Ask Dr. Nandi: Lead detected in baby food samples

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Now there's evidence of another, more minor source of lead exposure in some food produced.

Samantha Lovell '15, a policy major from Colby's Environmental Studies Program, coauthored a study by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) on lead levels in food supply.

Pediatricians who weren't involved in the study noted that lead-based paint and lead-contaminated water are by far the main sources of lead affecting USA children.

If you've been feeding your child baby foods like most parents, you should be aware of an alarming new report from the Environmental Defense Fund about what's actually in that food.

None of the food samples exceeded the FDA's allowable levels of lead but pediatricians say there is no safe level of it. It affects one's ability to pay attention, and cause problems with the immune system and cardiovascular systems.

In a draft report released earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency estimated that over 5 percent of children consume more than 6 micrograms per day of lead - the maximum daily intake level set by the Food and Drug Administration in 1993 - in their diet. Of the total 2,164 baby food samples, 86 per cent of sweet potatoes samples, 89 per cent of grape juice samples, and 47 per cent of teething biscuits samples had lead. Specifically, we examined potential IQ loss and the percentage of samples with high lead concentrations. The FDA doesn't have any firm regulations on lead in other foods but limits lead in grape juices to 50 ppb. One suggestion to the FDA is that they update their limits and food safety guidance.

"Children who have elevated blood lead levels are more likely to have speech delays, cognitive difficulties, lower IQs", she said. This calculation is based on a 2017 EPA dietary lead intake estimate for children ages 1-7 years.

It's not clear how lead is showing up in baby food.

The FDA cites an overall lack of feasibility as a reason for not establishing a zero-tolerance stance for lead in food. But the concern is how much a child may consume over time. Researchers could determine how frequently contamination occurred, but not at what levels.

"In many American communities, the most significant route of lead exposure is from paint and soil", Bole said.

Researchers had data from 2,164 baby food samples, which included 57 different types.

"In the meantime, parents of young children should consult with their child's pediatrician to learn about all the ways to reduce lead exposure", the report advised. Around 20 percent of the baby samples contained lead, while only 14 percent of the non-baby food samples had the substance.

The FDA measures lead limits in parts per billion (ppb), which reportedly represents the number of units of a given contaminant per billion units of total mass.

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