EDF Health

Heavy metals in food: Carrageenan as an example of the need to improve ingredient quality

Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director, and Maricel Maffini, Ph.D., Independent Consultant.

Arsenic, cadmium and lead levels in carrageenan varied widely but were within international standards. This is not reassuring since current specifications for the heavy metals are inadequate. Food manufacturers can and should set tighter limits to better protect their customers. Consumers, especially those buying from internet-only retailers, need to ask the ingredient supplier how much of the heavy metals is acceptable.

In the fall of 2013, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) bought 10 samples of carrageenan from 5 companies sold through internet-only retailers to test for three heavy metals – lead, arsenic (total and inorganic), and cadmium. The agency published the results on its combination metals testing webpage in September 2016.

Each of these metals are carcinogens. In addition, lead and inorganic arsenic are widely acknowledged as harming children’s brain development even at low levels of exposure. EDF found that more than one million children consume lead in amounts that exceeds the maximum exposure level set by FDA in 1993, a level that subsequent research shows is of great risk to children’s health. Further, recent research has strengthened evidence of the relationship between low levels of lead exposure in adults and cardiovascular deaths. In 2011, the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) took the extraordinary step of withdrawing its previous tolerable intake level for lead because it could not determine a safe level of exposure for children.

In light of these risks, we must make every effort to reduce the levels of these heavy metals in food to the greatest extent possible – without undermining other food safety measures or compromising quality. A key step to success is examining the levels of heavy metals in all ingredients used to make a food since the risk is based on the cumulative exposure – even if the amounts in individual additives are small. With this in mind, we revisited FDA’s analysis of carrageenan.

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Public pressure gets the job done: South Korea passes new chemicals law, K-REACH

Alissa Sasso is a Chemicals Policy Fellow.

Two years ago, accidental use of a chemical in humidifiers in South Korea tragically took the lives of 18 people and captured national headlines. Nearly a year later another fatal accident occurred at a chemical plant, this time injuring thousands of people in the surrounding area as well.

Meanwhile, the South Korean National Assembly was negotiating a new comprehensive chemicals bill that some observers saw as leaning in favor of the business interests at the table. The tragedies brought the public spotlight to the issue and changed the political dynamic and policy outcome.  With the public calling for greater control over toxic chemicals, legislators reinstated many of the health-protective requirements that had been dropped due to industry pressure (Chemical Watch, subscription required). And on April 30th, 2013, the Assembly passed the “Act on the Registration and Evaluation of Chemicals”, known as “Korea REACH” or simply “K-REACH” (Chemical Watch, subscription required).  Read More »

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Despite TSCA-like law, there is movement down under on chemical safety

Alissa Sasso is a Chemicals Policy Fellow.

Australia’s chemical law, dating back to 1989, in many ways resembles the U.S. Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976 (TSCA).   Australia, however, has begun taking steps to address tens of thousands of existing chemicals at a scale that has not been taken in the U.S.  These steps come in the wake of government and stakeholder recognition that Australia’s TSCA-like approach to chemicals management is inadequate and in need of revision.  Read More »

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Onwards and upwards: South Korea and Turkey advance their REACH-like policies

Alissa Sasso is a Chemicals Policy Fellow. Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

This summer we saw a flurry of activity surrounding our own chemical safety legislation, the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA); international reform efforts have been just as busy. In this blog post, we’ll discuss recent developments in toxic chemicals management in South Korea and Turkey. As apparent in our recent post on new Chinese regulations, these developments are notable because of their alignment with the EU’s REACH legislation.  Read More »

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China’s strengthened chemicals program looks increasingly like REACH

Alissa Sasso is a Chemicals Policy Fellow. Richard Denison, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist.

China is on a steady path toward improved chemicals management, one that in many ways  increasingly resembles the policies of the European Union’s REACH regulation.  On July 11th, China’s State Administration of Work Safety (SAWS) finalized and published its “Measures for the Administration of the Registration of Hazardous Substances,” which became effective August 1st.  The new rule applies to all existing substances in China’s Catalogue of Hazardous Chemicals and is aimed at increasing the effectiveness of the primary legislation on the management of hazardous chemicals, known as Decree 591.  

The new rule, an update of the initial rule from 2002, complements earlier regulatory steps taken to address new chemicals.  A description of the major changes to the registration process, compiled by the consulting group REACH24H, is available here.  Below we’ve highlighted and provided a summary of the most significant requirements under the new Measures (and those most relevant to the U.S. chemical industry):

  • Extension to importers
  • Enhanced data requirements
  • Expansion of chemicals subject to registration

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New Ways in the Ancient World: Japan and China advance their chemicals policies

Allison Tracy is a Chemicals Policy Fellow.

This isn’t the first time on this blog that we’ve observed that chemicals reform is popping up all over the world.  Whatever their strengths and shortcomings, the 1999 amendments to the Canadian Environmental Protection Act and the European Union’s REACH Regulation got the ball rolling.  The momentum of chemicals reform is reaching around the globe as governments pay more attention to the risks posed by chemicals.  In this post, we will focus on recent developments in Japan and China.

Japan and China are two of the U.S.’s top competitors, so it’s noteworthy that they have not allowed themselves to fall behind in chemicals management.  Why are they expanding their chemicals regulations?  Do they know something we don’t?  Read More »

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