Monday, August 2, 2010

Unexpected hazards of factory-produced foods and other products/Washington Post

This summer, Kellogg recalled 28 million boxes of Froot Loops, Apple Jacks, Corn Pops and Honey Smacks.  Dozens of consumers reported a strange taste and odor, and some complained of nausea and diarrhea.  The company blamed elevated levels of a chemical in the packaging.

In a Washington Post article titled, US regulators lack data on health risks of most chemicals, we learn that federal agencies have absolutely no information available on the toxicity of the chemical suspected in the breakfast cereal reactions: 2-methylnapthalene.  Ordinary napthalene is employed for its toxic effect:  it is the main ingredient in mothballs, and is used to produce carbamate insecticides. The EPA states the following about plain napthalene,
"Acute exposure of humans to naphthalene by inhalation, ingestion, and dermal contact is associated with hemolytic anemia, damage to the liver, and, in infants, neurological damage.  Symptoms of acute exposure include headache, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, malaise, confusion, anemia, jaundice, convulsions, and coma."
According to the WaPo:
Under current laws, the government has little or no information about the health risks posed by most of the 80,000 chemicals on the U.S. market today.
"It is really troubling that you've got this form of naphthalene that's produced in millions of pounds a year and we don't have some of the basic information about how toxic it is," said Erik Olson, an expert at the Pew Charitable Trusts...
If a manufacturer possesses data showing that a chemical harms health or the environment, it is required to turn over the findings to the EPA. Critics say that creates a disincentive for manufacturers to test their chemicals...
Because the FDA does not know anything about the toxicity of 2-methylnaphthalene, the agency set its limit based on what it knows about the toxic effects of similar chemicals, Michael Cheeseman (of the FDA's Office of Food Safety) said.
He added that the FDA does not know what caused the Kellogg contamination, how much 2-methylnaphthalene might have migrated into the cereals or if it was the only contaminant. The agency did not perform its own tests on the cereals...
"In this case, it had an odor and it had a taste, so it was detected," said David Andrews, a senior scientist at the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization. "But there are hundreds of other potential impurities that we can't smell and taste, chemicals that we know very little about and the government knows little about." 

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