Soylent has been found to contain lead (12-25x) and cadmium (≥4x) in greater concentrations than California's 'safe harbor' levels

by Transfuturist1 min read15th Aug 201540 comments


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Press Release

Edit: Soylent's Reply, provided by Trevor_Blake

OAKLAND, Calif., Aug. 13, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- As You Sow, a non-profit environmental-health watchdog, today filed a notice of intent to bring legal action against Soylent, a "meal replacement" powder recently featured in New York Times and Forbes stories reporting that workers in Silicon Valley are drinking their meals, eliminating the need to eat food. The 60-day notice alleges violation of California's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act for failure to provide sufficient warning to consumers of lead and cadmium levels in the Soylent 1.5 product.

Test results commissioned by As You Sow, conducted by an independent laboratory, show that one serving of Soylent 1.5 can expose a consumer to a concentration of lead that is 12 to 25 times above California's Safe Harbor level for reproductive health, and a concentration of cadmium that is at least 4 times greater than the Safe Harbor level for cadmium. Two separate samples of Soylent 1.5 were tested.

According to the Soylent website, Soylent 1.5 is "designed for use as a staple meal by all adults." The startup recently raised $20 million in funding led by venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.

"Nobody expects heavy metals in their meals," said Andrew Behar, CEO of As You Sow. "These heavy metals accumulate in the body over time and, since Soylent is marketed as a meal replacement, users may be chronically exposed to lead and cadmium concentrations that exceed California's safe harbor level (for reproductive harm). With stories about Silicon Valley coders sometimes eating three servings a day, this is of very high concern to the health of these tech workers."

Lead exposure is a significant public health issue and is associated with neurological impairment, such as learning disabilities and lower IQ, even at low levels. Chronic exposure to cadmium has been linked to kidney, liver, and bone damage in humans.

Since 1992, As You Sow has been a leading enforcer of California's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, with enforcement actions resulting in removal of lead from children's jewelry, formaldehyde from portable classrooms, and lead from baby powder.


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TL;DR: Soylent contains safe levels of those heavy metals, but enough that they are required to warn people in the state of California. It's not uncommon for food to have heavy metals at the level.

[-][anonymous]6y 1

Here is further information from

Claims made in the above link:

  1. The lawsuit by 'As You Sow' does not claim soylent is unsafe.
  2. The lawsuit by 'As You Sow' claims soylent does not publish Proposition 65 text, which I (Trevor Blake) confirm is false.
  3. 'As You Sow' has not released their testing data.
  4. Soylent has released their testing data.

Thanks. I only saw this press release and I was concerned that there might be danger.

California's Safe Harbor level for lead is 0.5 µg/day. The CDC's safe level is 10 µg/day, and was 25 µg/day from 1985 to 1991. 12−25 times 0.5 is 6−12.5 µg, which is basically within the CDC's safe level, and was only found in two samples. (Also, as Soylent's own reply pointed out, they tested version 1.5, and 2.0 has a different recipe with even lower—but still safe—levels.)

As You Sow has also found lead and cadmium levels above California's Safe Harbor threshold in 26 chocolate products, including Ghirardelli, Hershey, Mars, Trader Joe's, and Whole Foods. They seem to be more about drawing attention to California's Proposition 65/themselves, than about actually promoting safety.

Note that the standard way of dealing with Proposition 65 is to just label it as "This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm." and then keep selling it, because the other 49 states don't care.

I'm glad Soylent responded quickly to this, and that most people aren't taking it as an excuse to be scared of Soylent. A few have been immediately blowing it up into wild speculation, for instance, that Rob Rhinehart is going crazy from lead poisoning by dog-fooding his own product (so to speak).

How do the California guidelines compare to other recommendations?

The California guidelines are stupid.

Citations not really necessary, but would like to know why you have that opinion. I don't know much about contaminant quantities.

Because they don't mean anything and they only serve to desensitise people to warning labels.

When I get a power strip at a corner store and it has a big label which says "WARNING: This product contains chemicals known to the State of California to cause cancer and birth defects or other reproductive harm." I can only roll my eyes and marvel at the stupidity.

I hope these people won't hear about the dangerous chemical called dihydrogen monoxide...

Got it. Do you know of a sane set of guidelines that I can reference?

You'll have to be more specific: what kind of guidelines do you want and what's "sane" to you? :-)

Lower threshold on safe doses of lead and other contaminants for frequent and infrequent consumption. Mostly just wanted to check if you knew of any such guidelines that you considered sane. :P

No, not really -- in the sense that I consider most such government standards in the first world to be "good enough" provided they cluster around some average. If I were to deep-dive into some particular contaminant, I would probably start with medical literature to check at which level noticeably bad things start to happen...

According to the Maximum Allowable Dose Level (MADLs) for Chemicals Causing Reproductive Toxicity for lead is 0.5ug/d, and for cadmium it's 4.1ug/d. According to the label on a package of Soylent 1.4 I have, one "serving" is 1/4 bag. The press release states that "one serving of Soylent 1.5 can expose a consumer to a concentration of lead that is 12 to 25 times above California's Safe Harbor level for reproductive health". This would correspond to an exposure of between 24ug and 50ug of lead per bag, and "at least" 65ug of cadium per bag. The phrasing is ambiguous in such a way that it could be 1/4 of these numbers, however.

"show that one serving of Soylent 1.5 can expose a consumer to a concentration of lead that is 12 to 25 times above California's Safe Harbor level for reproductive health"

Concentration, or amount? it seems to me that that is a rather important distinction, and it worrying that As You Sow doesn't seem to recognize it.

This says that levels exceed "California's Safe Harbor level for reproductive health", but doesn't say what that level actually is. Does anyone know what concentration this is talking about?

It looks like the standard is vague - the bill in question just says "no significant risk." So that's not even useful.

I wonder if anyone has tested Meal Squares for contaminants.

I wonder if anyone has tested Meal Squares for contaminants.

Do you wonder whether anyone has tested normal supermarket food for contaminants?

I assume that there is some production process involved even for meal squares which might accidentally add anything.

The same is true for normal supermarket food.

Presumably mass products have some QA that goes beyond what I routinely expect of a food startup like Meal Squares. I may be wrong but maybe it'd help of they'd explain their production process.

Producing food for sale to the public is heavily regulated in the first world. The regulations do not have exceptions for startups.

In Germany actual foot safety you get at the store down the street is at higher QA than the law requires. Our supermarkets often do toxicity tests with higher standards than the law requires and don't simply trust the manufacturer of a product.

If you have direct to consumer sales you don't have an intermediary doing QA.

On the other hand a US supermarket might not have strong QA.

But experience shows that smaller (or less sophisticated/mature) businesses don't handle (or even know about) all the regulations as well as large ones. De jure you are right but de facto you are not.

de facto you are not

If you're claiming de facto, I would like to see some evidence :-P

It is more difficult to come up with evidence than I expected but at least I found this

The analysis of data from 632 firms from both OECD and non-OECD countries indicates that in general, SMEs [small/medium enterprises] have used advanced technologies less than larger firms in the past and received a lower payoff. They also expect to use such these technologies less in the future.

I believe in this instance he was reasoning alethically. De facto you are not necessarily correct.

You'd think so but in the past that hasn't always been the case. In the UK they had the tesco-horse-meat thing (meat was supposed to be beef) and in ireland there was a case where huge quantities of animal feed were contaminated and as a result meat from the animals was quite highly contaminated and there was a massive recall.

But that seems to be the exception not the rule. What percentage (0..1) of mass products (counting product line, not item) do you think fails your minimum QA?

I think at least this number fails my QA criteria [pollid:1018]

I think at most this number fails my QA criteria [pollid:1019]

(give 0.0 and 1.0 to see results)

Well, going on research run by a government council rather than a PA firm for a supermarket or retailer...

Removed actual figure so that people can guess before clicking through.

Hm, that is interesting but addresses the opposite of mass products: locally produced and labelled meat products. For those my estimates would look much different.

Where did it say they were locally produced? Takeaways don't normally slaughter their own lamb.

Normally they buy from wholesalers and large suppliers.

Right and the the mass product chain thus ends at the wholesaler.

one serving of Soylent 1.5 can expose a consumer...

Can..? Not "does"?

Is there any actual data (anyone has links to the laboratory tests or, at least, the court filing)? Press releases do not count.

Can..? Not "does"?

They just testing 2 samples. Whether or not that generalises is an open question.

I'm not claiming this is conclusive evidence of danger; I'm just concerned.

[-][anonymous]6y -3

Here's hoping that Australian soylent (Aussie soylent I think it was) is alright, as with all the other DIY soylents...

If I understand correctly the main source of these heavy metals is the brown rice protein, thus anything containing it may potentially have the same issue as Soylent.

A bit of googling shows up that there have been recent concerns about heavy metals contamination in rice grown in various Asian countries which is then traded worldwide.