A lawsuit came out in recent months that made claims of the chemical titanium dioxide, a toxin known to scientists being found in a popular candy, Skittles. A consumer filed a suit against Skittles manufacturer, Mars, for titanium dioxide is now a banned chemical according to the European Union. However, in many countries, such as the United States and Canada, titanium dioxide is still considered to be safe to consume. There still needs to be regulations put about the amount of the chemical that can be found in food, but in limited amounts, many think it is relatively harmless in small doses. Toxicologists who are studying the chemical found research indicating that using chemicals. Agnes Oomen, a senior scientist at the Netherlands’ National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, told Scientific American that saying we’re not certain that it’s safe is very different from saying it’s unsafe.” When the European Union placed the ban on titanium dioxide, they were just being overly cautious.

What is Titanium dioxide? It is a white powder that is used as a pigment in many candies and other consumer items, such as makeup and paints. Titanium dioxide is good at scattering visible light. This causes products that contain the chemical a brighter and more vibrant color. What raised skepticism for consumers was the fact that Titanium dioxide is also used in many sunscreens because it is an efficient barrier to ultraviolet light.

The United States Food and Drug Administration had deemed the chemical safe in food, but it still must be a regulated amount of not being able to be more than 1% by weight of the product. In contrast, Europe is going through a period of “great detox”, for the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), an organization that researches the risks of foods, is banning many chemicals previously found in products. In 2021, EFSA found in a report that titanium dioxide can be genotoxic. That means the drug could alter genetic materials such as DNA. This possibility is what causes the EFSA to ban the use of titanium dioxide in products. Oomen participated in making the report about titanium dioxide saying the decision “is on the cautious side.” The European Union’s decision to ban the chemical was based on a slight possibility that titanium dioxide is harmful, for there has been no evidence so far that proves it could cause people any significant dangers.

Saji George, from McGill University, said researchers are “ missing other big parts of the picture. There are so many other things that could be happening with small, consistent amounts of titanium dioxide in a diet over a long period of time.” Along with his colleagues, they recently discovered that the chemical could amplify allergies to some proteins in foods, making titanium  dioxide still a concern. George also mentioned that the studies done on titanium dioxide were done mainly on rates, not humans. “We don’t know how titanium dioxide could enhance certain diseases—for example, inflammatory bowel disease in people with preexisting conditions,” he states. This just goes to show there is still a lot we don’t know about the drug.

Oomen agrees with the European Union’s decision to ban the use of titanium dioxide because researchers have not made any conclusive findings that confirm if the drug is safe or could be harmful. She feels there needs to be a more suitable method to study the chemical. Norb Kaminski, director of the Institute for Integrative Toxicology at Michigan State University said “I think that titanium dioxide in the amount that it’s used in Skittles and food products is of no toxicological concern or health concern to the public. There’s just not the evidence to support that currently.”

This topic relates to our most recent unit in Biology because one of the concerns regarding titanium dioxide involved the alteration of DNA. We learned about DNA in this unit when we learned about organic compounds. DNA is one of the nucleic acids we learned about when we studied different organic compounds. DNA functions to store all our hereditary information, and it plays an essential role in our cells. Also, that titanium dioxide had the potential to cause allergies to proteins found in certain foods. We learned about protein being another organic compound vital to the cell. We learned about all the different functions of proteins that are crucial for all cells to function properly.