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POPs Residues in U.S. Diets
December 4, 2000
U.S. consumers can experience up to 70 daily exposures to residues of a class of toxic chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants--POPs--through their diets, according to report released by Pesticide Action Network North America and Commonweal.
The report, "Nowhere to Hide: Persistent Toxic Chemicals in the U.S. Food Supply," analyzes chemical residue data collected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and finds persistent chemical contaminants in all food groups--from baked goods and meats to fresh fruits and vegetables.
Exposure to POPs has been linked to serious disease and developmental disorders, including breast and other types of cancer, immune system suppression, nervous system disorders, reproductive damage, and disruption of hormonal systems. The report was released on the eve of the final negotiations of the terms of an international treaty on POPs that could institute a global ban on the production and use of 12 of the worst of these chemicals, including DDT and dioxin.
"We hope that the U.S. negotiating team does not miss this unprecedented opportunity to prevent further accumulation of these chemicals in our food," said report author Kristin Schafer of Pesticide Action Network North America. "We urge the Clinton Administration to dramatically strengthen its negotiating positions in the interest of protecting the health of the nation's consumers."
In the U.S., many of the chemicals responsible for contaminating the food supply have been banned. However, other countries continue to manufacture and use the chemicals, and their residues are carried across the globe by air and water currents and precipitation. "U.S. consumers have a right to know that chemicals banned in this country years ago continue to contaminate their food," said Schafer. "They also have a right to know, on the eve of the final negotiating session, that the fate of the POPs treaty is largely in the hands of the Clinton Administration."
The report used an illustrative U.S. Thanksgiving/Christmas holiday meal as well as sample daily menus in four geographic regions of the country--the Southeast, the Northeast, the Midwest, and the West--to show typical POPs consumption. The evaluation of POPs residue data yielded startling findings, including:
** Virtually all food products are contaminated with POPs that have been banned in the U.S. These include baked goods, fruit, vegetables, meat, poultry and dairy products.
** It is not unusual for daily diets to contain food items contaminated with three to seven POPs.
** A typical holiday dinner menu of 11 food items can deliver thirty-eight "hits" of exposure to POPs, where a "hit" is one persistent toxic chemical on one food item.
** The sample daily meal plans used in the study were each found to deliver between 63 and 70 separate exposures to POPs per day.
The top 10 POPs-contaminated food items, in alphabetical order, are: Butter, cantaloupe, cucumbers/pickles, meatloaf, peanuts, popcorn, radishes, spinach, summer squash and winter squash.
The two most pervasive POPs in food are dieldrin and DDE. Dieldrin is a highly persistent and very toxic organochlorine pesticide banned in the U.S. in the late 1970s. DDE is a breakdown product of DDT, which was banned in 1972 in the U.S.
FDA's data showed that levels of contaminants in food are often at or near the levels found by the federal government to cause public health concern. Recent scientific studies have discovered that exposure to miniscule levels of POPs at crucial times in fetal and infant development can disrupt or damage human hormone, reproductive, neurological and immune systems. The report highlights research demonstrating the connection between exposure to POPs and disturbing health trends, including increased incidence of breast cancer, learning disabilities and other neurodevelopmental disorders, and reproductive problems.
In addition to food residue data from FDA, the report draws on information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Pesticide Data Program. Health-based POPs exposure thresholds established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry are also used in the analysis.
"Nowhere to Hide: Persistent Toxic Chemicals in the U.S. Food Supply," is available at http://www.panna.org.
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