Arsenic in your juice: How much is too much?

November 30, 2011 2:11:50 PM PST
Arsenic is a poison that can contaminate drinking water. The federal government sets limits on how much is allowed in bottled and municipal water, but it puts no limits on arsenic in juice.

Consumer Reports tested apple and grape juice and found worrisome levels of arsenic in a number of samples - worrisome considering how much fruit juice many children drink.

Zoe Hamilton limits how much juice she gives her daughters because she's concerned about the empty calories. But there are other serious reasons for concern.

Consumer Reports tested 28 apple juices and three grape juices purchased in the New York metropolitan area. Of the 88 samples analyzed, 10 percent had arsenic levels that exceeded federal standards for bottled and municipal water.

"The majority of the arsenic detected was the inorganic form, a known carcinogen linked to skin, bladder, and lung cancer," Consumer Reports' Dr. Urvashi Rangan said.

And with 12 juices Consumer Reports tested, at least one sample contained lead levels that exceeded standards for bottled water.

"Our test was limited, so we can't draw any conclusions about any particular type or brand of juice," Dr. Rangan said. "But the higher levels of arsenic and lead we found are troubling because many children drink a lot of juice, and their small body size makes them particularly vulnerable."

One likely source of the contamination is pesticides containing arsenic that were used in agriculture. Even though most are now banned, they can remain in the soil.

The advocacy arm of Consumer Reports is urging the Food and Drug Administration to set standards for juice.

"We think the lead limits should be five parts per billion, the current standards for bottled water, or even lower," Dr. Rangan said. "And for arsenic - three parts per billion. That's attainable. 41 percent of the samples we tested met both those levels."

The Juice Products Association told Consumer Reports: "We are committed to providing nutritious and safe fruit juices...and will comply with limits" established by the Food and Drug Administration."

For now, Consumer Reports says the best advice for parents is to do what Zoe does and limit how much juice your children drink.

The Food and Drug Administration told Consumer Reports that it is reviewing its own data to see if guidelines for juice should be set. It turns out the FDA has found levels of arsenic in apple juice that are even higher than what Consumer Reports' tests discovered.