Attorneys for a Southern California couple who allege toxic heavy metals in baby foods caused their minor son’s autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity-disorder (ADHD) will present their experts in a Sargon hearing via Zoom before the Hon. Judge Amy D. Hogue for the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles.
The four-day hearing will begin on Monday, January 31, 2022 at 9:30 a.m. and conclude on Friday, February 4 (Court is dark on February 3).
What is a Sargon Hearing?
A Sargon hearing allows the legal teams for the plaintiffs and the defendants in a lawsuit to present their experts and educate the court on the science that underpins their arguments. Sargon is the name of a California Supreme Court case (Sargon Enterprises, Inc. v. University of Southern Cal. (2012) 55 Cal.4th 747) that encourages trial courts to act as the gatekeeper for what scientific evidence will be admissible or precluded from trial.
Although a trial court will sometimes hear from both the plaintiff and defense experts, in this baby food lawsuit, Judge Hogue decided that only the plaintiffs will present their experts before the court. The defense may present their experts at a later date, if necessary.
After the hearing concludes on February 4, Judge Hogue will determine whether each expert can provide a reasonable basis for their opinion, and whether each expert’s opinion is based on “sound logic.”
If Judge Hogue finds that expert opinions are based on sound logic and valid methodologies, the case can proceed to trial and the experts are allowed to provide evidence and testimony regarding whether early life exposure to baby foods that contain lead, arsenic, and mercury causes ASD, whether exposure to lead causes ADHD, and whether that propensity for inducing ASD and ADHD caused an individual plaintiff’s ASD and/or ADHD.
First Lawsuit Over Heavy Metals in Baby Foods Causing Autism and ADHD
This litigation involves allegations that several baby food companies knowingly manufacture and sell products that contain staggering amounts of toxic heavy metals, including arsenic, lead, cadmium, and mercury. Studies show that these heavy metals are known to be severe neurotoxins capable of causing lifelong brain damage and neurodevelopmental disorders, including ASD and ADHD in children.
The allegations largely stem from a February 2021 report issued by the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy Committee on Oversight and Reform U.S. House of Representatives, entitled: ‘Baby Foods Are Tainted with Dangerous Levels of
Arsenic, Lead, Cadmium, and Mercury.’
The shocking report found that several baby food manufacturers sell products containing as much as 180 parts per billion (ppb) inorganic arsenic, 6441 ppb lead, 10 ppb mercury, and manufacture products using ingredients containing as much as 913.4 ppb arsenic, 886.9 ppb lead, and 344.55 ppb cadmium, far surpassing domestic and international regulatory standards. To help you understand how excessive that is, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) established the maximum allowable levels of heavy metals in bottled water at 10 ppb inorganic arsenic, 5 ppb lead, and 5 ppb cadmium, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) capped the allowable level of mercury in drinking water at 2 ppb.
The Los Angeles, California law firm of Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman filed the first case involving heavy metals in baby foods causing autism and ADHD in California state court (Case No. 21STCV22822). Plaintiffs Melissa and Lorenzo Cantabrana allege their minor son, Noah, developed ASD and ADHD after consuming substantial quantities of baby food products from the following companies, which are named defendants in the litigation:
- Beech-Nut Nutrition Company
- Gerber Products Company
- Hain Celestial Group, Inc. (Earth’s Best Organic)
- Nurture, Inc. (Happy Family Organics and HappyBABY)
- Plum, PMC (Plum Organics)
- Sprout Foods, Inc. (Sprout Organic Food)
- Walmart – Parent’s Choice
“We believe these companies continue to show callous disregard for the health of vulnerable young children, all in the name of maximizing profits,” says attorney for the Cantabrana family, Pedram Esfandiary. “It’s been nearly a year since this explosive report was released. One would think that efforts would be made to protect kids from the known dangers of these toxic metals, but these companies have done next to nothing; they simply don’t care. This has to change, and we are confident the litigation will compensate our clients for their injuries and protect future generations from the harmful products the defendants pander as ‘food’.”
Plaintiff’s Experts in Baby Food Case
Attorneys for the plaintiffs announced the following experts participating in the hearing:
Beate Ritz, MD, Ph.D – Dr. Ritz is Professor of Epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. She formerly served as Vice Chair and Chair of the Epidemiology Department for a decade, and hold co-appointments in Environmental Health Sciences and Neurology at the UCLA, School of Medicine. Her faculty appointment at UCLA is one of several positions specifically assigned to the Center of Occupational and Environmental Health (COEH) mandated by the State of California to conduct research, teaching, and service to communities in California on occupational and environmental health issues.
Dr. Ritz conducted a systematic review of the literature in this case and applied the Bradford Hill Criteria. She concluded that, to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty:
- Exposure to mercury, arsenic, and lead during sensitive developmental periods in early childhood can cause ASD, and lead exposure can cause ASD at relatively low concentrations.
- Exposure to lead during sensitive developmental periods in early childhood can cause ADHD, even at low levels of exposure.
Read the Expert Report of Dr. Beate Ritz
Michael Aschner, Ph.D – Dr. Aschner presently serves as the Harold and Muriel Block Endowed Chair and Professor of Molecular Pharmacology; Professor of Neuroscience; Professor of Pediatrics; Investigator, Rose F. Kennedy Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research Center; Member, Nathan Shock Center of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
Dr. Aschner has served, and in some cases chaired, numerous national and international committees, including with National Institutes of Health (NIH), US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) a branch of The Center for Disease Control (CDC), and Department of Defense (DoD), and Health Canada, among others.
Dr. Aschner conducted a systematic review of the literature in this case and applied the Bradford Hill Criteria. He concluded that, to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty:
- Arsenic, mercury, and lead are well-established neurotoxins, capable of inflicting permanent brain damage, especially in younger children.
- Exposure to arsenic, mercury and lead can cause ASD in children through biologically plausible mechanisms.
- Exposure to lead can cause ADHD in children through biologically plausible mechanisms.
- Exposures to metal mixtures of these metals will lead to the additive and synergistic effects of the metals, given that they share common toxicological modes-of-action. Thus, neurotoxicity of these metals as mixtures will increase the cumulative risk of neurological dysfunction.
Read the Expert Report of Dr. Michael Aschner
Kevin Shapiro, MD, Ph.D – Dr. Shapiro currently serves as Medical Director and Clinical Executive for Research and Therapeutic Technologies at Cortica Healthcare, an organization which provides comprehensive assessment and therapeutic services for children with autism and other neurodevelopmental differences. He is also a member of the Neurology staff at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and an affiliate member of the Neurology staff at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego.
Dr. Shapiro is the author of 30 peer-reviewed publications, most of which focus on the neurobiology of language. He also authored the monograph “Evaluation of learning difficulty and cognitive delay” for the British Medical Journal (BMJ) Best Practice website.
Dr. Shapiro conducted a systematic review of the literature in this case and applied the Bradford Hill Criteria. He concluded that, to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty:
- Exposure to heavy metals in the early neurodevelopmental period has been shown in epidemiologic studies to correlate with reductions in intelligence, behavioral problems, and symptoms of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder, all of which constitute cognitive processes that contribute to core symptoms of ASD.
Read the Expert Report of Dr. Kevin Shapiro
Hannah Gardener, Sc.D – Dr. Gardener has worked as an epidemiologist at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine for over 14 years. She received her Doctorate in Epidemiology, with a minor in Biostatistics from the Harvard School of Public Health. Her doctoral work focused on prenatal, perinatal, and neonatal risk factors for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In addition to her faculty position, Dr. Gardener is also a consulting epidemiologist for several organizations including the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Cornell Medical School, the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission, and the Clean Label Project.
Dr. Gardener is the author of over 100 peer-reviewed manuscripts published in the medical journal. Much of her research has centered around diet and other environmental causes for neurological diseases. She has also contributed to over 100 abstracts presented at major medical conferences, and authored three book chapters, including “Pre-, Peri- and Neonatal Factors in Autism Etiology” in the Comprehensive Guide to Autism.
Dr. Gardener conducted a systematic review of the literature in this case and applied the Bradford Hill Criteria. She concluded that, to a reasonable degree of scientific certainty:
- Lead accumulation in the body is causally associated with ASD, and that early life postnatal lead exposure can cause the development of ASD.
- Arsenic accumulation in the body is causally associated with ASD, and that early life postnatal arsenic exposure can cause the development of ASD.
- Lead accumulation in the body is causally associated with ADHD, and that early life postnatal lead exposure can cause the development of ADHD.
Read the Expert Report of Dr. Hannah Gardener
Schedule for Toxic Baby Food Sargon Hearing
All of the hearing dates will be conducted via Zoom.
January 31, 2022
Hearing on Sargon Motions (Day 1)
February 1, 2022
Hearing on Sargon Motions (Day 2)
February 2, 2022
Hearing on Sargon Motions (Day 3)
February 4, 2022
Hearing on Sargon Motions (Day 4)
About Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman
Baum Hedlund Aristei & Goldman is one of the country’s leading personal injury law firms. The firm represents hundreds of parents across the nation and is preparing their legal claims against the baby food manufacturers. Over several decades, the firm has earned numerous awards and recognition for their groundbreaking legal work, which includes wins in the first three Roundup cancer trials against Monsanto, worth a total of $2.42 billion. These groundbreaking victories paved the way for settlements worth approximately $11 billion.
Law360 has honored Baum Hedlund with the California Powerhouse award and Product Liability Practice Group of the Year. The firm has twice received the National Trial Lawyers’ Elite Trial Lawyers Trial Team of the Year awards, and was inducted in the Verdicts Hall of Fame.
Across all areas of practice, the firm has won over $4 billion in verdicts and settlements on behalf of clients across a wide range of practice areas.