Getting the Lead Out

In this holiday season filled with treats, might some of our children be ingesting toxic metals with their sweets?

In a statement released last Thursday, the U.S. FDA proposed stricter limits on the amount of lead allowable in certain types of children’s candy. The new suggested rule outlaws candies that contain more than 0.1 parts per million lead. “That amount of lead does not pose a significant risk to small children,” the FDA noted in its statement. While most domestic and imported candies already meet the new limit, the FDA acted in response to specific findings related to imported Mexican products contaminated with higher than “allowed” levels of lead. The previous limit was 0.5 ppm.

Is it just me, or is this nuts (no pun intended)? There is an “allowable” amount of lead in food our children eat? Toxicologists are in agreement that children are much more vulnerable to even small amounts of lead than adults, and their developing nervous systems are ripe for attack by heavy metals, causing significant developmental delay. We should be able to set limits so that our foods contain no detectable trace of heavy metals. Yes, I know, candy is not “food” – but the reality is, children eat candy. And if we’re bothering to regulate it at all, shouldn’t we do the best job we can?

Experts are also pushing for lower “acceptable” limits in blood lead testing in children. The current standard is that “normal” is less than 10 mcg/dL; prior limits were much higher, until we noted significant neurological problems above the new limit. Yet recent studies have demonstrated cognitive deficits even at levels below 10mcg/dL. Could it be our “limits” are too high? We must accept “no detectable lead” as our safest limit. We must have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to poisoning our children.

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