Letter to the Editors Re: Dufault et al. in Environmental Health (2009) 8:2 Arthur Dungan, The Chlorine Institute, Inc. 11 February 2009 February 9, 2009 To the Editors: While we share public concern about the safety of our food supply, we believe that you did a vast disservice to your readers and the chlor-alkali industry by publishing an article [Dufault et al. in Environmental Health (2009) 8:2] that, without any scientific evidence whatsoever, claims that chlor-alkali plants are the source of the mercury they found in samples of high fructose corn syrup and other food products. The report, “Mercury from chlor-alkali plants: measured concentrations in food product sugar,” carries nothing more than unsubstantiated, unwarranted speculation concerning a purported relationship between such plants and mercury in foods. While the study raises important questions regarding mercury in the diet, careful evaluation is needed to survey all potential sources and exposures before characterizing a source for consumers’ potential health risk. Simple conjecture born of irresponsible science only serves to misinform and mislead the public. Moreover, deliberate misrepresentation of findings has no role in a peer-reviewed technical journal. I urge the readers and scientific reviewers of Environmental Health to demand a higher standard of reporting and one that is consistent with research conducted using the scientific method. We are chagrined that the authors of such a study would allow such idle speculation to be prominently reported in the study’s findings. We are outraged that none of the peer reviewers pointed out this obvious speculation or called for changes. Contrary to the authors’ speculation, it is neither physically nor chemically possible for caustic soda to be the source of the mercury levels identified in this study. The study correctly points out that most of the caustic soda produced in the United States is produced by chlor-alkali plants that do not use mercury cell technology. However, the mercury levels the authors report are some 50 times higher than what can be attributed to any trace amounts of mercury in caustic soda produced by chlor-alkali plants that do not use mercury cell technology. Food-grade caustic soda is safe to use in the food-processing industry. Caustic soda used in food processing must meet stringent international Food Chemicals Codex standards established by the World Health Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization and international governments. Furthermore, the report fails to account for the possibility of other mercury sources. It is important to note that mercury is ubiquitous in our environment due to natural and man-made sources. For example, it is common to find measurable mercury in the soil in which we grow our food, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency allows up to two parts per billion in the drinking water we consume daily. We urge the editors of Environmental Health and the authors of the study to point out as quickly as possible that they provide no scientific link connecting caustic soda to the reported levels of mercury they found in their study. Very truly yours, Arthur E. Dungan President The Chlorine Institute, Inc. 1300 Wilson Boulevard Arlington, VA 22209 Tel: 703-741-5760 Fax: 703-741-6068 www.chlorineinstitute.org Competing interests The author works for a trade association that represents some members of the chlor-alkali industry, the subject of this comment.