A front page article titled “U.S. regulators lack information on health risks of many chemicals” on Aug. 2 in the Washington Post regarding recent recall of Kellogg’s cereals, is alarming and thought-provoking. The reality told us that toxic chemicals are not only in the household products (cleaners, pesticides, etc), but also sneaking into our food!
Recently, Kellogg recalled 28 million boxes of cereal because customers complained of an odd smell and taste that made some folks sick. What is it? It turns out — a natural component of crude oil, 2-methylnaphthalene, which leaked from the packaging.
“Federal regulators, who are charged with ensuring the safety of food and consumer products, are in the dark about the suspected chemical, 2-methylnaphthalene. The Food and Drug Administration has no scientific data on its impact on human health. The Environmental Protection Agency also lacks basic health and safety data for 2-methylnaphthalene — even though the EPA has been seeking that information from the chemical industry for 16 years.”— cited from the article.
I’m frankly surprised and puzzled… To my knowledge, naphthalene is a possible human carcinogen (concluded by The International Agency for Research on Cancer and EPA), as I informed the public on our website. I’m not an expert on 2-methylnaphthalene, but simple chemistry suggests that it is a compound structurally related to naphthalene. What is naphthalene? As you might know, it’s a primary ingredient of mothballs.
Next, I did a quick search on PubMed — a resource from the U.S. National Library of Medicine for biomedical literature with approximately 20 million references. Results? There are 124 references on “2-methylnaphthalene” dated from 1960s. Here is a brief summary about 2-methylnaphthalene associated health risks:
1. Lung toxicit: Dietary exposure of mice to 2-methylnaphthalene for 81 weeks (i.e. most of their lives) caused pulmonary alveolar proteinosis, a disorder that rapidly leads to respiratory failure, because the alveolar spaces are filled with an abnormal lipid-rich material that hinders gas exchange. Data from exposure of lab animals (rats and mice) to 2-methylnaphthalene through various routes (including acute inhalation, skin, and abdominal injection) confirmed the lung toxicity. Other respiratory hazards include depressed breathing rate, lung and bronchi cell damage.
2. Tumor development: Exposure to 2-methylnaphthalene significantly increased lung tumors in male mice, although dose-dependent effects are not clear enough to address its carcinogenic potential.
3. Liver toxicity: 2-methylnaphthalene inhibited cell-to-cell communication in cultured rat liver cells. Bear in mind that the chaos of intracellular communication is evident in cancer.
In addition, there are studies on the microorganisms involved and their potentials concerning how 2-methylnaphthalene is metabolized and degraded….
Further studies will, without doubt, help establish health implications in humans. I guess the question is not whether there is related information. The real question is whether the food company wanted to know about it or not.
Chemicals found in food supplies have become an ongoing problem tracing back to BPA, now 2-methylnaphthalene, what will be next? What’s even more frightening is that you probably never find out. As a scientist emphasized at the end of the article, “In this case, it had an odor and it had a taste, so it was detected. But there are hundreds of other potential impurities that we can’t smell and taste, chemicals that we know very little about and the government knows little about.”
We anticipate that the government sets vigorous food safety laws, takes effective and authoritative measures to test products and/or chemicals before they hit the market, in order to protect consumers from any harmful health consequence resulting from industrial self-interest and self-regulation.
For our citizens, this is just one more reason why you need to get informed and become educated. Depending on the manufacturers or government might be too late.
What’s your thought on food safety?
To find out which cereal package is involved in the recall, read:
U.S. regulators lack information on health risks of many chemicals
To learn more about Naphthalene, click here.
Photo credit: by muresan113