EDF Health

Selected tag(s): lead

For children’s food, heavy metals require more attention and better standards

Tom Neltner is Chemicals Policy Director and Michelle Harvey and Maricel Maffini are consultants

In June 2017, EDF released Lead in Food: A Hidden Health Threat. The report examined a decade’s worth of data from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and found lead detected in 20% of baby food samples compared to 14% for other foods. Eight types of baby foods, including fruit juices, root vegetables, and teething biscuits, had detectable lead in more than 40% of the samples. We closed the report with the following recommendation:

In the meantime, parents should consult with their pediatrician to learn about how to reduce lead exposure. They should also check with their favorite brands and ask whether the company regularly tests their products for lead, and ensures that, especially for baby food, there is less than 1 ppb of lead in the food and juices they sell.

As described below, we have reason to believe it will take more focused effort on the part of both FDA and food companies to ensure consistently low levels of heavy metals – lead, arsenic, and cadmium in particular – in infant’s and toddler’s diets.

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EPA reaffirms Lead-Safe Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule, citing 150% to 500% payback

Tom Neltner, J.D.is Chemicals Policy Director

In April 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) completed a thorough review of its Lead-Safe Renovation, Repair, and Painting Rule (RRP) promulgated a decade ago. This rule requires contractors and landlords to use lead-safe work practices when more than minor amounts of lead-based paint in homes built before 1978 are disturbed. It also applies to pre-1978 child-occupied facilities. This review was conducted pursuant to Section 610 of the Regulatory Flexibility Act because of RRP’s significant impact on more than 300,000 small businesses that perform more than 4 million affected projects each year.

EPA concluded that RRP, including several post-2008 amendments, “should remain unchanged without any actions to amend or rescind it.” As part of the review, the agency updated its economic analysis and found that the estimated annual societal benefits, primarily in improved children’s IQ, of $1.5 to $5 billion exceeds the $1 billion in estimated annual compliance costs. Those estimates translate into an impressive annual payback of 150% to 500%. Keep in mind that these benefits do not include the lower risk of premature cardiovascular deaths attributed to adult lead exposure in a March 2018 report in Lancet.

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Lead in water at child care facilities: Preliminary results from EDF’s pilot

Lindsay McCormick, Project Manager, and Tom Neltner, J.D., Chemicals Policy Director.

When choosing a child care facility, parents weigh numerous factors – like cost, distance to their home, comfort with the staff – with the goal of providing safe care to their child. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to know if the facility where the child care program is located itself may present health risks – like lead in the drinking water.

The vast majority of schools and child care facilities are not required to test their drinking water for lead under federal requirements. While much of the attention has been on schools, we find that childcare is relatively overlooked, even though water is the most significant source of lead for formula fed infants. In earlier blogs, we talked about state and local testing requirements and levels in hot water.

We tested at 11 child care facilities and found lead in drinking water in at least one sample at seven facilities above our 3.8 ppb action level, three facilities above 20 ppb, and two facilities above 80 ppb.

To explore lead in drinking water at child care facilities further, EDF conducted a pilot project to investigate new approaches for lead in water testing and remediation in childcare settings.  Our pilot utilized and expanded on EPA’s 3Ts for Reducing Lead in Drinking Water.

We will be releasing a report that will detail our full process, results, and recommendations for addressing lead in water in child care settings. In the meantime, we wanted to share our preliminary takeaways and recommendations below as well as a fact sheet on our project. Read More »

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FDA details its new push on heavy metals in food

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

In May 2017, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Center for Food Safety and Nutrition (CFSAN) announced it had “established a Toxic Elements Working Group whose mission in part is to develop a strategy for prioritizing and modernizing the Center’s activities with respect to food/toxic element combinations using a risk-based approach.” FDA set a goal of limiting lead “to the greatest extent feasible.”

In April 2018, FDA released an interview with the Working Group’s chair, Conrad Choiniere, providing an update on its activities. An overarching point expressed by Choiniere during the interview is that “these metals [lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury] can have effects on children’s neurological development.” This affirmation of scientific evidence is a welcome sign from the agency. FDA’s key statements are:

  • Initial scope: Children’s exposure to “metals like lead, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury in foods, cosmetics, and dietary supplements.”
  • Approach: “Looking at all the metals across all foods rather than one contaminant, one food at a time.”
  • Initial findings: “Even though the level of a metal in any particular food is low, our overall exposure adds up because many of the foods we eat contain them in small amounts.”
  • Next steps:
    • “Finalizing the draft guidance that sets an action-level for the presence of inorganic arsenic in infant rice cereals and apple juice.”
    • “Begin reevaluating the specific lead levels that FDA has set for a variety of foods.”

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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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