The border basket: ICP-MS analysis of sixty-two elements in the diet in the El Paso-Juárez border region

Brenda Wilson Barnes, University of Texas at El Paso


The focus of this study is the role of diet as a source of exposure to toxic elements for residents of the El Paso-Juárez border region. Diet is always a potential source of toxic elements. Research data suggest a relationship between prolonged low-dose exposure and a variety of illnesses. Although the United States food industry is among the most carefully regulated in the world from a consumer health standpoint, actual field checking of products is limited. As part of this study, a “Border Basket” was formulated, consisting of the foods most frequently consumed in this region. The “basket” was compiled from grocery store and wholesalers food sales velocity lists, grocery aisle space checks, and food consumption survey questionnaires. Baskets representative of moderate-to-high income, low income, and pregnant woman/child diets were developed. Foods, beverages and medicinal products shown to be popular with residents were analyzed using Inductively Coupled Plasma-Mass Spectroscopy (ICP-MS). Over 750 foods, beverages, medicinals, and cosmetics were analyzed by ICP-MS, using appropriate EPA-approved methods. Direct Current Plasma-Atomic Emission Spectroscopy (DCP-AES) was used to verify toxic elemental “hits” which were indicated by ICP-MS. In addition, FDA leaches of ceramic ware samples were analyzed using this technique. Ceramic wares, food packaging materials and cosmetics were screened for the presence of toxic elements using x-ray microfluorescence (XRMF) technology. The analytical data were examined for toxic element “hits,” or apparently elevated concentrations. Each of the hits was researched in depth, to determine the probable source of the toxic element, the relative risks associated with the hit, and potential protective measures which could be taken to limit further exposures. With a few exceptions, the study confirmed that the Border Basket diet is generally free of toxic elements. Items of concern included Mexican dried shrimp, Mexican oregano and rue, (a medicinal herb) also known as ruda, lead-glazed ceramic wares, plastic packaging with lead chromate pigments in the labeling, Mexican toys painted with lead-based paints and mercury-filled necklaces.

Subject Area

Environmental science|Toxicology|Public health|Nutrition

Recommended Citation

Barnes, Brenda Wilson, "The border basket: ICP-MS analysis of sixty-two elements in the diet in the El Paso-Juárez border region" (2001). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI3035094.