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Children highly exposed to ‘possible carcinogen’ found in sweets

By Oliver Nieburg , 07-Mar-2012

A study has found that children are highly exposed to titanium dioxide, which is found in a white food colour additive used in confectionery products.

Although no conclusive link between titanium dioxide and health risks has been established, some studies have suggested a link to asthma and Crohn’s disease.

The research, ‘Titanium Dioxide nanoparticles in Food and Personal Care Products’ published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology found that the highest content of titanium dioxide nanoparticles appeared in confectionery products and particularly in chewing gum.

Highest levels in chewing gum

Alex Weir et al.tested 89 foods that contained the white colour E171, ranging from dairy products and beverages to confectionery and baked goods.

Chewing gum products were found to contain the most titanium dioxide. Products such as Mentos Freshmint Gum, Eclipse Spearmint Gum and Trident White peppermint gum had some of the highest concentrations.

The researchers also conducted a Monte Carlo human exposure analysis where they found that children had the highest exposures to titanium dioxide as they consumed more sweet products than adults.

E171 is the EU designation for the food colour. It is also known elsewhere as CI 77891, Pigment White 6 or titanium white when used in other products such as toothpaste.

Is there a risk?

A 2010 toxicity study of titanium dioxide from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) suggested an asthma risk through inhalation and classed titanium dioxide as ‘possibly carcinogenic’.

Another study in 2002 from Lomer et.al linked the oxide to Crohn’s disease.

“However, a risk assessment has not been published yet and care has to be taken when comparing exposure to effect,”warned the authors of the present study.

ConfectioneryNews.com asked the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) for its view on the risks.

An EFSA spokesperson told this site: “We are not aware of any scientific data supporting possible carcinogenic effects of oral exposure to titanium dioxide."

“In its 2004 Opinion, the former EFSA AFC Panel reported a 2-year oral carcinogenicity study in mice and rats which was considered negative. Another study in which rats were administered titanium dioxide coated mica in the diet for 130 weeks was also negative.”

The spokesperson also noted that the IARC evaluation suggested no increase in tumours in other routes of exposure apart from inhalation.

“It was further reported that the working group found little evidence of an increased risk for cancer in humans based on the relatively few epidemiological studies available,” she said.

EFSA and FDA limits

In the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) set the limits for titanium dioxide in food at 1% to the weight of the food.

By contrast, in the EU, titanium dioxide (E 171) is permitted “as needed” in foodstuffs as defined in Directive 94/36/EC on colours for use in foodstuffs.

However, EFSA’s ANS Panel is currently reviewing titanium dioxide as part of a re-evaluation of approved food additives. 

The spokesperson said EFSA would take into account all available scientific information before the evaluation deadline at the end of 2015.

The study: Environ. Sci. Technol., 2012, 46 (4), pp 2242–2250, DOI: 10.1021/es204168d

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