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Lead toxicity: What Canadians need to know as U.S. FDA recalls apple puree pouches

More than 50 children in the U.S. had elevated levels of lead after consuming the puree.

This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Contact a qualified medical professional before engaging in any physical activity, or making any changes to your diet, medication or lifestyle.

This image provided by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday, Nov. 17, 2023, shows three recalled applesauce products - WanaBana apple cinnamon fruit puree pouches, Schnucks-brand cinnamon-flavored applesauce pouches and variety pack, and Weis-brand cinnamon applesauce pouches. The FDA is screening imports of cinnamon from multiple countries for toxic lead contamination after growing reports of children who were sickened after eating pouches of applesauce and apple puree. Cinnamon from a manufacturer in Ecuador is the “likely source” of high levels of lead found in recalled pouches of applesauce puree linked to illnesses in at least 34 children in 22 states, the FDA said Friday, Nov. 17, 2023. (FDA via AP)
Yahoo Canada has everything parents need to know about lead poisoning in children. (FDA via AP)

Dozens of children in the U.S. have allegedly been sickened by lead contamination in some puree pouches.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, apple cinnamon fruit puree pouches sold under WanaBana, Weis, and Schnucks brands have been recalled.

As of Nov. 22, the FDA received reports of 52 children with "adverse events potentially linked" to the recalled products. They had elevated levels of lead in their blood, and the children range from under one to four years old. This is up from 34 cases reported last week.

"Most children have no obvious immediate symptoms. Parents and caretakers should consult a healthcare provider if you suspect a child may have been exposed to lead," the FDA warned.

In the meantime, it advised parents to toss out or return the recalled items as they're being removed from the marketplace.

Back in September, Health Canada triggered a recall of kid cups due to the possible presence of lead. It recalled CUPKIN's eight-ounce and 12-ounce double-walled stainless steel children's cups in all colour combinations, citing an exposure risk. "The recalled products may contain excess amounts of lead present at the bottom seal," the recall warning read.

The agency added as of Sept. 11, there have been no reports of incidents or injuries in Canada and only 12 units were sold in the country. Nonetheless, it instructed individuals who purchased the cups to stop using them and contant CUPKIN for a refund.

Why exactly is lead poisoning dangerous to children? Here’s what parents need to know.

What is lead and how does it cause poisoning?

Person holding lead metal in water flow from tap. Lead is harmful to humans and exposure to the metal can affect 'multiple body systems.' (Getty)
Lead is harmful to humans and exposure to the metal can affect 'multiple body systems.' (Getty)

The World Health Organization described lead as “a naturally occurring toxic metal found in the Earth’s crust."

In addition to lead-acid batteries for vehicles, lead is also used in products like pigments, paints, solder, stained glass, jewelry, toys and others. However, it’s harmful to humans and exposure to the metal can affect “multiple body systems,” especially in children and young women.

Exposure can come from occupational and environmental sources, including inhaling lead particles or ingestion of lead-contaminated dust, water and food, or from hand-to-mouth behaviour. Ingestion can come from leaded pipes and lead-glazed or lead-soldered containers, WHO said.

There is no level of exposure to lead that is known to be without harmful effects.World Health Organization

Dr. Margaret Thompson, the medical director of the Ontario and Manitoba Poison Centers, told Yahoo Canada in September, lead poisoning in Canada is very rare.

“There are very few instances… People don't get acutely lead poisoned. Most often it’s because of continuous exposure to something that has lead in it and continuous exposures, sometimes months to years.”

Items that contain lead erode, Thompson explained, especially when exposed to something acidic.

This photo provided by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission shows CUPKIN Double-Walled Stainless Steel Children’s Cups. More than 345,000 children's cups are being recalled due to lead levels that exceed the federal content ban, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Thursday, July 20, 2023. Soojimus is recalling 8-ounce and 12-ounce models of its Cupkin Double-Walled Stainless Steel Children’s Cups — sold in various colors on Amazon and the Cupkin website from 2018 through March of this year, per the CPSC. (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission via AP)
More than 345,000 children's cups are being recalled due to lead levels that exceed a U.S. federal content ban too. (U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission via AP)

In the case of the CUPKIN cups, for example, “it would be quite benign and very little exposure, not absorbed into the body at all, if that cup had only contained water.

“But if it's got apple juice in it, it has got orange juice, has got cranberry juice, got tea, any of those particular substances are slightly acidic and can erode away at a cup.” Thompson added that eroded lining of the cup can “over time, gradually, slowly” become included in whatever liquid is in the cup.

“It would have to take large quantities over a long period of time for lead to accumulate in the body.”

What are the signs and symptoms of lead poisoning?

According to Thompson, small exposures over long periods of time can lead to “very subtle” symptoms.

One long-term symptom is a decrease in a child's IQ (intelligence), especially in the time that a child is developing their brain.

“What a parent might see is, maybe a young child, their milestones are regressing, maybe they're not speaking as early as they could,” Thompson said of early manifestations of lead toxicity.

However, as lead accumulates in the body, data shows symptoms of constipation and abdominal pain.

Even higher levels of lead can cause a child to become anemic and their blood count drops, the expert said.

“These are extreme cases, and maybe we see one of those a year in Canada.”

What puts a child at risk of lead poisoning?

Eating non-food items and living in an environment with lead can increase risk of lead toxicity. (Getty)
Eating non-food items and living in an environment with lead can increase risk of lead toxicity. (Getty)

Thompson said children who are diagnosed with Pica, an eating disorder where a person compulsively eats things that aren’t food.

“Children that like to put painted products or toys in their mouth,... children that eat dirt, children that put everything in their mouth, basically, would be at more at risk if their environment contains lead,” she explained.

Places of residence can also have an impact such as, for example, living on an old industrial site where lead was being processed. Living in older buildings with lead pipes or paint containing lead can also present a higher risk.

Should Canadian parents worry about the recall and lead poisoning?

According to Thompson, parents should generally not worry about the CUPKIN recall.

“This is a relatively low risk situation as compared to some other situations and other products that are out there,” she claimed. However, the recall should still be taken seriously, Thompson added.

Her advice to parents it to purchase Canadian products as Canada has tougher regulations on how much lead can be in a product meant for children.

“Go through your cupboards and be sure that anything you bought was purchased here in Canada,” she advised. “If there are pieces of pottery, etc., that you would’ve purchased outside of the country, or brought with you if you emigrated to Canada, then those products should probably be thrown out.”

She claimed there isn’t reliable testing for the amount of lead in a product that is not endorsed by Health Canada, so “purchase things that have got Canadian safety symbols on them.”

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