Dozens of baby food lawsuits have been filed by families of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Here’s what parents should know about the ongoing litigation.
What Causes Autism, and How Does Heavy Metals Toxic Exposure Affect ASD Risk?
Despite an increase in diagnoses, the precise cause of autism spectrum disorder remains mysterious. Researchers have studied many factors that are believed to have a causation or correlation relationship to ASD. Numerous research studies, such as this article published in the medical journal The Lancet Neurology, have investigated the impact of exposure to heavy metals on the risks of developing autism spectrum disorder and other neurodevelopmental disabilities—especially during infancy and early childhood.
The allegations and arguments made in baby food autism lawsuits pertain to the presence of “unsafe” levels of toxic heavy metals like mercury, lead, arsenic, and cadmium, as highlighted in the February 4, 2021, Congressional report “Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury.”
What Is Autism?
Autism spectrum disorder, or ASD, is a developmental disorder that affects how an individual perceives the world and others around them and how they communicate with and socialize with other people. The Mayo Clinic notes the significance of the “spectrum” part of ASD in conveying the variety of different symptoms and levels of severity that people with autism spectrum disorder may experience.
ASD is not something that can be “cured.” However, there are interventions—such as physical and cognitive therapies, skills training, medications, and assistive devices—that may help a child with ASD gain the skills they need to be able to communicate and live a full, fulfilling life. Generally, the earlier children with ASD are able to start getting the therapy they need, the better, according to the CDC.
When Do Children Show Symptoms of ASD?
Signs of autism typically emerge early in life. Early ASD symptoms may be noticeable by the time the child is 12 months, 18 months, or 24 months old, according to the National Institutes of Health. However, many children aren’t diagnosed until after they turn three.
Can Heavy Metals in Baby Food Cause Autism?
The cause—or, likely, causes—of autism still aren’t fully understood. There are several factors that may potentially play a role in causing autism, such as genetic factors. However, researchers now believe that “non-genetic, environmental exposures are involved in causation” of ASD (and other neurodevelopmental disorders) in many cases, according to the Lancet Neurology article referenced above. In particular, the researchers who wrote this article were looking at the effects of neurotoxicants, including the heavy metals that have been found in tainted baby food products.
The findings of numerous research studies support the idea that exposure to these heavy metals—particularly during infancy and early childhood, when the brain is in especially sensitive stages of development—could increase the risk of developing ASD. The lawsuits that are currently proceeding against baby food manufacturers have alleged that “the design defects in Defendants’ Baby Foods were substantial factors in causing Plaintiffs’ injuries.”
What all of this data boils down to is that, yes, there is evidence that suggests that exposure to toxic heavy metals in baby food can cause autism spectrum disorder or at least increase the risk of a child developing ASD.
Why Does Baby Food Contain Heavy Metals?
Plaintiffs have alleged that “children consuming Defendants’ Baby Foods are exposed to repeated, high doses of multiple Toxic Heavy Metals, thereby compounding the risk of ASD.”
The heavy metals that have been found in commercially produced baby foods are environmental contaminants. Because they occur naturally in air, water, and soil, it’s not feasible to completely avoid the potential for heavy metals in food products. Even homemade baby foods blended from fresh organic produce may still contain a low level of heavy metals exposure. This is because rice, vegetables, and other plants that produce the ingredients used to make baby foods may soak up the heavy metals found in the soil and water supply as they grow.
Since we know that these heavy metals are neurotoxic, it’s important to limit exposure to them as much as possible—particularly among infants and toddlers. Yet the Congressional report on baby foods tainted with heavy metals showed that some of the most popular brands of baby food were found to contain “sometimes alarmingly high levels,” according to Consumer Reports.
The dozens of lawsuits that have been filed against baby food manufacturers have alleged that the defendants established “dangerously inflated internal limits” that they then “willingly flouted” and, further, that the “Defendants’ malicious recklessness and callous disregard for human life has wreaked havoc on the health of countless vulnerable children.”
These lawsuits outline several ways that the baby food manufacturers involved in the claims could have produced foods that pose less of a risk of heavy metals toxic exposure, including:
- Sampling food ingredients from different sources
- Switching to alternative ingredients
- Stopping the use of added vitamins and minerals that include heavy metals in high amounts
- Warning parents of the potential increase in the risk of ASD and other harms due to repeated sustained exposure to neurotoxic heavy metals
In the lawsuits, the plaintiffs have alleged that “children consuming Defendants’ Baby Foods are exposed to repeated, high doses of multiple Toxic Heavy Metals, thereby compounding the risk of ASD.” Through the legal action, these plaintiffs are seeking compensation for the economic and non-economic harms their children have suffered.
What Baby Foods Have Heavy Metals?
The Congressional report discusses the issue of heavy metals contamination of baby food produced by leading manufacturers, including:
- Beech-Nut Nutrition Company
- Nurture, Inc.’s HappyBABY/Happy Family Organics
- Hain Celestial Group, Inc.’s Earth’s Best Organic
- Walmart Inc.’s Parent’s Choice
- Campbell Soup Company’s Plum Organics
- North Castle Partners’ Sprout Foods, Inc.
If you suspect that exposure to tainted baby food may have harmed your child, speak to your child’s doctor about your concerns so that your child can get the help they need and consult an attorney who can help you protect your family’s legal rights.