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‘Toxic Waste’ Levels Of Lead Found In Hemp Products On Florida Shelves. State’s Top Hemp Officials Investigating

Steve Helber
AP Photo
This Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017 photo shows hemp plants in a field at the University of Virginia Wise in Wise, Va., 2017.

Florida’s fledgling hemp industry has a mystery to solve, faced with a puzzling new finding concerning products sold in the state. That’s according to findings discussed Tuesday by state hemp czar Holly Bell, who says she wants to work with the industry to find out why elevated lead levels are showing up in some products on shelves.

“We have found many products we have found to have very high concentrations of lead,” Bell said.

“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. The RCRA (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) limit for lead, for consumer consumption is 5.5 (parts per billion) – and we’re finding findings that range from 6.5 up to as high as 18.5 (parts per billion),” Bell said.

Bell, who serves as the state’s first director of cannabis under the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, spoke during a meeting of the state Hemp Advisory Committee. She says the issue has the attention of multiple federal agencies.

“When I say high concentration, I mean they’re at a toxic waste level concentration,” Bell said. “So, the (Environmental Protection Agency) and the (Food and Drug Administration) have found out about this and have partnered with us. We have developed a scientific presentation that we gave internally, and now are starting to give externally.”

Bell told the committee FDACS believes the source of the contamination is “containers or droppers, or a combination of that are being used.” She says the agency's director of food safety is now leading research efforts to find the cause of the contamination.

The state requires hemp growers, if their product is manufactured and bottled out of state, to be on an “approved sources” list, Bell says, “so that the standards your manufacturer is using in another state are equivalent to what we require here in Florida.”

Bell also updated the advisory council on some data related to how many prospective growers are getting permits in the state.

She says there are ‘just over 400’ growers now approved to put hemp in the ground in Florida. There are 200 hemp manufacturers, or companies that put hemp into a form consumers can ingest, approved to do business statewide.

There’s no fee associated with getting a hemp grower permit in Florida right now. If the industry were to institute a fee, Bell says, the decision would have to go through the state legislature.

Ryan Dailey is a reporter/producer for WFSU/Florida Public Radio. After graduating from Florida State University, Ryan went into print journalism working for the Tallahassee Democrat for five years. At the Democrat, he worked as a copy editor, general assignment and K-12 education reporter.