Scientists from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tested samples of powered infant formula and found traces of a chemical used in rocket fuel.
The study findings are published in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology.
Perchlorate is both a naturally occurring and manmade chemical, but in the U.S. most is used as an ingredient in fireworks and rocket fuel. Other forms of perchlorate are used in a variety of products including road flairs, explosives and car air bags.
The chemical is believed to disrupt thyroid function which in turn affects metabolism, growth and development in children. Thyroid damage in fetuses and infants may lead to a host of health conditions including mental retardation, hearing, speech and motor problems.
In adults, exposure to perchlorate may cause cancer, anxiety, fatigue, depression, hair loss, unexplained weight gain, and decreased libido.
In at least 35 states and the District of Columbia, perchlorate was been found in drinking water.
Researchers haven't revealed the fifteen formula brands they studied, but are reporting that those formulas derived from cow’s milk contain the largest amounts of the chemical. In fact, the two most contaminated brands of formula accounted for 87% of the U.S. market for powered formula in 2000.
Researchers are still unsure how perchlorate affects human health. The study itself sheds little light on how dangerous the perchlorate in baby formula is. "This wasn't a study of health effects," said Dr. Joshua Schier, one of the authors.
Only a few samples were studied, so it's hard to know if the perchlorate levels would be found in all containers of those brands, a CDC spokesman said.
However, some groups say the findings are evidence that the government needs to set a more rigid health advisory level regarding perchlorate.
“Infants that are fed cow’s milk-based powered formula may be exposed to perchlorate from two sources – formula and tap water,” said Anila Jacob, a senior scientist with Environmental Working Group. “That suggests millions of American babies are potentially at risk.”
The EWG is urging the EPA to regulate perchlorate in water. Last year, the agency said it saw no need for such regulations because they would offer no “meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction.”
In their research, the CDC noted that the FDA requires infant formula be supplemented with iodine, a nutrient that can counteract the negative effects of perchlorate on the thyroid. But, they estimate that those brands that contain only the minimum iodine concentration would leave infants iodine-deficient and thus more vulnerable to the toxic effects of perchlorate.
So what can be done to ease these worries? IB Partner, David Mittleman, writes you can check your local water supply for perchlorate and other chemicals, which can be done on the Environmental Working Group’s Web site. Another avenue is to contact your legislator or senator to push for higher safety standards for chemicals, or contact the EPA. #