Arsenic in Apple Juice: A New Report Suggests Widespread Exposure.By Meredith Melnick. healthland.time.com. November 30, 2011.Common brands of apple juice and grape juice, which American children swig by the gallons, may have levels of arsenic that are high enough to increase the risk of chronic illnesses like cancer, diabetes and heart disease over time, according to a new Consumer Reports (CR) investigation. In the test of 88 samples of 28 brands of apple juice and grape juice, investigators found that roughly 10% of samples (from five brands) had total arsenic levels exceeding 10 parts per billion (ppb) — the federal arsenic limit for bottled water. One in four samples also had levels of lead exceeding the bottled-water limit of 5 ppb.
The government has no standard for arsenic or lead in apple juice or grape juice, and the new findings have prompted Consumers Union, CR’s advocacy arm, to call on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate the toxins in juice. Last September, TV host and TIME contributor Dr. Mehmet Oz set off a media firestorm when he reported the results of his own study of apple juice, finding that some brands contained high enough levels of arsenic to make them unsafe to drink. At the time, the FDA called Oz’s report "irresponsible" because his testing measured only total arsenic levels. There are two kinds of arsenic in juices and other foods: organic, which is not generally thought to be dangerous, and inorganic, which is a known carcinogen that causes bladder, lung and skin cancer in people and can increase the risks of heart disease, immune problems and Type 2 diabetes.
The new CR study found that most of the arsenic found in apple and grape juices was inorganic. For the study, CR went shopping in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut to buy juice sold in ready-to-drink bottles, juice boxes and cans of concentrate. Researchers purchased samples from three different lots of most brands in order to account for variability.
Levels of arsenic in apple juice ranged from 1.1 ppb to 13.9 ppb; levels in grape juice were higher, ranging from 5.9 ppb to 24.7 ppb. Levels of lead topped out at 13.6 ppb in apple juice and 15.9 ppb in grape juice.
At least one sample of apple juice from the following popular brands had levels of arsenic over 10 ppb: Apple & Eve, Great Value (Walmart’s house label), and Mott’s; for grape juice, at least one sample from Walgreens and Welch’s exceeded that limit.
Apple juice brands that had at least one sample surpassing 5 ppb of lead were: America’s Choice (A&P), Gerber, Gold Emblem (CVS), Great Value, Joe’s Kids (Trader Joe’s), Minute Maid, Seneca and Walgreens. At least one grape juice sample from Gold Emblem, Walgreens and Welch’s contained more than 5 ppb of lead.
There were some winners on the list: samples of Nature’s Own 100% Apple Juice, Tropicana 100% Apple Juice and Red Jacket Orchards 100% Fuji Apple Juice Never From Concentrate contained low levels of both arsenic and lead. The full results of the study are available for download [PDF] on Consumer Reports’ website.
As CR noted, however:
Our findings provide a spot check of a number of local juice aisles, but they can’t be used to draw general conclusions about arsenic or lead levels in any particular brand. Even within a single tested brand, levels of arsenic and lead sometimes varied widely.
Arsenic is a naturally occurring element that can contaminate groundwater. It’s also still lingering in the environment from other now-banned sources like insecticides, industrial preservatives and poultry feed, and is produced as a byproduct of coal-fired power plants and smelters used to process copper or lead.
Researchers think contaminated soil is a likely source of the arsenic in apple juice, which helps explain why the toxin is found even in juices made from 100% organically grown apples. Interestingly, CR notes that many manufacturers now make their juice using apple-juice concentrate from various sources — including from China, Argentina, New Zealand, South Africa and Turkey. A more thorough study would have to look at arsenic and lead levels by country of origin.
As for the question of whether Americans drink enough apple or grape juice to see elevated arsenic levels or associated health effects, the CR study sought an answer by commissioning an analysis of 2003-08 data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, which tracked what people ate and measured arsenic levels in participants’ urine to gauge their exposure. CR reported:
The resulting analysis of almost 3,000 study participants found that those reporting apple-juice consumption had on average 19% greater levels of total urinary arsenic than those subjects who did not, and those who reported drinking grape juice had 20% higher levels. The results might understate the correlation between juice consumption and urinary arsenic levels because NHANES urinary data exclude children younger than 6, who tend to be big juice drinkers.
Is the exposure leading to health problems? "People sometimes say, ‘If arsenic exposure is so bad, why don’t you see more people sick or dying from it?’ But the many diseases likely to be increased by exposure even at relatively low levels are so common already that its effects are overlooked simply because no one has looked carefully for the connection," Joshua Hamilton, a toxicologist specializing in arsenic research and the chief academic and scientific officer at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass., told CR.
As CR also reported, chronic, low-level arsenic exposure can be mistaken for other ailments such as chronic fatigue syndrome. Other befuddling symptoms can include gastrointestinal problems and skin discoloration or lesions. Over time, of course, chronic exposure can lead to cancer and other diseases. Increasingly, the evidence shows that arsenic exposure may be especially dangerous during pregnancy, infancy and in early childhood.
"Based on Consumer Reports’ test findings, Consumers Union is urging the FDA to set a more protective standard of 3 ppb for total arsenic and 5 ppb for lead in juice," wrote Consumer News’ Andrea Rock. "Such standards are attainable: 41 percent of the samples Consumer Reports tested would meet both thresholds." Inorganic arsenic isn’t just in juice either. It’s also been found at high levels in chicken, rice and baby food.
It’s worth reading the full CR report here for tips on reducing your family’s exposure to arsenic and finding out how much arsenic is in your groundwater.
Read more from FDA Questions & Answers: Apple Juice and Arsenic
Apple Juice and Arsenic
What is arsenic? Arsenic is present in the environment as a naturally occurring substance or as a result of contamination from human activity. It is found in water, air, food and soil in organic and inorganic forms.
There are two types of arsenic: organic and inorganic. The inorganic forms of arsenic are the harmful forms, while the organic forms of arsenic are essentially harmless. Because both forms of arsenic have been found in soil and ground water, small amounts may be found in certain food and beverage products, including fruit juices and juice concentrates.
What type of arsenic has been found to be in fruit juices? Organic and inorganic forms of arsenic have both been found in juices.
Is one type of arsenic more harmful than the other? Yes. The inorganic forms of arsenic are the harmful forms, while the organic forms of arsenic are essentially harmless.
Are apple and other fruit juices safe to drink? The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been testing for arsenic in apple juice and other fruit juices for decades as part of FDA programs that look for harmful substances in food. We continue to find the vast majority of apple juice tested to contain low levels of arsenic. For this reason, FDA is confident in the overall safety of apple juice consumed in this country.
Why is arsenic being found in fruit juices? Organic and inorganic forms of arsenic can be found in soil and ground water, and as a result, small amounts may be found in certain food and beverage products.
Arsenic-based pesticides were commonly used in United States agricultural production up until 1970, when more effective substances became available. As a result, trace levels of organic and inorganic forms of arsenic can be detected in some agricultural settings, which may lead to small amounts of arsenic in certain foods and beverages.
Can consumers choose apple juice with less arsenic by looking at where it is made? The juice sold by any one company can be made from concentrate that is literally sourced throughout the world, including U.S. domestic sources. For example, Asia and South America are major suppliers of apple juice concentrate. Even if a company buys concentrate from only one supplier in a country, such as Argentina, that supplier may be getting juice from a dozen or more different farms within Argentina. If you test enough juice from such a supplier, you will find some lots with higher amounts of arsenic than others. This could be due to different amounts of arsenic in orchard soils.
Testing a small number of samples of different brands of juice only provides a snapshot in time of how much arsenic was in a particular lot of juice. Without a long term survey of many lots of juice from different companies, there is not sufficient data to say one company has lower amounts of arsenic in its juice than any other company. Based on data collected by the FDA over many years, there is no evidence that juice on the market in the U.S. presents a public health risk from arsenic.
Does organic apple juice have less arsenic than non-organic apple juice? The FDA is unaware of any data that shows that organic juice tends to have less arsenic than non-organic apple juice. Even organic apples come from trees that grow in soil that may contain arsenic. The FDA is not aware of any data on arsenic in organic juice vs. non-organic juice.
Has FDA set a standard for arsenic in fruit juice? No. Available scientific evidence indicates that if arsenic occurs, it almost always does so at very low levels. But FDA is collecting all relevant information to evaluate and determine if setting guidance or other level for inorganic arsenic in apple juice is appropriate.
Has FDA set a standard for arsenic in bottled water? Yes. The maximum level of arsenic allowed in bottled water is 10 micrograms in one liter of bottled water or 10 parts per billion (ppb).
Why is there a standard for arsenic in bottled water but not in fruit juice? UPDATED 09/28/2011 As stated above, we are considering setting a standard.
What does the FDA look for when testing juice for arsenic? NEW The FDA first tests the juice sample for total (organic and inorganic) arsenic to see if the levels are too high. When test results show total arsenic levels are too high, the FDA re-tests the sample for its inorganic arsenic content, the type of arsenic considered harmful to humans. Some scientific studies have shown that two forms of organic arsenic found in apple juice could also be harmful, and because of this, the FDA counts these two forms of organic arsenic in with the overall content for inorganic arsenic. Moreover, they occur at extremely low levels, adding less than 1% to the total low levels of inorganic arsenic found in apple juice. As the FDA has confirmed, these extremely small amounts do not present a risk to public health.
What is the FDA doing to protect the public against arsenic in fruit juice? The FDA collects and tests for arsenic, including inorganic arsenic, in fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates made in the U.S. as part of FDA programs that look for harmful substances in food. The FDA considers test results for inorganic arsenic on a case-by-case basis, and takes regulatory action as appropriate.
The FDA also currently has an Import Alert for surveillance of arsenic, including inorganic arsenic, in fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates. An Import Alert is a measure used by FDA to keep potentially dangerous products out of the U.S.
I have heard reports of test results showing high levels of arsenic in apple juice products. What advice would FDA give consumers based on this information? Unless we can determine that the test methods used were for inorganic arsenic and that the method was accurate and properly performed, we are not able to specifically address the test results. It is important to remember that test results for total arsenic do not distinguish between the essentially harmless organic forms of arsenic and the harmful inorganic forms of arsenic. It would be inappropriate to draw conclusions about the safety of a product based on the total arsenic level.
Did the FDA test any of the samples tested by the Dr. Oz Show? On September 10-11, 2011, the FDA completed laboratory analysis of the same lot of Gerber apple juice that was tested by the Dr. Oz. Show, as well as several other lots produced in the same facility. The FDA’s testing detected very low levels of total arsenic in all samples tested. These new results were consistent with the FDA’s results obtained in the FDA’s routine monitoring program and are well below the results reported by the Dr. Oz Show. The FDA has concluded that the very low levels detected during our analysis are not a public health risk and the juice products are safe for consumption.