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Florida retail hemp shows high traces of lead contamination

The origin may be on the retail side.

Some retail hemp cannabidiol [CBD] products in Florida are showing signs of lead contamination that exceed regulations and the source is likely on the retail side.

“Where we’re finding it is in random samples that have already been bottled that we pull from retail locations in the state of Florida,” said Holly Bell, director of cannabis for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Bell reported the issue Tuesday during a state Hemp Advisory Committee meeting for the Florida Department of Agriculture. The concerns include over-the-counter, nonprescription hemp products such as CBD oil, powders and edibles.

“Many products we have tested off the shelf…  have very high concentrations of lead in them. When I say high concentrations, I mean they’re at a toxic waste level of concentration,” Bell said.

Matthew Curran, director of Food Safety for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, said the lead contamination is  “quite a bit over the limit.”

The acceptable limit for consumer consumption is 0.5 parts per million, according to the state agriculture department rules adopted Jan. 1, Curran said. But state regulators have found hemp products with lead amounts ranging from 6.5 parts per million to 18.5 parts per million in the some products.

“We believe that the source of contamination is containers and-or droppers, or a combination of that,” Bell said. “We’re furthering our research and investigation to help the industry understand and figure out how to solve that problem.”

In May, some hemp companies began issuing voluntary recalls of products in Florida.

Bell said an aggressive assessment of the contamination began when lead traces were first detected at the beginning of the year. More cases have been piling up. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency are partnering with Florida regulators.

Bell said officials are “diligently” testing products.

“When we find a product that is adulterated, we issue as ‘stop sale,’ [order] and we try to find other locations. We do sample throughout the state,” Curran said.

Curran added side effects from the excessive lead in hemp products can be quickly noticeable.

“Our bodies have no need for metals like lead… there can be consequences for pregnant females and for organ functions for any person who consumes high concentrations of heavy metals,” Curran said.

While state and federal officials are working to determine which products are contaminated, Curran said it’s not clear how long it will take the state to resolve the contamination.

Meanwhile the move is on to protect the hemp crops from unexpected damage. This week, the Florida Hemp Association partnered with Alliant Insurance Services Inc., to begin offering insurance for the hemp industry.

“They recognize the challenges for managing risk in Florida’s new hemp industry and have created options to protect your crop, farm, property, equipment and brand,” a news release said.

Bell said she usually remains neutral in advising the industry on any potential purchases related to the business. But she said insurance can’t hurt.

“I think protecting yourself and making sound business decisions is always a good idea,” Bell said.

There is no current government-funded insurance for hemp in Florida, Bell said. But there have been discussions with federal regulators such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture among other agencies about potential future government-funded insurance programs.

Written By

Drew Dixon is a journalist of 40 years who has reported in print and broadcast throughout Florida, starting in Ohio in the 1980s. He is also an adjunct professor of philosophy and ethics at three colleges, Jacksonville University, University of North Florida and Florida State College at Jacksonville. You can reach him at drewdixonwriting@gmail.com.

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