The chemical N-Nitrosodimethylamine, also referred to as NDMA, is a noxious, odorless compound that dissolves in water. It has been found to cause cancer in animals and potentially even humans, most commonly having detrimental effects on the liver. NDMA can mutate cells and stimulate tumor growth in mice at the very low dose of only a milligram, while 2 grams can kill a person within days of contamination. Once present in rocket fuel, the chemical can still be found in tobacco smoke, cured meat, and even drinking water. Although the FDA has deemed it “reasonably safe” to consume a microgram of NDMA per day, significantly larger amounts have recently been discovered in several generic medications available today.
In July 2018, the FDA announced that it found NDMA in the widely used blood-pressure medication valsartan, and began a recall of drugs from three major pharmaceutical companies. Since then, the recall has been expanded to include two other medications – irbesartan and losartan – manufactured by a minimum of ten other large-scale companies. Millions of people in a total 30 countries could have been potentially placed at risk. According to expert estimates, some of the contaminated valsartan contains as much as 17 micrograms of NDMA in one pill – or the equivalent of eating 48 pounds of bacon. Per the FDA’s appraisal, the presence of NDMA in a daily medication such as valsartan has increased the risk of cancer occurrence by 1 case per 8,000 patients. Some argue these estimates are overly conservative, citing 1 potential case per 3,000 patients.