80% of Americans Test Positive for Harmful Chemical Found in Popular Foods, Linked to Serious Health Risks

A recent study published in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has revealed that approximately 80% of Americans have been exposed to a harmful chemical known as chlormequat. This chemical is commonly found in oat-based foods, including popular brands like Cheerios and Quaker Oats. Chlormequat, a highly toxic agricultural chemical, is legally permitted for use on oats and other grains imported into the United States.

Chlormequat is used to modify the growth of oat and grain crops, preventing them from bending over and thus facilitating easier harvesting. The EWG’s study also found the chemical in 92% of oat-based foods purchased in May 2023. The manufacturers of Cheerios and Quaker Oats, General Mills, and PepsiCo, respectively, have not yet responded to requests for comment.

The EWG’s study also revealed a concerning trend. After testing urine samples collected from 96 individuals between 2017 and 2023, the EWG found higher levels and more frequent detections of chlormequat in the 2023 samples. This suggests that consumer exposure to chlormequat could be increasing. In 2017, chlormequat was detected in 69% of study participants. This number rose to 74% between 2018 and 2022, and spiked to 90% in 2023.

Chlormequat typically leaves the body within 24 hours, so the high concentration of positive tests indicates that Americans are regularly being exposed to the chemical. While research on chlormequat is ongoing, studies have shown its potential effects on animals, raising questions about its potential harm to humans. In animal studies, chlormequat has been found to damage reproductive systems, disrupt fetal growth, and alter key metabolic processes.

The EWG also tested 20 more oat-based foods for chlormequat, including seven organic, 13 non-organic, and nine wheat-based products. Detectable levels of the chemical were found in 92% of non-organic oat-based foods, while only two samples of wheat-based foods had low levels of chlormequat. Only one of the seven organic samples had low levels of chlormequat.

The EWG is calling for answers from the federal government, including whether the Food and Drug Administration should mandate that US foods be tested for chlormequat. However, the US Environmental Protection Agency under President Biden’s administration has proposed allowing the first-ever use of chlormequat on barley, oat, triticale, and wheat grown in the US. The EWG opposes this decision, which was made in response to a request by chlormequat manufacturer Taminco.

Until the government sets guidelines around chlormequat and its use, the EWG is urging consumers to opt for organic oats grown without synthetic chemicals like chlormequat. According to Olga Naidenko, EWG’s vice president of science investigations, the EWG recommends shoppers to buy organic oat products since these oats are grown without the use of toxic pesticides such as chlormequat and glyphosate.