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EPA-Expo-Box (A Toolbox for Exposure Assessors)

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Food crops can be exposed to pollutants that are present in ambient air. Pollutants that end up in food might also originate from contaminated soil and water. For additional information on the sources of contaminants for these media, see the Air, Soil and Dust, and Water and Sediment Modules in the Media Tool Set of EPA-Expo-Box.

Food crops can become contaminated with chemicals in ambient air that are deposited on plants and become distributed in plant tissues after they are absorbed by the leaves (or other aerial parts of the plant). If present in soil or groundwater, contaminants can contact plant roots and become transported into plant tissues. Other sources of chemical contaminants in food crops include agricultural applications to control pests or enhance growth. These chemicals may include pesticides (e.g., insecticides, herbicides, rodenticides) and fertilizers (see Pesticides Module of the Chemical Classes Tool Set). Contaminants in vegetation or soil may be consumed by grazing or foraging animals that bioaccumulate the contaminants in their tissues, thus contaminating animal food products including meats, dairy, and fats. Other sources of contaminants in animal food products can include veterinary drugs and growth hormones. In addition to these agricultural food products being exposed to contamination during the growing process, these commodities may also be exposed to contamination while being harvested, transported, stored, packaged, processed, and prepared. For lactating mothers who have been exposed to contaminants in food or other media, their breast milk may be a source of exposure to toxic substances for nursing infants (see the module on Lifestages in the Lifestages and Populations Tool Set of EPA-Expo-Box).

Information on potential sources of agricultural contaminants in food is provided in the table below.

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