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Cancer and non-cancer health effects from food contaminant exposures for children and adults in California: a risk assessment

Rainbow Vogt1, Deborah Bennett1, Diana Cassady1, Joshua Frost1, Beate Ritz2 and Irva Hertz-Picciotto1*

Author Affiliations

1 UC Davis, Department of Public Health Sciences, 1 Shields Avenue, Davis, CA, 95616, USA

2 UC Los Angeles, Department of Epidemiology, 100 Stein Plaza Driveway, Los Angeles, CA, 90095, USA

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Environmental Health 2012, 11:83  doi:10.1186/1476-069X-11-83

Published: 9 November 2012



In the absence of current cumulative dietary exposure assessments, this analysis was conducted to estimate exposure to multiple dietary contaminants for children, who are more vulnerable to toxic exposure than adults.


We estimated exposure to multiple food contaminants based on dietary data from preschool-age children (2–4 years, n=207), school-age children (5–7 years, n=157), parents of young children (n=446), and older adults (n=149). We compared exposure estimates for eleven toxic compounds (acrylamide, arsenic, lead, mercury, chlorpyrifos, permethrin, endosulfan, dieldrin, chlordane, DDE, and dioxin) based on self-reported food frequency data by age group. To determine if cancer and non-cancer benchmark levels were exceeded, chemical levels in food were derived from publicly available databases including the Total Diet Study.


Cancer benchmark levels were exceeded by all children (100%) for arsenic, dieldrin, DDE, and dioxins. Non-cancer benchmarks were exceeded by >95% of preschool-age children for acrylamide and by 10% of preschool-age children for mercury. Preschool-age children had significantly higher estimated intakes of 6 of 11 compounds compared to school-age children (p<0.0001 to p=0.02). Based on self-reported dietary data, the greatest exposure to pesticides from foods included in this analysis were tomatoes, peaches, apples, peppers, grapes, lettuce, broccoli, strawberries, spinach, dairy, pears, green beans, and celery.


Dietary strategies to reduce exposure to toxic compounds for which cancer and non-cancer benchmarks are exceeded by children vary by compound. These strategies include consuming organically produced dairy and selected fruits and vegetables to reduce pesticide intake, consuming less animal foods (meat, dairy, and fish) to reduce intake of persistent organic pollutants and metals, and consuming lower quantities of chips, cereal, crackers, and other processed carbohydrate foods to reduce acrylamide intake.

Dietary toxic exposure prevention; Nutritional toxicology; Organic food; Cancer risk; Chemical contaminants in food