In a recent study, it was revealed that seven out of eight kale samples from various locations in the United States contained elevated levels of toxic PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances), commonly known as "forever chemicals." This surprising discovery has raised concerns among researchers and advocates for food safety, prompting calls for more stringent testing and regulation. PFAS are notorious for their persistence in the environment and their association with various health risks, including cancer, kidney disease, liver conditions, immune disorders, and birth defects.
The extensive testing encompassed both conventional and organic kale purchased at different grocery stores nationwide. These findings contradicted previous analyses conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) between 2019 and 2021, which had not detected any PFAS contamination in kale. Robert Verkerk, founder of the Alliance for Natural Health non-profit organization, expressed his astonishment at the results, stating that researchers had expected lower levels of PFAS contamination.
The presence of PFAS in kale underscores the pressing need for the FDA to establish a more robust testing program aimed at monitoring the nation's food supply for these harmful chemicals. PFAS, a group of approximately 15,000 compounds, are commonly used in various industries to make products resistant to water, stains, and heat. Given their persistence, PFAS are aptly named "forever chemicals." The health risks associated with PFAS exposure underscore the necessity for stringent regulation and monitoring in the food industry.
Exposure to PFAS can have severe health consequences, including low birth weight and obesity later in life. These chemicals are known to accumulate in the body over time, making it imperative to minimize exposure through food consumption.
The recent report adds to growing concerns regarding PFAS-contaminated food, which is recognized as a significant exposure route to these chemicals. Independent research in recent months has identified PFAS in a range of food products, including protein powders and juice drinks. This expanding body of evidence underscores the need for immediate action to protect public health.
Previous studies have detected PFAS in vegetables grown in fields where sewage sludge was used as an alternative to fertilizer. The FDA had initially downplayed the health risks associated with PFAS found in vegetables near a North Carolina PFAS manufacturing plant in 2018, stating that it had "no indication" of a health threat.
The report found PFAS levels as high as 250 parts per trillion (ppt) in kale samples, even though there are currently no established limits for PFAS in food in the United States. However, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has declared that virtually no amount of exposure to some PFAS compounds in drinking water is safe. The absence of food-specific limits highlights the need for regulatory action in this regard.
Interestingly, the study revealed that organic kale had higher levels of PFAS contamination, which came as a surprise. Researchers attributed this to the protein content of kale, to which PFAS compounds tend to bind. The exact source of contamination remains unclear, with tainted water and the use of sludge in kale cultivation both potential culprits.
The European Union has established a tolerable weekly intake guideline for PFAS consumption in food, recommending no more than the amount found in approximately two servings of kale purchased from Publix. This guideline underscores the severity of the issue and the need for immediate action in the United States.
Robert Verkerk expressed uncertainty about why the FDA's recent testing did not detect PFAS in kale. Critics argue that the FDA's testing methods are limited to just a few compounds and may miss lower but still dangerous levels of PFAS contamination. The Alliance for Natural Health plans to conduct further testing on vegetables and foods and is actively advocating for the expansion and enhancement of the FDA's sampling program.