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From the Townsend Letter
February / March 2016

Thallium Exposure: Environmental Issues
Michael Rosenbaum, MD, and Ernest Hubbard
Based on an interview with Nancy Faass, MSW, MPH
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Thallium in Chicken Waste Fertilizer
EH: Consider a large poultry operation like Foster Farms, which has a subsidiary named Organic Farms. Foster Farms recycles the manure from their poultry operations. What they've learned is that the organic industry does not require manure used for certified organic production to be certified organic manure. It was exempted when the standards were set. So Foster Farms is now producing one-ton bags of Organic Farms chicken manure, which is advertised on organic certified websites. The sites for CCOF (California Certified Organic Farmers), for example, reference this particular brand of chicken manure.
Farmers franchised with Foster Farms obtain their feed from the Midwest in the form of corn and soybeans. On the West Coast, that feed is trucked into Southern California, into Livingston and their main poultry plants by the hundreds-of-train-car loads every month. Much of that corn and soybeans is grown with coal-ash fertilizer. So the theory has it that the manure being used by organic farmers could contain thallium derived from manure from the feed grown using coal-ash as a fertilizer. At certain levels coal ash does not kill plants, it actually promotes their growth by providing minerals.

EH: It is also possible that farmed fish are raised on feed grown on fertilizer with high thallium content.

MR: It has been shown that Atlantic salmon have very high amounts of thallium, but Pacific wild salmon does not. Atlantic salmon is farmed-raised.

EH: "Atlantic" is actually a species of fish, like a petunia.

NF: Shameful. They call it "Atlantic" salmon to make it sound as if it were wild-caught in the Atlantic Ocean, when actually it is farmed fish.

Thallium in Organic Produce
MR: To my mind, it is also shameful that organic certification agencies such as the USDA and CCOF have allowed this to happen and did not ever once ask whether that was potentially putting consumers at risk. I have surveyed hundreds of consumers and I guarantee you, when they buy "organic" they think they're buying safe food. We have a breach in the certification process, which allows toxic levels of heavy metals into the food chain through manures that are not certified. They could also contain human hormones, hormone disrupters, and various pesticides—we do not know.

NF: Does the CCOF have a testing process in place that they use to check a product that farmers are going to use in such massive quantities?

MR: They have access to it, but they don't use it. I talked to one of the scientists at the organic center and said, "To my knowledge, this thallium could be coming in through the manure through the certification process." The scientist, who did not ever return my request for the information he promised to send me, said, "The certification process strictly prohibits the use of any manures that test for toxic heavy metals." I asked, "What agency did the testing and would you show me a copy of the report?" I haven't seen one. Then he backed up and said, "Well, I think that's what it was in Washington [state], because that is where most of my experience is." And I said, "Was testing done for toxic metals in Washington?" He said, "I'll have to get back to you on that." And I said, "Let's get back to California for a minute. Do you know if any testing has been done here?" He said, "You know, I'll have to get back to you on that." I was on the phone with two other scientists who were his buddies, and they were sitting there very quietly. I just said, "I look forward to getting that information." I emailed him twice and voice mailed him once and said, "You know, Duke, I haven't ever received that information you said you would send me," and I copied his two colleagues. Nobody ever got back to me.

Environmental Burden
MR: The coal-ash industry produces more than 100 million tons a year in the U.S. In terms of thallium production, I found a study indicating that in 1987 that figure was about 28 tons per year. Ernie found a newer study at least five years old reporting 2,000 to 5,000 tons annually, compared to 28 tons in 1987.

EH: We already know that China is pumping immeasurable quantities of toxic metals around the world through the jet stream [with coal ash levels estimated at 2.5 billion tons a year]. They have no regulation on their coal-generated electrical power plants.

MR: What we don't know is the synergism of thallium with other heavy metals, like mercury. Mercury is also found heavily in coal-ash. Mercury is found extensively in fish, but nobody has been looking for thallium in fish. There could be a harmful synergism of activity between these two heavy metals that exceeds the toxic effect of either one alone.

NF: But there is also an adverse synergism in conditions like Lyme, because thallium is attracted to myelin. Fatty tissue sequesters both lipophilic toxins and Lyme spirochetes.

What Remains to Be Done?
EH: No one has been watching this magnification occurring. The link between thallium and the food chain was reported in Czechoslovakia 10 years ago, but no one did lab testing to confirm the presence of thallium in the human population. We stumbled on a couple of the dots that had not been connected. Using Doctor's Data and Curtis & Tompkins laboratories, we funded an initial pilot sample to explore thallium levels in the food chain and make the clinical connection.

MR: What else needs to be done that has not yet done? Another dimension of this story is how much thallium is contained in flesh foods from animals whose feed consisted of grains grown on coal-ash, gypsum fertilizer or high-thallium manure. That means testing chicken, beef, and fish, as well as baby food. Clearly more testing is needed on all aspects of these exposures, both human and agricultural.

This article presents an overview of preliminary findings in a study of toxic metals in foods produced and/or sold in Marin and Sonoma Counties, California.1 Although this is a pilot study, the authors consider the implications significant enough to warrant making the findings available.
The findings suggest a number of possible next steps by either federal or non-government watch dog agencies:

  • Further verification of findings presented to date
  • Determination of the source(s) of heavy metals in the farm-to-retail channel
  • Identification of the process by which these metals might accumulate in consumer products, particularly in products such as baby food consumed by vulnerable populations
  • Consider possible near- and long-term remediation strategies for affected consumers and farmers

Heavy metals were detected in both organically-certified and non-organically-certified foods. Due to the number of tests conducted to date, more testing will be required before a clearer picture emerges regarding the nature and source of heavy metals in the food supply.
No conclusions are made in this document regarding the presence or absence of toxic heavy metals in food beyond the data presented. This study has also not demonstrated that there is a difference between the presence or absence of toxic heavy metals in organically-certified vs. non-certified foods. Finally, this study has not yet conclusively identified the source or sources of toxic heavy metals. The information presented in this research needs to be further evaluated, verified, and duplicated.

Michael Rosenbaum, MD
Dr. Rosenbaum holds a medical degree from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, and a master's degree in biochemistry and metabolic medicine from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, with residence in psychiatry at UCSF and certification in medical acupuncture. His practice, located in the San Francisco Bay Area, emphasizes clinical nutrition, environmental medicine, allergy and immunology, antiaging medicine, and the treatment of chronic health conditions such as Lyme disease. He has served as President and Vice President of the Orthomolecular Medical Society (OMS); and Director and Vice President of the Orthomolecular Health Medicine Organization (OHM); and is the author of two successful books.
Preventive Medical Center of Marin
4340 Redwood Highway, Suite A-22
San Rafael, California 94903
Phone: 415-927-9450

Ernest Hubbard
Hubbard's academic background includes a Bachelor of Science in genetics/biochemistry from Oregon State University and two years of work toward a PhD in molecular biology and developmental genetics at the University of Minnesota. He has more than three decades of hands-on scientific experience, that includes the management of multi-million dollar genetics research programs for clients such as Eli Lily and Mitsubishi. He was co-founder and VP of research at Sungene Technologies Corp., and CEO of BioSource Technologies Corp. Within the field of organics, Hubbard has been consultant to a number of food companies and was founder and manager of PureHarvest Corp, a company that developed patented technology for growing pesticide-free crops. Hubbard has conducted more than 10 years of research in the field of human aging and has served as a health coach to several thousand people.
Phone: 415-215-8933

Editorial: Nancy Faass, MSW, MPH
Working collaboratively with clients, Ms. Faass has been active in the development, research, writing, and editing of more than 45 books on functional and integrative medicine by publishers that include Elsevier, Harper, McGraw-Hill, and a dozen other imprints. Director of Writers' Group Inc. for the past 20 years, she develops articles, Web content, white papers, blogs, manuals, and books and can be reached by emailing or calling 415-922-6234.

Bibliography: Bioaccumulation in Plants

Al-Najar H, Kaschl A, Schulz R, Römheld V. Effect of thallium fractions in the soil and pollution origins on thallium uptake by hyperaccumulator plants: a key factor for the assessment of phytoextraction. Int J Phytoremediation. 2005;7(1):55-67.

Al-Najar H, Schulz R, Romheld V. Plant availability of thallium in the rhizosphere of hyperaccumulator plants: a key factor for assessment of phytoextraction. Plant and Soil. 2003;249(1):97–105.

Czech A, Powli M, Rusinek E. Contents of heavy metals, nitrates, and nitrites in cabbage. Pol J Environ Study. 2012. 12(2):321-329.

Ebbs SD. Metal bioaccumulation by garden vegetables grown on soil derived from Peoria Lake sediment. WMRC Reports, RR109. 2006 Dec. Accessed 12-30-15. Available at

Gavrilescu M. Removal of heavy metals from the environment by biosorption. Engineering in Life Sciences. 2004 June. 4(3):219-232.

LaCoste C, Robinson B, Brooks R. Uptake of thallium by vegetables: its significance for human health, phytoremediation, and phytomining. J Plant Nutrition. 2001;4(8):1205–1215.

Pavilickova J, Abiral J, Smatanova M, Habarta P, Houserova P, Kuban V. Uptake of thallium from artificially contaminated soils by kale (Brassica oleracea L. var. acephala). Plant Soil Environ. 2006;52(12):544–549.

Szczygłowska M, Piekarska A, Konieczka P, Namiesnik J. Use of brassica plants in the phytoremediation and biofumigation processes. Int J Mol Sci. 2011. 12:7760-7771; doi:10.3390/ijms12117760

Wang PF, Zhang SH, Wang C, et al. Study of heavy metal in sewage sludge and in Chinese cabbage grown in soil amended with sewage slude. African J Biotech. 2008. 7(9):1329-1334.

Wislocka M, Krawczyk J, Klink A, Morrison L. Bioaccumulation of heavy metals by selected plant species from uranium mining dumps in the Sudety Mts., Poland. Polish J of Environ Stud. 2006. 15(5):811-818.

1.     Rosenbaum ME, Hubbard E. Technical Publication 7.3. Detection of Heavy Metals in Foods Grown and Sold in Marin and Sonoma Counties, California. Mill Valley, CA: The Sage Center; 2015.
2.     Kaufman R. Seeking a safer future for electricity's coal ash waste. National Geographic News. 2011 Aug 16. Accessed 12-15-15. Available at
3.     Cimitile M. Is coal ash in soil a good idea? Scientific American. 2009 Feb 6. Accessed 12-15-15. Available at
4.     Callahan R. EPA, USDA encourage farmers to put coal ash that contains mercury and arsenic on crops. Huffington Post. 2010 Mar 18. Accessed 12-15-15. (No longer active link March 2016) Available at
5.   Environmental Protection Agency. Final rule: Disposal of coal combustion residuals from electric utilities. 04-17-15. Accessed 01-08-16. Available at

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