10 Contaminants In Our Food Supply

It’s one of the public health’s top ten goals for the 20th century, creating a safer, more toxic-free food supply, but meanwhile virtually all food  products are contaminated with various chemicals, bacteria, heavy metals, and residues from pesticides. According to many sources, Americans are exposed to what are called POPs or “Persistent Organic Pollutants” 70 times in one day. Chemicals like DDT and dioxin are moving through the food chain and into the human diet at an alarming rate. Contamination’s from industrial waste and manufacturing plants are tainting our food supply, our ecosystem, and our health, here are the most daunting reasons why.


Although still a big question mark, genetically modified foods, introduced almost a decade ago are sprouting up on millions of acres around the world of farmland. In fact, most all of the soybean, corn, and canola crops in the US and abroad are produced using genetically modified seeds. Although a significant amount of studies have not yet been conducted, many are concerned of genetic contamination because these seeds have been engineered to withstand significant application of pesticides, usually made by the same companies that engineer the seeds. Even rice  is becoming genetically modified. Certain risks according to experts include introducing allergens and toxins to food, accidental contamination, antibiotic resistance, and changing the nutrient content of crops.

9. Processing Contaminants

Processing Contaminants occur during the processing of foods via heating, cooking, and fermentation. Chemical reactions occur between natural and/or added food constituents when heat interacts with the ingredients in the compounds in the foods. Metal chips from processing equipment are an example of factors that can contaminate food as well as other carcinogenic elements like nitrosamines and mutagenic and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), all of which are harmful to human health.

8. Animal Drug and Hormone Residues

Various companies like Yoplait and Dannon have gone rBGH-free but many others still continue to use genetically modified bovine growth hormone in their products. The bovine growth hormone was produced by Monsanto and is a genetically engineered synthetic hormone that was later rejected by Monsanto after considerable pressure from other dairies and companies like Starbucks and Kroger. rBGH is banned in several countries like Australia, Canada, the EU, and Japan. But some companies like Dreyer’s, Nestle, Haagen-Dazs, and Breyer’s still continue to use milk products from dairies using the rBGH hormone. American school children drink nearly 430 million gallons of milk in a year and unfortunately there is a significant amount of this and other artificial growth hormones in the milk they drink.

7. Military Sources

Military sites are a breeding ground of toxic substances filtering into our soil and water supply every day. Contamination at these military bases in the USA alone is estimated at 50 million acres. These are acres that are used for bombing and training, however, military-industrial contamination is a worldwide problem. Small arms firing ranges are essential to military training but release bullets that are pulverized upon impact and are released into the soil. Lead, antimony, copper, and zinc are the primary chemicals composed of these bullets. Lead is the primary soil contaminant and concern at these ranges. Other contaminants on military bases include TCE and perchlorate. TCE or trichloroethylene is a colorless liquid mainly used as a degreaser for metal parts. It is also in paints, lubricants, varnishes, and recently, used to clean sensitive computer circuit boards in military equipment. This chemical has all kinds of toxicological implications for humans from cancer to death. Perchlorate, the explosive ingredient in solid rocket fuel is a contaminant that according to the U.S Centers for Disease Control has contaminated the nation’s food and water supply in at least 22 states. Drinking water for millions of Americans have been tainted and the results include 2.2 million women of childbearing age who could be effected by thyroid deficiency that can damage the fetus of pregnant women as well as an entire myriad of other problems.

6. Packaging Materials

Antimony, similar to arsenic and others like tin, lead, bisphenol A and BPA are chemicals used to make plastic and epoxy resins. They are a large concern to the public’s health and safety. The FDA has stated that many of these substances are toxic to fetuses, infants and young children yet still are not banned. These substances can be found even in baby bottles. In 2010 Canada became the first country to declare BPA as a toxic substance in packaging materials. Wrappers from fast food  restaurants and microwave popcorn wrappings are thought to harbor many dangerous chemicals to humans as well. Chemicals like PCFAs, known as polyfluoroalkyl phosphate esters.  Canned foods and plastics contain BPA, Bisphenol A, a substance sprayed into cans and is made from a sex hormone. It leaches into the food we eat at any temperature and is released 55 times faster once heated. Acidic foods leach out the lining of aluminum cans faster too. Other culprits include dental composites and sealants, plastics and refillable water containers. BPA damages the reproductive systems, causes brain damage, breast and prostate cancers as well as alters the way cells function. 7 billion pounds a year is produced and 95% of Americans have it in their bodies. The worst is putting plastic wrap over plastic containers in the microwave. The FDA  is doing testing now, but currently they see no reason to ban it, they say they are confident of its safety yet 700 public studies have not been evaluated yet by the FDA that contest that claim. Many scientists say that the FDA assures that BPA is safe but that their evidence is based on outdated and incomplete studies primarily funded by the chemical industries themselves. Canada since 2008 has banned the use of baby bottles and other baby plastic containers that contain BPA, but there is no such ban in the United States.

5. Agrochemicals

Insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, fertilizers, rodenticides, veterinary pharmaceuticals, solvents, and fillers that contaminate soil and water are all part of agriculture practices today. They are solutions meant to solve problems yet that are creating an entirely new set of problems on a much more frightening level. In order to produce the highest volume of crops, fewer and fewer farmers are fighting against the system because economically they can’t afford to. Chemicals are also found in residential gardens and commercial landscaping as we continue to spray our lawns   and world with chemicals to enhance growth, but that in the end ultimately harm us. Certain seriously dangerous pesticides have been introduced into agriculture practices like DDT, Dioxin, and Dieldrin (an extremely toxic organchlorine pesticide banned in the U.S. in the late 1970s. Although banned since 1972, 99% of Americans tested positive for DDT today.  These chemicals are linked to debilitating diseases and developmental disorders, cancers, immune system suppression, nervous system disorders, reproductive damage, and disruption of hormonal systems. The U.S. EPA sets limits on the maximum number of pesticides on a food item, however, combined foods add to the total amount of contamination and interacting chemicals can cause a synergistic effect creating ‘chemical cocktails’ not studied on human health. Birth defects, ADHD, autism, childhood, and reproductive cancers are all on the rise because of it. Of these chemicals listed, there are many more.

4. Heavy Metals like Mercury, Lead and others

The most common contaminants of foods are what are known as “heavy metals” which include mainly mercury, lead, and cadmium. Food like commercial high fructose corn syrup, an ingredient often found in the top five ingredients in many food stuffs shows significant levels of mercury. Almost a third of 55 popular brand name food and beverage products contain this high fructose corn syrup as either the first or second ingredient. Mercury can cause serious brain damage, deafness, and blindness. The biggest cause of mercury in our food supply is from industrial waste and often is consumed by eating fish and shellfish. Lead is another toxic metal that enters our bodies through drinking water and through the food we eat.  In certain areas, heavy lead pollution comes from leaded petrol that leaks into the environment. Cadmium poisoning isn’t as prevalent, but does contaminate our food supply from local industrial and mining operations.

3. Industry and Manufacturing Waste

Industrial byproducts and chemicals from mass manufacturing plants release harmful residues into streams, lakes, and ground water systems. The disposal of Industrial waste into our oceans and seas are contaminating the waters worldwide with mercury and lead. Dioxin has been found in significant levels in the food chain all over the world with the main source being from emissions from incinerators. It is one of the most toxic and carcinogenic chemicals ever tested. The EPA ranks it in the top 10% most toxic chemicals for human health. Dioxin is also formed when municipal and hazardous waste is burned when chemicals containing chlorine are manufactured. Phthalate is a widely used industrial compound with many toxicological properties as well. About a billion pounds are produced per year worldwide. It’s used in perfumes, hairsprays, lubricants, wood finishers, and even that “new car smell.”

2. Unsafe Sewage Practices

Water is the perfect conduit for polluting our food supply for vast distances into the soil, our rivers, streams, lakes, and oceans. Through water, bacteria is transported and absorbed.  An entire host of chemicals and other contaminants collect into our sewage systems when not treated properly or else when not treated at all. 3 different bacteria usually exist in polluted water: E. Coli, clostridium, enterococci and others which are found in the feces of people and many animals. Parasites can also live in contaminated water and include: entamoeba histolytica, giardia duodenalis, Cryptospordium Parvum and many more.

1. Bacteria

Food contamination from bacteria and improper food handling causes 76 million people in the U.S. every year to become sick from food poisoning. 325,000 are hospitalized from bacteria or parasites and will bacteria contamination resulting in 5,000 deaths each year. In 2002, 61 million pounds of meat products were recalled, almost twice the prior year’s figure. Cross contamination from intestinal feces during the slaughtering process can occur with meat and poultry.  Similarly, fresh fruits and vegetables can be contaminated if they are washed in water contaminated with animal manure or human sewage. Contamination can also be caused by food handlers during food processing or/and when poor hygiene practices are in use. Other bacteria includes: Clostridium botulism, Escherichia coli, Salmonella typhimurium, Shigella, Staphylococcus aureus, Vibrio Cholera, and Vibrio vulnificus. Anti-resistant bacteria are also a problem today as well with the overuse of antibiotics.

Exposure to all these contaminates over prolonged exposure has been linked to breast and other types of cancer, immune system suppression, nervous system disorders, reproductive damage, and disruption of hormonal systems to people. Many of these pollutants have been banned, however, countries continue to manufacture and use these chemicals and new ones are coming up all the time. Toxins build up over time in the human body and continue to reach toxic levels resulting in an eventual ‘toxic overload.’ In order to mend the situation, it’s about time every single person on the planet started getting involved. Take measures to remedy one of the greatest threats to our survival. Become a voice for safer food practices and become involved in environmental protection initiatives. Support local farmers and organic suppliers, consume less processed and packaged foods, challenge businesses, industrial plants, and the government to use safe environmental practices. The future is up to each one of us.