new detail in the inventory that requires systems to categorize service lines that contain a two-foot piece of lead pipe, often known as a gooseneck, as “Non-lead.” We anticipate that the absurdity of calling a lead pipe “Non-lead” will undermine the inventory’s credibility and effectiveness.

What is the new service line inventory and how is it used?

By January 2024, water systems must submit a service line inventory to the state and make it publicly accessible pursuant to 40 CFR § 141.84(a). To develop the inventory, they must assign all service lines, regardless of ownership, for the portions on public or private property to one of four categories:

  1. Lead: where a portion of the service line is made of lead (excluding lead connectors, such as goosenecks, as explained below). We presume this includes lead-lined pipe.
  2. Galvanized Requiring Replacement: where a portion of the service line is galvanized iron or steel.[2] If the system can determine that the galvanized pipe was never downstream of an LSL (or lead connector, such as a gooseneck[3]), then it is essentially a galvanized pipe not requiring replacement and can be categorized as “Non-lead.”
  3. Non-lead: where the line is determined not to be “Lead” or “Galvanized Requiring Replacement” (see discussion below for lead connectors). Our understanding is that systems could assume service lines installed after the 1986 federal ban on lead pipe are “Non-Lead.”
  4. Lead Status Unknown: where it has not been determined if the service line met the SDWA Section 1417 definition of “Lead-free” at 42 U.S.C. § 300g-6. We presume this means that solder or flux must be less than 0.2% lead and other wetted surfaces must be less than 8% from 1986 to 2013 and less than 0.25% for 2014 to present.[4]

Under these requirements, a service line is classified as an LSL if it is in the “Lead” or “Galvanized Requiring Replacement” categories.[5]

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Getting lead out of brass and bronze food equipment

Tom Neltner, J.D. is the Chemicals Policy Director.

Many people may not be aware that lead is still added to brass and bronze used to make drinking water faucets and food equipment like coffee brewers and more. This is problematic because lead can leach into the water and beverages from the equipment – putting consumers at risk. As part of EDF’s efforts to reduce exposure to lead from all sources, we have advocated to stop this use of the heavy metal.

Last June, our three-year effort yielded results when the committee responsible for the national consensus standard for plumbing devices, known as NSF/ANSI/CAN 61, made its lead leaching standard five times more protective for endpoint devices – from 5 to 1 parts per billion. Endpoint devices are faucets, drinking water fountains and other devices installed within the last one liter of water distribution systems in a building. For all other plumbing devices, lead is limited to the amount added to the device’s material, 2500 parts per million (ppm) [1], and leaching limit does not apply.

This fall, we turned our attention to lead leaching into drinking water from food equipment such as ice machines, coffee brewers, teapots, and water heaters. We have submitted petitions to NSF International and to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asking them to prohibit use of lead in brass and bronze commonly used in these devices.

For food equipment, we leveraged the more protective safety standards for food contact substances in the Food Additives Amendment of 1958. These standards require that additives not be used unless there is a reasonable certainty of no harm from their intended use after taking into account related substances in the diet. It also prohibits use of carcinogens. Lead is unsafe under both these restrictions because it is a carcinogen and no safe threshold has been found for lead in the blood to prevent neurologic development harm in children and heart disease in adults.

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It’s time to eliminate lead from tin coating and solder on metal food cans

Tom Neltner, J.D. is the Chemicals Policy Director.

In October 2019, we reported finding canned foods had a surprising number of samples with lead based on the Food and Drug Administration’s testing results. Almost half of the 242 samples had detectable lead, including a staggering 98% of 70 canned fruit samples.

We suspect that the high lead detection rates are a result of lead in the tin – either added to make an alloy or as a contaminant – used to coat the steel or join steel pieces together in the cans. This lead can then leach from the coating or solder into the food. Light-colored fruits and fruit juices would be more likely to have lead contamination based on a report indicating they are commonly packaged in tin-coated steel cans without a synthetic coating on the inside isolating the food from the tin. The lead detections in the other canned products in FDA’s study could have resulted from flawed synthetic coatings.

In December 2020, EDF and ten health, consumer, and environmental groups[1] petitioned FDA to ban the use of lead in food contact materials such as tin. We also included that FDA should presume that lead was intentionally used when levels in food contact materials are at or above 100 parts per million (ppm) and provided an option for the agency to specifically authorize the use only if:

  • The part of the food contact article that contains added lead does not contact food under intended conditions of use; or
  • No lead migrates into food from the food contact article under intended conditions of use.

Our petition demonstrates that, because lead is a carcinogen that is unsafe at any level in the blood, its use in tin coatings and solder for food cans should be expressly prohibited. The agency posted the petition for public comment and must make a decision how to proceed by June 2021. There is no deadline for comments, but it is best to submit them by April 1 so they can influence the agency’s decision.

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Implications of Home Depot’s lead-based paint settlement and $20 million penalty

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director.

In January 2017, the outgoing Obama Administration undertook a criminal investigation of Home Depot for alleged violations of the Lead-Safe Renovation, Repair and Painting (RRP) Rule. Last month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) signed a proposed civil consent decree with Home Depot committing the company to establishing a comprehensive set of detailed procedures designed to ensure compliance with the rules and protect customers from lead poisoning.  The company also paid a fine of more than $20 million in civil penalties – more than any other under the Toxic Substances Control Act.

A federal court will consider accepting the proposed consent decree after reviewing public comments received by January 20, 2021.

The proposed consent decree is important because it:

  • Serves as a reminder that companies that subcontract work to others are responsible for complying with the RRP rule; and
  • Provides a comprehensive template for other retailers and general contractors to adopt to ensure compliance.

The settlement also alerts us of troublesome implications of a new federal policy that limits violators’ ability to direct some of the fines to affected communities for activities such as lead poisoning prevention projects.

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