Course:FNH200/Lessons/Lesson 12/Page 12.7

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12.7 Examples of Environmental Toxicants

Table 12.1 lists a rather wide range of environmental toxicants, but this list is not comprehensive. They include:

  • products of industrial activity (e.g. mercury, lead, dioxins, polychlorinated biphenyls, radioisotopes)
  • products of agricultural activity (e.g. pesticide and herbicide residues, antibiotic residues)
  • products of food processing (e.g. packaging residues)
  • naturally occurring environmental toxicants (e.g. mercury, radioisotopes)

You may have heard about the tragic news in 2005 of the death of 27 children in Manila (the Philippines), after eating deep-fried caramelized cassava sold by vendors as recess snacks to the children. More than 100 other children, as well as one of the two vendors, were admitted to hospitals, suffering from severe stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea. Although early reports suspected cyanide poisoning from improperly cooked cassava, subsequent laboratory tests on the cassava snack samples as well as analysis of the patients indicated that contamination by carbamate pesticide was the likely cause of the poisoning.

"Carbamate pesticide is commonly used in farms and households on Bohol, and may have already been in the environment." Source: The Vancouver Sun, March 10, 2005 and March 14, 2005.

Some environmental toxicants display their toxicity at concentrations many, many times greater than we are likely to find in food; others are toxic at concentrations not far removed from those found in foods. All of them are of concern because they inhabit the environment and hence can enter our food supply. But, more important, all of them are present in the environment because they have some property that makes them useful to us. As a consequence, we must examine all environmental toxicants from a risk/benefit perspective. The decision to continue to use them should be made because their benefit outweighs their risk. Their continuing presence in the environment may also happen to a time in the past when their benefit outweighed their risk, but that may no longer be the case; a current review of risk/benefit would be in order.

Due to time constraints, we will not explore the environmental toxicants in more detail in this course.

Want to learn more?
  • Using Your Knowledge Food Recalls and Allergy Alerts
  • Browse through the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) Food Recalls/Health Hazard or Allergy Alerts website, to obtain some insight into food recalls and alerts about potential allergens or health hazards in the food that we purchase.
    • Can you find examples of naturally occurring toxicants as constituents? as contaminants
    • How about examples of environmental toxicants?
    • What is the most common type of recall or alert?