The apple and grape juice your kids are drinking may have arsenic at levels high enough to increase their risk of cancer and other chronic diseases, according to a new study by Consumer Reports.
A full 10 percent of the juices tested by the magazine had arsenic levels higher than what is allowed in water by the Food and Drug Administration.
“What we’re talking about here is not about acute affects,” Urvashi Rangan, senior scientist at Consumer Reports, told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie. “We’re talking about chronic effects. We’re talking about cancer risk. And so, the fact that 10 percent of our samples exceeded the drinking water standard underscores the need for a standard to be set in juices.”
The fear is that over time arsenic will accumulate in children’s bodies and raise their risk of cancer and other serious illnesses, Rangan explained.
The new report echoes a study commissioned by Dr. Mehmet Oz back in September. When Oz reported his findings on his popular television show, the FDA responded by calling Oz’s study flawed and “extremely irresponsible.”
One of the issues the FDA had with Oz’s study was its failure to separate out measurements of inorganic and organic arsenic. Studies have linked inorganic arsenic to a variety of cancers. But many consider organic arsenics – especially the types commonly found in seafood - to be safe.
As far as Consumer Reports is concerned, that’s a head-in-the-sand approach.
“Questions have been raised about the human health effects of other types of organic arsenic in foods, including juices,” the magazine noted. “Use of organic arsenic in agricultural products has caused concern. For instance, the EPA in 2006 took steps to stop the use of herbicides containing organic arsenic because of their potential to turn into inorganic arsenic in the soil and contaminate drinking water.”
Beyond this, there’s evidence that organic arsenic converts into the inorganic form when chickens consume feeds that contain the compound, Consumer Reports researchers noted.
For its new study Consumer Reports tested 88 samples of apple and grape juices sold around the nation. Included among those tested were popular brand name juices like Minute Maid, Welch’s and Tropicana.
The study found five samples of apple juice and four of grape juice that had total arsenic levels exceeding the 10 parts per billion (ppb) federal limit for bottled and drinking water. “Most of the total arsenic in our samples was inorganic,” Consumer Reports noted.
The brand with the lowest arsenic level was Welch's Pourable Concentrate 100% Apple Juice (1.1-4.3 total arsenic ppb). Other juices with low arsenic levels include: America's Choice Apple; Tropicana 100% Apple; and Red Jacket Orchards 100% Apple.
Current FDA guidelines require water to have no more than 10 ppb of inorganic arsenic. The agency also has standards for juices and those allow higher levels of the compound – 23 ppb. The level is allowed to be higher because it’s assumed that people will consume more water than juice in the course of a normal day.
Rangan took exception to that line of thinking because the standard is based on how much water an average adult will drink in a day. “It’s not about a child who weighs far less,” she told Guthrie.
The new findings add to a growing body of evidence suggesting that juices may not be as safe as we think. Rangan pointed to an FDA study that found arsenic levels at 86 parts per billion in a baby apple juice.
A spokesperson for the Juice Products Association said she found the new report reassuring since it found no sample that tested higher than what is currently required by the FDA for juices.
“They showed that the juice samples they tested met the Food and Drug Administration’s limit on arsenic in juice,” toxicologist Gail Charnley told Guthrie. “The toxicologists and the food safety experts at the FDA set that limit in a precautionary public health based kind of way. And the food industry is committed to meeting those limits.”
The new report might prompt the FDA to change its standards for juices. In a written statement, the agency explained its response to the new data.
"We welcome the research that Consumer Reports has undertaken and look forward to reviewing the data that formed the basis for their story and their recommendations,” the agency noted. “We continue to find the vast majority of apple juice tested to contain low levels of arsenic, including the most recent samples from China. For this reason, FDA is confident in the overall safety of apple juice consumed in this country. By the same token, a small percentage of samples contain elevated levels of arsenic. In response, FDA has expanded our surveillance activities and is collecting additional data”
If that leads the FDA to change its standards for juices then the juice manufacturers will comply, Charnley said.
That was all good news to Oz. If we look at how the nation handled a similar problem two decades ago, it’s clear that we can make a difference for our kids, he said.
“Twenty-five years ago we had a problem with lead in America,” Oz told Guthrie. “And we have over the last generation been able to reduce by 90 percent the amount of lead that our kids are exposed to and that is found in their blood. As a doctor it makes me much more confident that we can do the same thing for arsenic.”
Linda Carroll is a regular contributor to msnbc.com and TODAY.com. She is co-author of the new book "The Concussion Crisis: Anatomy of a Silent Epidemic”