Arsenic in juice: How to lower your risks 1/12
(This article is adapted from the January 2012 Consumer Reports magazine.)
Arsenic and lead consumption can result in serious health problems, which is exactly why the federal government sets limits on these contaminants in drinking water.
Yet, surprisingly, there is no limit on the amount of these chemicals in juice drinks—a mainstay of many children’s diets, putting them at unnecessary risk for serious health problems, including several forms of cancer.
A new investigation by Consumer Reports found that roughly 10 percent of the apple and grape juice tested had arsenic levels exceeding federal drinking water standards. And one in four had lead levels higher than the bottled water limit.
"Our test findings of arsenic and lead in apple juice are in line with existing data from the Food and Drug Administration," said Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., Director of Safety and Sustainability at Consumer Reports. "In fact, the agency has found higher levels of arsenic and lead in apple juice. We’re concerned about the potential risks of exposure to these toxins especially for children who are particularly vulnerable because of their small body size and the amount of juice they regularly consume."
To learn more about the health risks, check out this helpful video produced by the Dartmouth Toxic Metals Superfund Research Program.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is the agency responsible for setting safety limits for arsenic and lead in fruit juices, while the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets standards for drinking water.
The EPA’s latest draft report on these standards "suggests that arsenic's carcinogenic properties have been underestimated for a long time and that the federal drinking-water standard is underprotective based on current science," says Keeve Nachman, Ph.D., a risk scientist at the Center for a Livable Future and the Bloomberg School of Public Health, at Johns Hopkins University.
Meanwhile, the FDA announced in a November 21st letter to consumer advocacy groups Food & Water Watch and Empire State Consumer Project that it is seriously considering setting guidance for permissible levels of inorganic arsenic in apple juice and that it is gathering data to determine what an appropriate level would be. (For more about the FDA's tests, read an update or download a PDF of the complete test results.)
Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, is urging federal officials to set a standard for total arsenic in apple and grape juice. The new research suggests that the standard should be 3 ppb.
Concerning lead, juice should at least meet the bottled-water standard of 5 ppb. Such standards would better protect children, who are most vulnerable to the effects of arsenic and lead. And they're achievable levels: 41 percent of the samples tested by Consumer Reports met both thresholds.
As the tests show, sources of lead haven't been eliminated, but dramatic progress has been made: Since the 1970s, average blood lead levels in children younger than 6 have dropped by about 90 percent, thanks to a federal ban on lead in house paint and gas.
The U.S. should be equally aggressive with arsenic, suggests Joseph Graziano, Ph.D., a professor of environmental health sciences and pharmacology at Columbia University. "We tackled every source, from gasoline to paint to solder in food cans," he says, "and we should be just as vigilant in preventing arsenic from entering our food and water because the consequences of exposure are enormous for adults as well as children."
Five ways to reduce your family’s risk
1. Test your water. If your home, or a home you’re considering buying, isn’t on a public water system, have the home’s water tested for arsenic and lead. To find a certified lab, contact your local health department or call the federal Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791. You can get information for your public-water system from the EPA.
Public-water-supply systems are required to treat water that tests high in arsenic so that it meets federal limits before delivering it to consumers. And in New Jersey, public water systems must meet an even stricter limit of 5 ppb. But if you have a private well rather than a public system, you are responsible for testing and treating it.
2. Parents should limit their child’s juice consumption. Nutrition guidelines set by the American Academy of Pediatrics can help to reduce arsenic exposure. The academy guidelines and Consumer Reports recommend the following steps:
• Avoid giving infants under six months any type of juice. 3. Consider your food. Buying certified organic chicken makes sense because organic standards don’t allow the use of chicken feed containing arsenic. But for juice and other foods, it’s not so certain. Organic standards prohibit the use of synthetic fertilizers and most pesticides, but organic juices still may contain arsenic if they’re made from fruit grown in soil where arsenical insecticides were used.
• Children up to six years old should consume no more than four to six ounces per day.
• Older children should drink no more than eight to 12 ounces a day.
• Diluting juice with distilled or purified water can help achieve these goals.
4. Check the water in your home for arsenic and lead. Consider using a water filter that removes these metals if elevated levels are found.
And for tips on how to get your water tested and how to select a home treatment system, read "Ways to Reduce Your Family's Risk."
If you find that you do need a home-treatment system, contact NSF International (800-673-8010) for information on systems certified to lower arsenic levels to no more than 10 ppb. The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension discusses treatment technologies; click on "Removal of Arsenic from Household Water."
5. If you’re concerned about arsenic levels in your body, get tested. Ask your doctor for a urine test for you or your child to determine arsenic levels. Don’t eat seafood for 48 to 72 hours before being tested to avoid misleadingly high levels from “fish arsenic.” For a medical toxicologist in your area who can interpret results, call the American Association of Poison Control Centers at 800-222-1222.
Getting the facts straight on arsenic and apple juice. 9/11
FDA just says no to arsenic in chicken. 6/11