November 19, 2012: Environmental epidemiologist Iva Hertz-Picciotto, professor and chief of the Div. of Environmental and Occupational Health at UC Davis, is the principal investigator in a new study published in Environmental Health that measures food-borne toxin exposures in children (and adults) by pinpointing foods with high levels of toxic compounds and determining how much of these were consumed by the 364 children in the story (207 preschoolers and 157 school-age). ...researchers found that...preschool children in particular, are at high risk for exposure to arsenic, dieldrin, DDE (a DDT metabolite), dioxins and acrylamide. These compounds have been linked to cancer, developmental disabilities, birth defects and other conditions. However, the study also points to dietary modifications that could mitigate risk."Contaminants get into our food in a variety of ways," said Picciotto. "They can be chemicals that have nothing to do with the food or byproducts from processing..."
... preschool-age children had higher exposure to more than half the toxic compounds being measured. Even relatively low exposures can greatly increase the risk of cancer or neurological impairment.
Researchers assessed risk by comparing toxin consumption to established benchmarks for cancer risk and non-cancer health risks. All [the] children in the study...exceeded cancer benchmarks for arsenic, dieldrin, DDE and dioxins. In addition, more than 95% of preschool children exceeded non-cancer risk levels for acrylamide, a cooking byproduct often found in processed foods like potato and tortilla chips. Pesticide exposure was particularly high in tomatoes, peaches, apples, peppers, grapes, lettuce, broccoli, strawberries, spinach, dairy, pears, green beans and celery.
"We focused on children because early exposure can have long-term effects on disease outcomes," said Rainbow Vogt, lead author of the study. "Currently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency only measures risk based on exposures of individual contaminants. We wanted to understand the cumulative risk from dietary contaminants. The results of this study demonstrate a need to prevent exposure to multiple toxins in young children to lower their cancer risk."
The researchers used data from Picciotto's 2007 Study of Use of Products and Exposure-Related Behavior (SUPERB), which surveyed households in California with children between two and five to determine how their diets, and other factors, contribute to toxic exposure. Specifically, SUPERB homed in on 44 foods known to have high concentrations of toxic compounds: metals, arsenic, lead and mercury; pesticides chlorpyrifos, permethrin and endosulfan; persistent organic pollutants dioxin, DDT, dieldrin and chlordane; and the food processing byproduct acrylamide. Toxin levels in specific foods were determined through the Total Diet Study and other databases.
"We need to be especially careful about children, because they tend to be more vulnerable to many of these chemicals and their effects on the developing brain," says Hertz-Picciotto.