In January, we released a report that found the presence of mercury in one-third of the 55 food products we tested that had high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as the first or second ingredient. The paper coincided with a peer-reviewed article in Environmental Health, which found mercury in half of the HFCS tested.
Earlier this week, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee held a hearing on the Mercury Pollution Reduction Act. The bill, introduced by Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), would amend the Toxic Substances Control Act to phase out the use of mercury in the production of caustic soda and chlorine.
The primary focus of the bill is on eliminating an unnecessary release of mercury into the environment. But the issue is not just environmental pollution; numerous food grade chemicals are produced in these industrial plants, including HFCS. The use of mercury cell technology to produce caustic soda can contaminate the caustic soda, and ultimately, HFCS.
The hearing heard from Lynn Goldman, M.D., former EPA assistant administrator and now at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, on the public health risks from mercury. Catherine O'Neill, of the Seattle University School of Law, cited our study (among others) in pointing to the extensive costs of mercury use to public health and the environment.
As Dr. Goldman pointed out, only a handful of facilities still use mercury cell technology, totaling only 5 percent of U.S. chlorine and caustic soda production. Most facilities have already transitioned to cleaner technology. Japan has banned the use of mercury cell technology. And the EU is phasing its use by 2020. But there is no need to wait that long. We can eliminate this exposure to workers, the environment and our food system in the two years outlined in the bill.