Lead Poisoning in Applesauce Affects Up to 385 People, Mostly Children

Lead Poisoning in Applesauce

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The recent contamination of applesauce pouches serves as a stark reminder of the severe health risks posed by lead, particularly to children. Children are vulnerable to the harmful effects of lead which can, even in small amounts, result in lasting damage, particularly affecting brain development.

According to multiple sources, including PBS and NBC, U.S. health officials are investigating an Austrofoods plant in Ecuador responsible for manufacturing cinnamon applesauce pouches linked to numerous cases of acute lead poisoning in American children. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) suspects that contaminated cinnamon is the source of the lead, prompting an inspection and sample collection at the Ecuadorian plant.

In January 2024, FDA investigators discovered elevated levels of chromium in the contaminated applesauce pouches.  

The FDA revealed that health authorities in Ecuador discovered elevated lead levels in the cinnamon supplied by Negasmart, the company facing sanctions. The contaminated applesauce pouches, recalled in late October and widely distributed, were sold under various brand names, including WanaBana, Schnucks, and Weis, and were available at Dollar Tree, Amazon, and other online retailers. As of January 19, 2024, “CDC has received the following reports from state and local health departments:

  • Total Cases: 385
    • Confirmed Cases: 97
    • Probable Cases: 253
    • Suspect Cases: 35”

Reports have come in from 42 different states, including Alabama.

“The affected individuals, predominantly children age 6 or younger, exhibit symptoms associated with acute lead poisoning,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported. They also found “some of the pouches tested at levels exceeding the acceptable threshold by more than 500 times” (all emphasis ours).

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What should I do if my child has eaten any of these applesauce pouches?

If you purchased and fed one of these brands of cinnamon applesauce to your child, immediately stop giving them to your children, but do not throw them out. Call your child’s pediatrician as soon as possible to discuss next steps for lead testing, or contact the Alabama Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program in Montgomery to learn if they can help:

Phone: (334) 206-3883

Toll Free: (833) 667-1495


In the meantime, keep the pouches you have left and store them someplace where your children cannot access them. As with any defective, deadly product case, these pouches – along with your child’s test results – can prove that your child was harmed.

What exactly is lead?

The Environmental Protection Agency defines lead as “a naturally occurring element found in small amounts in the earth’s crust. While it has some beneficial uses, it can be toxic to humans and animals, causing health effects.” Lead can be found just about everywhere: the ground, air, and water. This means it also can be found in our homes, workplaces, and even in our food. Before we knew how toxic lead was, we often used lead in our paint, plumbing pipes, dishware, and even makeup. While we have learned better now, these old objects and items can still be found in old homes and antique shops.

Unfortunately, humans still produce lead. Lead enters the environment through various historical and current uses, with industrial sources and contaminated sites contributing to its presence. Activities like mining, smelting, and refining have significantly elevated lead levels, particularly near such sites. Although natural soil lead levels range between 50 and 400 parts per million, human activities have intensified contamination. Industrial emissions and aircraft using spark-ignition engines release lead into the air, allowing it to travel over long distances before settling on the ground, often binding to soil particles. The movement of lead from soil to groundwater depends on the lead compound and soil characteristics. Regulatory standards at the federal and state levels aim to reduce lead in air, drinking water, soil, consumer products, food, and occupational settings, but you should know that once lead is found somewhere, it doesn’t leave without help. Per Birmingham Watch:

Lead doesn’t break down into something safer as it sits in soil, which is why it’s so critical to remove it or cover it with clean soil to stop exposure. When lead settles into the top layer of dirt, scientists have found, it can remain there for decades, if not longer.

Because it binds to the soil particles, wind that kicks dirt and dust into the air can reintroduce the lead into the atmosphere and spread the contamination.

What is lead poisoning?

Lead poisoning occurs when too much lead builds up in the body. As lead is a neurotoxin, too much of it in the body can lead to not only brain damage, but nerve damage that can affect the body as a whole. Lead poisoning is more dangerous to children, as it can affect their brain’s development.

Symptoms of lead poisoning, according to the Mayo Clinic, include:

  • Lead poisoning in children
    • Developmental delay
    • Learning difficulties
    • Irritability
    • Loss of appetite
    • Weight loss
    • Sluggishness and fatigue
    • Abdominal pain
    • Vomiting
    • Constipation
    • Hearing loss
    • Seizures
    • Eating things, such as paint chips, that aren’t food (pica)
  • Lead poisoning in adults
    • High blood pressure
    • Joint and muscle pain
    • Difficulties with memory or concentration
    • Headache
    • Abdominal pain
    • Mood disorders
    • Reduced sperm count and abnormal sperm
    • Miscarriage, stillbirth or premature birth in pregnant women

Lead damage can lead to further complications. Even at low levels, exposure to lead can result in gradual damage, particularly in children. The most significant risk lies in impairing brain development, leading to irreversible harm. Elevated lead levels pose a threat to the kidneys and nervous system in both children and adults. In extreme cases, very high lead levels may trigger seizures, loss of consciousness, and even death.

Lead poisoning in the public eye

There are federal regulations on the amount of lead that can be in a product before it is deemed unsafe to sell, so products that are sold in the United State should not have enough lead in them to cause a problem. However, there are instances, such as in the case of Austrofoods’ applesauce, that lead manages to get to the public without detection.

There are also cases where mass exposure happens that is not due to food contamination. The Flint, Michigan water crisis, which started in 2014, was triggered by a cost-saving measure that shifted the city’s drinking water source from Detroit’s system to the Flint River. Inadequate water treatment and testing led to significant quality and health problems. Residents experienced foul-smelling, discolored water causing skin issues, hair loss, and more, with government officials consistently downplaying the concerns. The crisis also contributed to elevated lead levels in children.

Lead poisoning in Alabama

Flint may be the household name, but we have a real problem with lead poisoning in Alabama. Back in 2016, “Houston County [had] the highest reported level of lead poisoning in the country, with seven of 12 children tested there having lead levels high enough to qualify as lead poisoning,” and in Dallas County, more than one in three children tested positive for lead poisoning” that year. These numbers were based on the old definition of blood lead levels (5 micrograms per deciliter), which means under the newer guidelines (3.5 micrograms per deciliter) those numbers would have skewed low.

If you or a loved one has suffered from lead poisoning caused by a product you purchased or any other reason, you deserve to be compensated. At Martin & Helms, we have dealt with poisoning cases resulting from negligence, and know how to handle cases like yours. Let us help. To discuss your legal options, call our offices in Huntsville and Decatur, or fill out our contact form. We also serve clients in Madison, Athens, and all of North Alabama.

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