Report recommends arsenic, lead levels for juice

by Jeff Gelski
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YONKERS, N.Y. — Consumer Reports, after testing 88 samples of locally-purchased apple juice and grape juice, said federal officials should set a total arsenic standard of 3 parts per billion (p.p.b.) in juice and a lead standard of at least 5 p.p.b. in juice.

The testing found 10% of the samples had total arsenic levels that exceeded 10 p.p.b., the federal standard for drinking water, and 25% of the samples had lead levels higher than 5 p.p.b., another federal standard for drinking water. Most of the arsenic detected was a type known as inorganic, a human carcinogen.

The Food and Drug Administration in a September newsletter said it had confidence in the safety of apple juice. The F.D.A. has not defined the point at which arsenic levels are unsafe in apple juice. Consumer Reports said no defined limits for fruit juices puts children at unnecessary risk for health problems, including several forms of cancer, because fruit juices are a mainstay of many children’s diets.

The F.D.A. in a Nov. 21 letter to the Empire State Consumer Project, Rochester, N.Y., and Food & Water Watch, Washington, said it is considering setting guidance or a level for inorganic arsenic in apple juice and it is collecting information to evaluate and determine an appropriate level.

The Washington-based American Beverage Association took issue with the Consumer Reports’ investigation, including bottled water.

“In fact, this latest report once again uses federal drinking water standards in its analysis of juice — in no way comparing apples to apples and only creating confusion,” the A.B.A. said.

The A.B.A. recommended visiting the “Fruit Juice Facts” web site of the Juice Products Association, Washington, to learn about juice safety issues. The Juice Products Association’s web site said naturally occurring elements such as arsenic are present in the soil, air and water and therefore arsenic is found in “very low, harmless levels” in many foods and beverages.

The juice association also took issue with linking juice to water.

“To compare the trace levels of arsenic in apple juice to the regulatory guidelines for drinking water is not appropriate because regulatory agencies have set lower thresholds for drinking water than for food and other beverages because people consume larger amounts of water,” said the Juice Products Association, which represents the fruit and juice products industry.

Consumer Reports purchased 28 apple juices and 3 grape juices from various locations in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. A total of 88 samples came from ready-to-drink bottles, juice boxes and cans of concentrate.

Five samples of apple juice and four samples of grape juice had total arsenic levels exceeding 10 p.p.b. About one-fourth of all juice samples had lead levels above 5 p.p.b.

“Our proposed limit of 3 p.p.b. total arsenic accepts a lenient risk tolerance of one excess cancer for every 1,000 people,” said Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., director of Safety & Sustainability at Consumer Reports. “Safety limits based on a risk tolerance of one in a million people to no more than one in 10,000 are considered to be ideally protective of cancer risk. Three p.p.b. total arsenic is a reasonable and practical limit that appears to be achievable at this time based on our findings.”

Consumer Reports also said government should eliminate the use of arsenicals in animal feed, ban all uses of organic arsenical pesticides and prohibit the use of arsenic-laden fertilizers in agriculture.

Parents should avoid giving juice to infants under 6 months of age, limit juice intake to no more than 4 oz to 6 oz per day for children up to age 6, and limit juice intake to no more than 8 oz to 12 oz per day for older children, Consumer Reports noted.

Consumer Reports also analyzed data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Health and Nutrition Examination (NHANES) Survey on urinary arsenic of people who reported their food and drink consumption for 24 hours the day before being tested. Consumer Reports excluded people who regularly ate seafood because seafood is a major source of arsenic that generally is considered to be non-toxic. The analysis showed people who reported drinking apple juice or grape juice had on average about 20% higher levels of total urinary arsenic than people who did not.

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