According a new report, fish and other seafood aren't the only dietary sources of toxic mercury.
[Mercury] damages the central nervous system, endocrine system, kidneys, and other organs, and adversely affects the mouth, gums, and teeth. Exposure over long periods of time … can result in brain damage and ultimately death. Mercury and its compounds are particularly toxic to fetuses and infants … Mercury exposure in young children can have severe neurological consequences, preventing nerve sheaths from forming properly.
Wikipedia, mercury poisoning
Consumers should take heed of a recent study, which discovered the presence of low doses of the toxic heavy metal, mercury (Hg), in foods containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
Researchers at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP – http://www.iatp.org/) have released the findings of a study performed on 55 foods containing HFCS, which discovered that 31% of the foods tested – 1 out of every 3 samples – contained traces of mercury “several times higher than the lowest detectable limits”.
Mercury was found in minute quantities up to 350 ppt (parts per trillion), a level that food manufacturers and the Corn Syrup Refiners Association say is far below any threshold set by Federal Agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Such exposure is safe, they argue, and to inflate these findings and cause public alarm is “irresponsible” – at least, according to Tom Forsythe, spokesman for General Mills, maker of Yoplait® yogurt. The FDA seems to share this opinion.
In fact, the Food and Drug Administration was alerted of the presence of mercury in HFCS-containing foods four years earlier, but chose to ignore the information. In 2005, Renee Dufault, then researcher for the FDA and lead author for Environmental Health journal, conducted tests similar to the IATP’s and highlighted her findings of mercury in 9 of 20 samples in a report given to the agency. They apparently did nothing to address this toxic threat. Her results were cited in the Environmental Health journal in January 2009 (abstract available).
[High-Fructose Corn Syrup] now appears to be a significant additional source of mercury, one never before considered … [but is a] completely avoidable problem.
IATP January 2009 release
The news caused an immediate stir in the online community, especially among health proponents who have monitored the presence of mercury in vaccines and seafood for the past several years. Many health advocates warn of the presence of mercury in common products such as canned tuna, vaccine preservatives, and fluorescent light bulbs, as well as the associated risks and negative health effects this particular element has on the human body and the environment.
Mercury, they argue, is a known toxin even at minute quantities – indeed, it is the most toxic naturally occurring, non-radioactive metal on Earth. It is particularly damaging to developing infants and small children, and, coincidentally or not, children represent the largest consumers of HFCS’s, second to teenagers.
Undoubtedly, this study has enormous implications because it is well-known by the scientific community that mercury – in any form – is extremely toxic and bioaccumulative, meaning that trace amounts of this element accumulate in the tissues and organs of living beings. Over time, the presence of this toxin wreaks havoc on all bodily systems and can manifest in many different ways.
In this regard, and in my opinion, it is somewhat a moot point to argue that the mercury levels in the sampled foods are safe because they contain only a miniscule quantity of mercury, a position obviously taken by General Mills. Poisons that accumulate in our bodies simply have no business being in our foods, especially if their presence is completely avoidable.
The inevitable question presents itself, “How did mercury get there?”
The answer is simple: certain producers of high fructose corn syrup use “mercury-grade caustic soda” (lye) to separate corn kernels from corn starch, thereby contaminating the corn starch with toxic mercury vapors, which is then further processed into HFCS – a very common sweetener in many processed foods.
Caustic soda can be produced in three ways: by utilizing mercury cells, membrane cells, or diaphragm cells. These cells are basically vats of aqueous solution containing salt (NaCl). These vats are electrically charged through a process called electrolysis, which chemically breaks apart the sodium molecules to produce chlorine and caustic soda (NaOH). As NaOH is produced, it will chemically react with the chlorine unless one of the three cell methods is utilized.
Using the mercury cell process, the sodium ions (Na) are further reduced to a sodium amalgam through the introduction of liquid mercury. This sodium amalgam is then reacted with water to produce caustic soda. Lye produced utilizing this method is considered to be the highest-grade available, while the membrane cell method utilizes less electricity.
This diagram shows the mercury cell process, which is far more technical than the simplified explanation above.
A somewhat dated fact sheet (2002) stated that “approximately 13% of electrolytically produced Caustic Soda in North America is produced” using the mercury cell method.
According to the EH abstract cited above, mercury-grade caustic lye is used to produce sodium benzoate and citric acid – two other potentially contaminated food sources. One may assume that since corn starch is produced using lye, corn starch itself may also be cotaminated.
What has not been publicly recognized is that mercury cell technology can also contaminate all the food grade chemicals made from it, including caustic soda.
IATP January 2009 Release
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy obtained 55 samples of foods containing high-fructose corn syrup, manufactured by brand name companies such as Kraft, Hunt’s, Hershey’s and Quaker, as well as one private label store brand, Market Pantry. The foods sampled included typical foods snacked on by average consumers: soft drinks, snack bars, barbecue sauces, yogurt, chocolate milk, jelly, toaster treats and ketchup, among others.
According to the results of the study, published directly by the IATP in January 2009, 17 of the sampled items contained “elevated mercury levels”, and at least 9 of them had mercury levels between 100 and 350 ppt. The sampled foods with levels of mercury detected included (mercury amounts expressed in parts per trillion*):
Quaker Oatmeal to Go, manufactured by PepsiCo (350 ppt)
Jack Daniel’s Barbecue Sauce, manufactured by Heinz (300 ppt)
Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup (257 ppt)
Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce (200 ppt)
Nutri-Grain Strawberry Cereal Bars, manufactured by Kellogg Company (180 ppt)
Manwich Bold Sloppy Joe (canned sauce), manufactured by ConAgra Foods (150 ppt)
Market Pantry Grape Jelly, manufactured by Target Corporation (130 ppt)
Smucker’s Strawberry Jelly, manufactured by J. M. Smuckers Company (100 ppt)
Pop-Tarts Frosted Blueberry, manufactured by Kellogg Company (100 ppt)
Hunt’s Tomato Ketchup, manufactured by ConAgra Foods (87 ppt)
Wish-Bone Western Sweet & Smooth, manufactured by Unilever (72 ppt)
Coca-Cola Classic (62 ppt)
Yoplait Strawberry Yogurt, manufactured by General Mills (60 ppt)
Minute Maid Berry Punch, manufactured by Coco-Cola (40 ppt)
Yoo-hoo Chocolate Drink, manufactured by the Dr. Pepper Snapple Group (30 ppt)
Nesquik Chocolate Milk, manufactured by Nestle (30 ppt)
Kemps Fat Free Chocolate Milk (30 ppt)
(see full chart)
Surprisingly, while the typical soda contains 17 teaspoons of HFCS’s (page 6), mercury was not found in the large majority of soft drinks tested besides Coca-Cola Classic. Among those that fared favorably were: Dr. Pepper, A & W Root Beer, Kool-Aid, Sunny-D, Powerade, Lipton Green Tea, Pepsi Cola, 7-Up, and Hi-C. Regardless, the IATP’s study reports that teenagers (ages 13-18) consume an average of 85 gallons of soda per year, which translates into 9,180 teaspoons of HFCS just by drinking soda alone! In fact, the average person consumes about 12 teaspoons of HFCS each and every day – an amount that can significantly increase one’s exposure to mercury if eating typical items like those found in the list above.
How Much Mercury Are We Talking About, And How Much Is Considered Safe?
The FDA has set maximum exposure amounts for mercury in regard to public drinking water and seafood. The maximum mercury concentration in water is set at 2 parts per billion (ppb), while the maximum concentration in seafood cannot exceed 1 part per million (ppm). The FDA states that the 1 ppm threshold is set at 10 times less than “the lowest levels associated with adverse effects”.
To help visualize the amount of mercury concentration expressed in ppm: the legal limit (1 ppm) is merely one drop in a standard bathtub filled to the overflow. At that level, the FDA warns that consumers should not eat more than seven ounces of fish per week – approximately two and a half small cans of tuna. On the other hand, the 2 ppb level set for drinking water is approximately 2 drops in 500 barrels of water.
Finally, to put the above discovered mercury concentrations in perspective, try to visualize 20 Olympic-size pools, each 2 meters deep, stacked on top of one another with one drop of mercury in them. That represents 1 ppt. That is an incredibly small amount, for sure, but still a potentially bioaccumulative source of toxic mercury – a source that, according to IATP and health advocates, is entirely avoidable.
Once it’s in the body, mercury can limit normal brain activity and nervous system functions … It is especially dangerous for developing infants and small children and can cause decreased motor skills and learning disabilities at even low levels of exposure.
Linda E. Greer, Ph.D., Director of Natural Resources Defense Council’s Health Program
Adverse Effects of Mercury Poisoning:
Because of mercury’s bioaccumulative nature, excess mercury can collect in the brain, tissues and organs of the affected individual, resulting in a wide variety of symptoms, including psychological disturbances, digestive problems, cardiovascular issues, respiratory problems, loss of speech and neurological problems resulting in mood swings and aggressive behavior.
It has long been established that mercury is destructive to the brain, which gave rise to the phrase, “mad as a hatter” – an accurate label for hatters who used to use mercury to cure the felt in their hats. Most of these “mad hatters” went insane and/or died at an early age because of mercury poisoning. This has led many to believe that there is a connection between vaccinations containing the mercury-laden preservative, Thimerosal, and the onset and rising prevalence of autism. Still others speculate that mercury is a leading cause for such disorders as attention deficit and possibly alzheimer’s.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG – http://www.ewg.org) states that mercury toxicity causes “damage to the brain and nervous system, immune system, enzyme system and genetic system.” EWG adds that developing fetuses are especially vulnerable to the destructive effects of mercury. Scientists have shown that mercury destroys the dendrites and axons of neurons, leaving only an empty “nerve sheath” (see video below).
According to research performed by EWG in 2004, ten babies were found to have mercury present in their umbilical cord blood. Another study in 2006 showed that 72 of 73 individuals tested positive for traces of methylmercury.
Wikipedia lists the effects of mercury poisoning as “excessive timidity, diffidence, increasing shyness, loss of self-confidence, anxiety, and a desire to remain unobserved and unobtrusive”. These characteristics also mirror the destruction of personality often present in children at the onset of autism.
Consumers can be sure that the debate over mercury’s presence in our lives will only be ignited by this new study.
Main study conducted by IATP:
For more information on HFCS:
http://www.hfcsfacts.com/ High Fructose Corn Syrup Refiners
More information on mercury toxicity:
http://commons.ucalgary.ca/mercury/ – This video shows how damaging the presence of mercury is to neurons. Watch as the dendrites wither, leaving only an empty nerve sheaths. Scientists have already established that mercury is bioaccumulative, a good portion of which concentrates in organs and in the brain. What sort of damage are we doing to our delicate nervous systems?
http://www.michigan.gov/mdch/0,1607,7-132-2945_5105_47868-181553–,00.html – This is an outstanding video showing how exposed mercury quickly dissipates into the air, wreaking havoc as an environmental toxin. This video also shows how difficult mercury is to remove, without causing it to become even more volatile.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ylnQ-T7oi – I found this a couple of years ago regarding silver amalgam fillings. Thankfully, I don’t have any silver amalgam fillings. Perhaps this will convince some readers to have theirs removed. If you do, be sure that all necessary precautions are taken to avoid exposing yourself further or your dentists.
http://www.newmoa.org/prevention/mercury/imerc/video.cfm – This is a short five-minute video showing the cycle of mercury pollution and contamination.
http://www.on.ec.gc.ca/community/classroom/millennium/m3-science-assign2-e.html – This simple exercise allows one to see how quickly minute quantities of toxic chemicals like mercury can build up in animals higher up the food chain. As humans are at the top of the food chain, it would be wise for us to be prudent in our exposure to mercury, especially when it is avoidable.
See also: Bioaccumulation