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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New Study Says Lead – Even at Low Levels – is Associated with Risk of Premature Death

Dr. Ananya Roy is Health Scientist and Tom Neltner, J.D. is Chemicals Policy Director

This week, a team of researchers led by Dr. Bruce Lanphear published an important new study on the deadly impact of lead exposure for adults. The researchers examined data on more than 14,000 adults and found that an increase of 1 to 6.7 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood (µg/dL) was significantly associated with an increase in mortality of 37% for all-causes, 70% for cardiovascular, and 108% for ischemic heart disease. The findings remained significant even after they considered and accounted for other factors that could have explained this effect.

This research fills a gap identified by the National Toxicology Program in 2011 in our understanding of the risk of lead exposure at low levels in adults. And it goes further by providing a quantitative relationship crucial to better evaluating the potential economic benefits of various policy options.

The study also had startling estimates about how many people are hurt by lead exposure. The authors estimated that over 400,000 Americans every year die from lead related illnesses – ten times higher than previous assessments. That’s on par with deaths from smoking cigarettes.

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Also posted in Emerging Science, EPA, Health Policy, Health Science, lead / Tagged , , , | Read 3 Responses

A path to leadership: Food packaging product stewardship considerations released

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

Last week, we spent two days at a Chemical Watch food packaging conference with manufacturers and suppliers trying to better understand the process for bringing innovative products to market. They learned what the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other countries will demand and what challenges they need to anticipate. While regulatory aspects are complicated, the attendees often talked about the difficulties of navigating requirements from companies and reacting to consumer expectations about packaging chemicals.

These concerns were timely. On March 9, the Food Safety Alliance for Packaging (FSAP), a part of the Institute of Packaging Professionals, released “Food Packaging Product Stewardship Considerations,” a set of best practices. This marks the first public recognition by a sector of the packaging industry of the expectations and demands from food manufacturers, retailers, and consumers.

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EDF requests extension of illegally and unreasonably short comment period on proposed rule with incomplete docket

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) today submitted a request to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to extend the mere 15-day period EPA has provided for public comments on a proposed modification to a Significant New Use Rule (SNUR).  The proposed SNUR modification was published in the Federal Register just last Thursday (February 8), and stated that comments must be received by February 23.

EPA must comply with its own requirements and provide electronic access to a public file containing all relevant documents prior to commencing at a minimum a 30-day comment period on this proposed rule.

EPA’s own regulations require EPA to provide the public with at least 30 days to comment on SNURs, see 40 CFR 721.160(c)(4) and 721.170(d)(4), making EPA’s 15-day comment period illegally short.

EDF requested that EPA provide at least 30 days for public comment – with that period to commence only after a complete public docket of relevant materials is made available by EPA.  As our request details, the docket EPA has provided for this proposed SNUR is woefully incomplete, missing even basic documents that preclude the public from being able to provide meaningful comments on the proposal.   Read More »

Also posted in EPA, Health Policy, TSCA Reform / Tagged , , | Comments are closed

Hiding its tracks: The black box of EPA’s new chemical reviews just got a whole lot blacker

Richard Denison, Ph.D.is a Lead Senior Scientist.

[UPDATED 1-8-18:  See updates below]

We have been blogging about damaging changes being made to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new chemicals review program for some time.  Despite the reforms made in 2016 under the Lautenberg Act that were intended to significantly strengthen new chemical reviews, Scott Pruitt’s EPA has been moving since August of last year to seriously weaken the program.

Late yesterday, EPA made a change to its new chemicals website that not only reverses changes made to implement the Lautenberg Act, but actually makes the site less transparent than it has been for decades.

EPA's intent is now quite clear:  to prevent the public from knowing when EPA’s professional staff flagged any concern in their initial review of a new chemical.

The change makes clear that the agency is now planning to cover its tracks as it weakens new chemical reviews:  EPA will now hide from the public any information about whether its initial review of a new chemical raises any concerns or warrants a more extensive review.  Is this what Scott Pruitt meant when he said he intended to bring increased “transparency” to the review program – a term he used no fewer than five times in his August news release previewing changes he was making?   Read More »

Also posted in Health Policy, Industry Influence, TSCA Reform / Tagged , | Comments are closed

Federal court of appeals gives EPA one year to update lead-based paint standards

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

This week, the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to update its regulations defining lead-based paint and how much lead in dust represents a hazard. The court gave EPA 90 days to issue a proposed rule and one year to publish a final rule with an option to convince the court that it needs additional time. The court said the agency had unreasonably delayed action on a citizen’s petition submitted in 2009. The science showing the need for action has only become more compelling in the eight years since EPA acknowledged the shortcoming of its rules. Rather than drag out this litigation, the agency should move quickly to revise its lead-based paint hazard standards to better protect children’s health.

EPA set the dust-lead hazard standard in 2001 after determining that a child living in a home with those levels had only a 1 to 5% chance of having an elevated blood lead level (EBLL) as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The scientific evidence now shows that the risk is greater than previously estimated. In addition, CDC has tightened its definition of an EBLL. As a result, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the risk to a child of having an EBLL in a home that meets EPA’s current dust-lead hazard standard is more than 50%.

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