Some corn syrup is contaminated with mercury.

In the U.S., consumption of corn sweeteners is ~ 80 lbs per person.

Roughly 75% of that is high fructose corn syrup.

High fructose corn syrup is created in a corn wet-milling process.

Chemicals for this process are made at chlor-alkali plants.

Older chlor-alkali plants utilize a "mercury cell" process.

The process electrolyzes saltwater and produces sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl).

The same plants also creates sodium hydroxide (NaOH), often called lye or caustic soda.

The process takes place in an electrolytic cell, where liquid mercury (Hg) acts as a cathode.

Hg attracts sodium (Na) cations to form an amalgam.

NaOCl gas collects at a graphite anode.

The amalgam is added to water where Na reacts to form NaOH and H.

Hg gets left behind and reused.

Mercury is highly volatile and contamination occurs throughout the process.

Both the product and the wastewater stream end up containing some mercury.

This report documents 65 tons of mercury lost during one year of production at nine chlor-alkali plants in the U.S.

Similarly 96 tons of mercury were lost at plants in Europe.

The EPA declared that "the fate of all the mercury consumed at mercury-cell chlor-alkali plants remains somewhat of an enigma."

The infamous Minamata mercury disaster in Japan was caused by effluent from a chlor-alkali plant.

This Oceana report gives an encouraging update on progress towards eliminating mercury-based processing in chlor-alkali plants.

Many facilities around the world have converted to mercury-free technologies or are in the process of converting.

While only a handful of U.S. chlor-alkali plants continue using the mercury-based process, there are other plants worldwide that still do.

Products from these plants are used in the U.S. and other countries.

Hazards and harm will persist until all mercury-based plants are converted or cease operation.

The following two paragraphs were spotted on a Google cache page and then tracked down on the Internet Archive.

Highlighting is added here for emphasis:

"Products manufactured at Vulcan's Geismar plant are used to make soaps and detergents, soft drinks, drain cleaners, corn syrup, circuit boards, refrigerants, plastics, paint removers, paper, insecticides, herbicides, pharmaceuticals, dry cleaning and metal cleaning chemicals."

"The Vulcan Chemicals complex in Wichita, Kansas is a major chloralkali chemical production facility, manufacturing chlorine, caustic soda, hydrochloric acid and a diversified line of chlorinated organic chemicals. Chemicals produced by Vulcan's Wichita complex are also used in thousands of consumer products, including soaps and detergents, purified drinking water, pharmaceuticals, photographic film, skin care products, paper, processed fruits and vegetables, refrigerants, and soft drinks."

These become routes of toxic exposure.

Even if such products are no longer made using mercury-based chemicals — they were for a long time.

Previous exposures and accumulation play a role in the body's response to new toxic exposures.

Information is now presented differently at the company's current web site.


HCl is used at the start of the corn wet-milling process.

HCl and other chemicals made at chlor-alkali plants are used at various stages depending on the final corn product being manufactured.

If the chemicals were made at a mercury-cell chlor-alkali plant then the refined corn products can become contaminated with mercury.

Testing has confirmed significant amounts of mercury in high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

Samples were taken from three corn refineries.

Mercury ranged from below a detection limit of 0.005 all the way up to 0.570 µg Hg per HFCS gm [ below 5 ppb up to 570 ppb ].

The mercury found in HFCS is believed to be a species other than methylmercury but still organic Hg2+ (divalent mercury).

Even with best-in-class equipment it is difficult to identify mercury species.

The fact that it is organic mercury is troubling.

It only takes a few parts per trillion of a species like ethylmercury to induce neurotoxicity.

A person living in the U.S. consumes an average of 49.8 g HFCS daily.

Based on the samples reported, average exposure could reach

Calculate HFCS daily mercury exposure

Let's calculate how large a person must be in order to consume that much mercury in one day without exceeding EPA guidelines.

0.1 µg/kg/day = EPA oral reference dose (RfD) for Hg

Calculate HFCS EPA mercury weight kg

Converting from kg to lb gives

Calculate HFCS EPA mercury weight lb

Relatively few people weigh 625 lbs or more. That means most people eating typical quantities of HFCS can easily exceed EPA guidelines for Hg exposure. Every day.

A 10 year old boy in the 50th percentile weighs 32 kg (70 lb), and

Calculate HFCS EPA mercury exceed

In other words, the boy's Hg intake will exceed EPA guidelines by 9x.

Exposure from HFCS is in addition to other sources of exposure.

People who feed on convenience foods or who regularly dine on fast foods will ingest considerably more mercury than the 'average' person.

There is strong evidence linking consumption of HFCS and food additives, mercury exposure, and zinc deficiency with neurodevelopmental disorders such as 'autism' and ADHD.

Remarkably, the FDA has known about these levels of mercury in HFCS since at least 2005.

Nonetheless, in July 2008 the FDA gave consent for manufacturers to call HFCS "natural".

The FDA made no reference to mercury.

Instead they focused on "synthetic substances".

Because a particular synthetic fixing agent named glutaraldehyde does not appear to directly contact the corn starch hydrolysate, they conceded to industry pressure to call HFCS "natural".

Acids used to obtain corn starch hydrolysate are an established route of mercury contamination. Consent to use the term "natural" should be withdrawn immediately.

Notice how the FDA has contradictory standards.

FDA disapproves glutaraldehyde coming into contact with corn starch hydrolysate.

FDA approves glutaraldehyde residue in DTaP and Tdap vaccines being injected into infants.

Glutaraldehyde is toxic.

This study published in January 2009 by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) tested 55 products purchased directly from the supermarket.

The product labels listed HFCS as either the first or second ingredient. Many of the products are marketed towards children.

Branded products came from these prominent corporations

More than 30% tested positive for mercury, including

Aunt Jemima Original Syrup
Coca-Cola Classic
Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup
Hunt’s Tomato Ketchup
Jack Daniel’s Barbecue Sauce
Kemps Fat Free Chocolate Milk
Kraft Original Barbecue Sauce
Manwich Bold Sloppy Joe
Market Pantry Grape Jelly
Minute Maid Berry Punch
Nesquik Chocolate Milk
Nutri-Grain Strawberry Cereal Bars
Pop-Tarts Frosted Blueberry
Quaker Oatmeal to Go
Smucker’s Strawberry Jelly
Wish-Bone Western Sweet & Smooth Dressing
Yoo-hoo Chocolate Drink
Yoplait Strawberry Yogurt

Right now, as a consumer, you have no way of knowing which HFCS foods contain mercury.

The current indication is that 1 in 3 HFCS products contain mercury.

A survey conducted by the Corn Refiners Association in February 1999 found 3,795 items containing 7,366 refined corn ingredients in a store containing approximately 30,000 items total.

The implication is that 1,265 of them would have been contaminated with mercury.

The use of mercury-grade ingredients in food and beverages should be banned.

In the meantime, consider avoiding foods derived from wet corn-milling, especially those containing HFCS.

Chronic mercury exposure from HFCS was not factored in to 'safety' levels for fish consumption.

The amount of mercury ingested from HFCS can be greater than the amount ingested from fish or from mercury dental amalgams.

This previously unrecognized source of mercury exposure will have had an effect on a large population since at least the 1980s.

Could the mercury in HFCS come from somewhere other than chemicals contaminated by mercury-cell chlor-alkali production?

It's a reasonable question.

What about mercury released at corn refineries where HFCS is produced?

Corn wet-mills have been reporting mercury to the federal Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) since 2000.

Tallying the annual amount of mercury released by wet-mills that actually produce HFCS and comparing that to the volume of corn used to produce HFCS shows there is no significant correlation.

Corn used for HFCS production vs mercury reported to TRI

This makes sense.

Under TRI, the refiners are voluntarily reporting mercury released into the environment or reclaimed for recycling and disposal.

They are not looking for nor reporting any mercury that may contaminate their end products.

What about water fed into the corn wet-milling process?

The EPA maximum contaminant level (MCL) for mercury in drinking water is 2 ppb.

The water used in HFCS production is delivered by a municipality or drawn from a local river, reservoir, lake, or aquifer.

For mercury in HFCS to reach the levels reported (up to 570 ppb) the water source would have to be be contaminated at levels more than 285x above the federal maximum.

Adverse environmental and health effects would be significant at this level and hard to overlook.

It is unlikely that water is the source of mercury contamination in HFCS.

What about the corn itself?

There are numerous possibilities for corn to become contaminated prior to harvest. For example

Air particulates containing mercury can float in (or rain down) from sources around the world.

Fallout from coal combustion and other fossil fuels is common.

Also, events like wildfires can dump tons of contaminants into the atmosphere, settling out downwind both near and far.

Polluted irrigation water may contaminate the field.

Water supplies in general are becoming more polluted due to human activity.

Examples include industrial effluent, surface run-off, and water exposed to plumes from cement kilns, crematoriums, mining operations, electronics recovery/recycling, etc.

Those sources don't have to be local — just some place that reaches and ruins the water used for the corn.

As another example, some locales suffering from diminished water supplies have begun diverting "toilet-to-tap" water for agricultural use.

Fertilizers and soil amendments can be contaminated with heavy metals and other toxics.

Pesticides (herbicides, fungicides, rodenticides, etc.) could be a lingering source of mercury contamination.

For example, it is possible that corn and other grains continue to be contaminated with ethyl mercury remaining in soil decades after certain fungicides were discontinued.

Base soil can be be contaminated by industrial activity.

Below is a map of U.S. corn production overlaid with a map of TRI reporting sites.

The maps use different contours and don't fit together precisely, but the result gives perspective on where contamination might occur.

How many acres of corn are grown within the plume of a superfund site or major TRI reporting facility?

Even with all of these possibilities, corn itself is unlikely to be the source of mercury in HFCS.

Here's why:

Corn uptakes very little mercury even in soils with elevated mercury caused by sludge application, industrial output, and other sources [1,2,4,6,8].

Corn crops generally have very low levels of mercury [1,2,3,9].

Corn kernels uptake less mercury than other parts of the plant — the leaves, stalk, and roots [5].

In 1974, a mean level concentration of 0.0024 (+/- 0.0017) µg Hg per g whole kernel corn [ 2.4 ppb +/- 1.7 ppb ] was determined from 11 different corn samples — including 6 samples submitted by the American Corn Millers Federation and originating from a geographical area covering 6 states [3].

Corn germ typically represents 11% of yellow dent whole corn kernel.

Mercury primarily concentrates in the corn germ [3].

Endosperm represents 83% of the kernel.

Endosperm is mostly starch and is the portion used for HFCS production.

After steeping, the de-germing process separates the germ from the endosperm.

In other words, the portion of corn containing most of the mercury is removed prior to HFCS production [3].

In 1974, corn syrup was found to have the least amount of mercury among the corn foods tested [3].

Notice that the 'corn syrup' tested was probably the light or dark stuff in a bottle that consumers use at home (e.g. Karo syrup).

HFCS didn't begin ramping up production until ~1975.

Thus the study supports the point that (at least back then) endosperm-based products were lowest in mercury.

Genetically modified corn (GMO, also known as transgenic) appears to accumulate less mercury than non-GMO corn [7].

The documentary King Corn explains that much of the dent corn grown in the U.S. is GMO.

Taken together, the research indicates corn feedstock is a weak vector for carrying mercury into a wet-mill.

And if contaminated corn does come into the mill, the portions harboring mercury are processed out of the stream prior to HFCS production.

At this point, chemicals remain the chief suspect for mercury contamination in HFCS.

Further research could prove or disprove the existing evidence, but ultimately it is not required.

Mercury-free alternatives already exist for the chemicals used in HFCS and other processed foods.

There is no justifiable reason for using mercury-based chemicals in food production.

Parathion is a serious and pervasive organophosphate that lingers both indoors and outdoors.

Parathion was used on corn seed (and other) crops in the U.S. until 2003.

This study indicates that parathion residue may still linger in current crops.

This study found that corn syrup enhances the neurotoxicity of parathion.

These studies found that mercury enhances the neurotoxicity of parathion.

Coincidence or connection?

Corn syrup is just one contaminated food product generated during corn milling.

Click here to see how hexane (neurotoxic) enters the food chain through corn oil and high-protein corn meal.

Citrus fruits naturally contain citric acid.

But the citric acid listed as an ingredient in foods and drugs rarely comes from citrus fruit.

Nearly all of it is made from the fermentation of dextrose derived from corn.

Free glutamic acid (an excitotoxin) is introduced from protein remnants that are hydrolyzed during production.

Citric acid is often produced in conjunction with the procesing of corn syrup.

There is risk for it to be contaminated with mercury, too.

Citric acid is an example of increased risk in the food supply chain for another reason.

Besides being used as a 'food additive' it is also has industrial applications such as for cleaning boilers and etching concrete floors.

A manufacturer can classify their citric acid as a nonfood item and avoid tighter safety regulations.

The less-expensive product can still find its way into food products through a complex supply chain.

"Even well-known food additives such as monosodium glutamate and xanthan gum are now produced by fermenting a dextrose feedstock."

Those are excitotoxins.

Commercial bee colonies are collapsing at an alarming rate.

The bees are fed high fructose corn syrup.

They are also in jeopardy from pesticides, exposed to GMO crops, and subjected to other stressors.

Organic bee colonies are not collapsing.

That’s interesting.

Here is an easy search to get started.