Arsenic and Old... Apple Juice?

By Susan Littlefield

Well, it's not old ladies spiking their homemade elderberry wine with arsenic, as they do in the classic play Arsenic and Old Lace, but it may be even more sinister. According to a new report by Consumer Reports Magazine, about ten percent of the 88 apple and grape juice samples they tested, from five brands purchased in three states, had levels of inorganic arsenic, a known carcinogen, that exceeded federal drinking water standards. And one in four samples had lead levels higher than the federal limit of 5 parts per billion (ppb) set for bottled water.

Since children are big juice consumers, these findings are particularly worrisome, especially in light of the fact that there are currently no federal standards for threshold levels of arsenic or lead in juice. Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, is urging the FDA to set acceptable levels for lead and arsenic in apple and grape juices that meet or exceed the standards for bottled and drinking water.

How are arsenic and lead getting into juice in the first place? Although they are now banned, for years lead-arsenate insecticides were used in apple orchards. So in spite of current responsible farming methods, residues from pesticides used decades ago may still be present in orchard soils. Also much of the juice sold in the U.S. comes at least in part from concentrates made from apples grown in foreign countries where arsenic-containing pesticides may still be in use or grown in areas known to have high levels of arsenic in the groundwater. No one yet knows for sure how these different avenues contribute to the levels detected in juice.

But according to Keeve Nachman, a risk scientist at Johns Hopkins University, ″The current analysis suggests that these juices may be an important contributor to dietary arsenic exposure.″ And because of their small size, the fact that they often drink lots of apple and grape juice, and because ″recent studies have shown that early childhood exposure to arsenic carries the most serious long-term risk,″ children are especially vulnerable.

There are other dietary sources of arsenic exposure, including well water in some areas, and other products in which elevated levels have been detected, including commercial baby food and rice. Again it is thought that this may be due to the legacy of arsenic-containing pesticides on agricultural land.

Other than lobbying for regulatory changes, are there ways to reduce your family's risk? Consumer Reports suggests following American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines for children's juice consumption, testing your water if it doesn't come from a municipal system, and buying organic chicken, which is not allowed to given feed containing arsenic.

To read the entire Consumer Reports article, Arsenic in Your Juice, go to: Consumer Reports.

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