Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Lead Lurks in Lunch Boxes

Pollution and Activism (by Toban Black)
The Environmental Law foundation (ELF) in Oakland plans to file suit today over lead contamination in dozens of brands of bottled juice, packaged fruit and baby food, according to a report today on the California Report. The foods are commonly fed to children, sent to school with them in their lunchboxes or sold in cafeterias. Children are particularly susceptible to the effects of lead and other toxins because of their smaller bodies and rapidly growing bodies and brains.

Jim Wheaton, President of ELF, said that their tests indicated that dozens of major companies are violating the state’s Prop 65 by selling products containing lead without providing the required warning labels. One reason for this may be that there is no safe level of lead. Therefore, a warning label would likely result in a dramatic drop in sales, which is certainly what should happen.

Lead poisoning can cause cognitive impairment and lead to learning disabilities. Poor children are particularly vulnerable, as they are more likely to have additional environmental exposures from lead based paint, pipes and pollutants that are less common in affluent homes and communities.

While the lead in processed fruit should be of concern to parents, the report is not really news. Our environment is full of dangerous contaminants, some of which are mandated by law. For example, furniture and bedding in California and many other states were required to contain flame retardants which are toxic to humans. A recent study found the children in California have seven times the level of PBDEs in their blood than their counterparts in Mexico.

There are also other sources of food-borne contamination besides the lead found in processed fruits. Canned fruits, juices, tomatoes and beans are all lined with coatings that contain bisphenol A. Fish, particularly large predators like tuna, halibut, shark, spearfish, typically have high levels of mercury that have entered the food chain primarily as pollution from coal plants. Fruits and vegetables that are not produced organically are often sprayed with pesticides and grown in fertilizers that are toxic. Some of these are known human hormone disrupters or mimics and are thought to contribute to decreased sperm count, gynecomastia and premature puberty.

The fact is that there are hundreds of known carcinogens, neurotoxins and hormone disrupters that are commonly used in food production and commercial products and thousands more chemicals that are commonly used by industry that are unregulated and not thoroughly tested. Many of these chemicals make their way into our bodies through our food, air and water. Children take them in through breast milk. They accrue in dust. Pollutants like cigarette smoke can adsorb to our walls and react with chemicals in the air, producing even deadlier toxins that can desorb from the walls and enter people’s bloodstreams.

Concerned parents can probably reduce the toxic load by avoiding packaged processed foods and purchasing more organically produced products. However, people also need to consider the types of cosmetics and toiletries they consume, the types of packaging their goods come in, their electronic devices, indoor ventilation, flooring, siding, driving habits and numerous other lifestyle decisions.

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