50. Lead Contamination of “Baby” Food

About a month ago, a mother in my practice, “Mrs. H,” called to discuss the 2021 congressional report detailing the ubiquitous contamination of baby food with toxic heavy metals. The congressional report followed the 2019 Healthy Babies Bright Futures (HBBF) study demonstrating extensive heavy-metal contamination of baby food and infant formula. Mrs. H was understandably upset to learn that a wide variety of baby foods, both organic and non-organic, were contaminated with unacceptably high levels of arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium. In older adults, these substances cause numerous medical problems, including cancer, but heavy metals are particularly toxic to young infants because they damage the developing brain. Infants exposed to heavy metals are at risk for ADHD, behavioral problems, loss of IQ points, and long-term cognitive impairment.

Unfortunately, the toxins cannot be avoided by using a food processor at home. HBBF points out, “For parents, the answer is not switching to homemade purees instead of store-bought baby foods. Federal data shows that baby food sometimes has higher levels and sometimes lower levels of heavy metals, compared to comparable fresh or processed food purchased outside the baby food aisle.” In other words, all food is contaminated, not just baby food.

When Mrs. H called, she posed two questions I couldn’t answer. First, she wanted to know which infant formula was the least toxic to children. Second, she asked whether the German formula Holle was safer than American formula, based upon recommendations she had read online. Previously Mrs. H had purchased Earth’s Best Organic Formula, but Earth’s Best was on the naughty list in the congressional report. In fact, all of the brands reviewed by congress had high levels of heavy metals.

To help answer Mrs. H’s second question, I delivered three containers of formula (Earth’s Best Organics, Holle formula, and regular Enfamil) to the Environmental Monitoring Laboratory in Wallingford, CT. Each sample was screened for arsenic, lead, mercury, and cadmium. The results were disheartening but not surprising. All three samples contained detectable levels of lead. Specifically, Enfamil had about 3 parts per billion (ppb), Earth’s Best Organics had 6 ppb, and Holle formula had 15 ppb of powder. When reconstituted with water, the amount of lead for each brand was less than the EPA’s “actionable” lead level (15 ppb in drinking water), but no amount of lead is safe for babies. Based on the results of our small study, I informed Mrs. H that the German formula Holle is likely no better than regular American formula, and possibly worse.

More information regarding the 2019 HBBF study and the subsequent congressional report can be found by clicking the links below. Both documents are worth reading, as they provide guidelines for avoiding the most heavily contaminated food, useful data for humans of all ages.

Lastly, it seems we have a reached a stage of industrialization in which chemical contamination of our environment is incredibly widespread. On a national and individual level, we should be working together to protect the health of our environment and ourselves. This summer, if you see dandelions and clover overtaking my front lawn, you’ll know why.  

Pending legislation:

Read in CNN: https://apple.news/AZ_MouM6USr2XxmuSAsKXOQ