EDF Health

Lead in food – An overlooked, but meaningful, source of children’s exposure to lead

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

By now, it is well known that lead exposure is a significant human health concern, especially for young children. While most of the discussion about lead exposure has involved paint, drinking water, and contaminated soil or dust where young children live, play, and learn, EDF's new report shows reason to pay more attention to another source: our food.

Until recently, we have known very little about the contribution of food to children’s lead exposure. In January 2017, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) draft report indicated that food is a meaningful source of children’s exposure to lead. Using EPA’s data, we estimated that over 1 million young children consume more lead than what the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers acceptable for children to eat every day. From EPA’s analysis, we calculated that  that if lead in food were eliminated, millions of children would live healthier lives, and the total societal economic benefit would exceed $27 billion a year in increased lifetime earnings resulting from the impact of lead on children’s IQ.

To better understand the issue of lead in food, EDF evaluated over a decade’s worth of data collected and analyzed by the FDA as part of the agency’s Total Diet Study (TDS). Since the 1970s, the TDS has tracked metals, pesticides, and nutrients in up to 280 types of food yearly.

What did we find?

Overall, 20% of 2,164 baby food samples and 14% of the other 10,064 food samples had detectable levels of lead. At least one sample in 52 of the 57 types of baby food analyzed by FDA had detectable levels of lead in it. Lead was most commonly found in the following baby foods:

  • Fruit juices: 89% of 44 grape juice samples contained detectable levels of lead, mixed fruit (67% of 111 samples), apple (55% of 44 samples), and pear (45% of 44 samples)
  • Root vegetables: Sweet potatoes (86% of 44 samples) and carrots (43% of 44 samples)
  • Cookies: Arrowroot cookies (64% of 44 samples) and teething biscuits (47% of 43 samples)

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Also posted in FDA, Food, lead / Tagged | Comments are closed

Toxic secrets in our food? EDF joins in lawsuit aimed at protecting food safety

Today, Environmental Defense Fund joined other groups in challenging a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rule that allows chemical and food manufacturers to decide for themselves – in secret – what chemicals and food additives can be added to foods. The practice puts our health at risk and does not fulfill Congress’ requirement that FDA determine that chemical additives are safe before they can be used in food.

Americans would be shocked to learn that food companies routinely add novel chemicals to our food without first getting FDA approval. In doing so, the companies are exploiting a loophole exempting ingredients “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) from formal FDA review and approval.

Originally intended for ingredients like vinegar and olive oil, industry now abuses the GRAS loophole by bypassing FDA review and making safety determinations in secret. The alarming result: even FDA does not know what is in our food. In fact, FDA has no way to know what chemicals are actually being used in which food or in what quantities—even in baby food.

Last year, the FDA issued a final rule formalizing this outrageous practice. We described this decision as a lost opportunity for safer food additives when the decision was made. Today, EDF and our colleagues at the Center for Food Safety (CFS), Breast Cancer Prevention Partners, Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Environmental Working Group, represented by CFS and the environmental law firm Earthjustice, joined in filing suit against the FDA for unconstitutionally and illegally delegating that authority to self-interested food and chemical manufacturers.

It is disappointing that the groups were forced to take legal action. In addition to being a bad policy that doesn’t comply with law, or protect public health, the FDA is oddly out of touch with public sentiment. Just last week an industry funded survey showed overwhelming consumer concern about chemicals in food, including cancer causing chemicals, while showing diminished confidence in the food supply. This continues a trend that has been building for years. Food companies would be wise to take notice: adding secret chemicals without FDA scientific review to our food is no way to improve confidence in their products.

But with thousands of secret chemicals in our food, we can’t wait for industry or FDA to wise up. Today’s lawsuit seeks to force FDA to do what should be common sense—determine that food additives are safe before they can be added to our food.

Also posted in FDA, Food, GRAS / Tagged , | Comments are closed

Dad’s lead-laden hair dye could impact the whole family: FDA to consider barring lead compound in widely-used men’s hair dyes

Jack Pratt is Chemicals Campaign Director

Today, EDF joined a group of advocates in filing a petition that could force a ban on lead in hair dyes. Over the last several decades, we have gone to great lengths to reduce lead exposure—from eliminating the use of lead in gasoline, to tackling legacy uses in paint and water pipes. Yet, somewhat incredibly, lead is still permitted in hair dyes in the United States. Unfortunately, the evidence indicates that use can have an impact not only on the men who use it (it is seemingly exclusive to men’s dyes) but can have an impact on kids in the house too. That’s why FDA should take action and reverse their decades-old approval of lead in hair dyes.

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Also posted in FDA, Health Policy, lead, Regulation / Tagged , | Comments are closed

A Toxic Scavenger Hunt: Finding the First 10 Lautenberg Act Chemicals

Jack Pratt is Chemicals Campaign Director

Recently, EPA identified the first 10 chemicals for evaluation under our country’s newly reformed chemical safety law. That motivated me to see how easy it would be to find these chemicals in consumer products. The answer: very easy. In fact, while you’ve probably not heard of many of these chemicals, the products that contain them are likely all too familiar.

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Also posted in TSCA Reform / Comments are closed

A non-estrogenic alternative to Bisphenol A at last?

Cans

A non-estrogenic alternative to Bisphenol A at last?

Sarah Vogel, Ph.D.is Vice-President for Health.

Last week a new study was published showing promising results for a non-estrogenic alternative to polymers based on bisphenol A (BPA) used to line the  inside of food cans.  The paper, in Environmental Science & Technology (ES&T), evaluated the estrogenicity of an alternative to BPA— tetramethyl bisphenol F (TMBPF) — and its final polymer product developed by Valspar, a major paint and resin company. The authors found that, unlike BPA and some of its analogs that have been used as substitutes, TMBPF exhibited no signs of estrogenicity.

This was an unusual paper on a number of fronts—how the material was selected, how it was evaluated and by whom.  In this post I’m going to explore who was involved, what testing was done and what this might mean for the BPA alternatives market.

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Also posted in Emerging Science, Health Science / Tagged , , , | Read 2 Responses

With draft report, EPA takes major step to help communities assess risks from lead in drinking water

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

Communities around the country are testing their water for lead. But when they get the results, parents, public health officials, housing agencies and school officials have little guidance about what the number means and what actions to take or priorities to set. For lead in dust and soil in homes, child-care and schools, they have health-based numbers that serve as benchmarks for assessing risk. There is no such benchmark for drinking water. As a result, many are using the “Lead Action Level” of 15 parts per billion (ppb) as a surrogate. Yet, this level is based on the effectiveness of corrosion control; it has no relation to the associated health risks of lead exposure.

Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) helped fill the void by releasing a draft report that provides three different approaches to setting a scientifically-robust “health-based benchmark” for lead in drinking water. The agency is seeking public comment on the draft and will convene a panel of scientific experts to consider each of the approaches.

The report is a critical step in implementing the recommendations of the agency’s National Drinking Water Advisory Council (NDWAC) which called for this type of health-based benchmark as part of an overhaul of the Lead and Copper Rule. The agency went a step further and provides alternatives to consider. We applaud EPA for its action and its rigorous, scientific analysis.

Accounting for the various models and assumptions, EPA developed a range of potential health-based benchmarks that range from 3 to 56 ppb of lead in water that people actually drink. However, you cannot readily compare these values to the typical water testing results reported by utilities or schools. Those tests are based on the first draw of water that has been sitting in the faucet and plumbing overnight and do not necessarily reflect what people drink over the course of a day. Later samples would likely be lower but could be higher if the building has a lead service line, especially if the line has been disturbed. Read More »

Also posted in Drinking Water, Health Science, lead, Regulation / Tagged , , , , , | Read 2 Responses