Nov. 30, 2011 -- Ten percent of store-bought apple and grape juice samples have more arsenic -- and 25% have more lead -- than the Environmental Protection Agency allows in bottled water, a Consumer Reports study finds.
Those total arsenic levels are well below the FDA's current "level of concern" that prompts further tests. But the consumer advocacy group says the federal agency should be more worried.
A Consumer Reports poll shows that over a third of kids age 5 years and younger drink more apple juice (over 6 ounces or one juice box a day) than pediatricians recommend. Children are more sensitive to arsenic poisoning than are adults. And a lot of them drink at least 16 ounces a day, potentially exposing them to high levels of arsenic.
Moreover, a scientific survey commissioned by Consumer Reports -- using CDC survey data -- found that people who reported drinking apple juice or grape juice have about 20% higher levels of arsenic in the urine than those who didn't drink 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," Urvashi Rangan, PhD, director of safety and sustainability for Consumer Reports, says in a news release.
Arsenic has been used as a poison since ancient times. Just a postage-stamp size bit of inorganic arsenic is lethal.
The FDA last week reported that since 2005 it has tested 160 apple-juice samples for arsenic. The FDA findings were similar to those of Consumer Reports -- except that a few of the samples tested by the FDA had much higher arsenic levels.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets a standard of 10 parts per billion (ppb) of total arsenic in drinking water. But that's for "long-term, chronic exposure to arsenic in drinking water," according to the EPA. According to the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, drinking water generally contains about 2 ppb of arsenic, although some areas have considerably higher levels.
Total arsenic isn't the point, however. Organic arsenic isn't currently considered dangerous. But inorganic arsenic is deadly -- and Consumer Reports says that most of the arsenic in apple and grape juice is inorganic.
How much inorganic arsenic is a problem? The FDA currently worries about 23 ppb. But Consumer Reports says the cutoff should be much lower: 3 ppb for arsenic and 5 ppb for lead.
Can juice be made that safe? Apparently so. Over 40% of the juice tested by Consumer Reports had less than 3 ppb of arsenic and less than 5 ppb of lead.