How Safe Is Your Child's Apple Juice?

Arsenic, a naturally occurring chemical has two forms-organic and inorganic. Organic arsenic which is found in our air and water supply, passes through the body quickly and according to the FDA, causes no harm.  Inorganic arsenic is more worrisome because it gets into the food supply via the use of pesticides, as an additive in poultry feed and from well water. Inorganic arsenic has been linked to bladder, lung and skin cancer, and an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, immunodeficiency, and type 2 diabetes. Because their bodies are small and constantly growing, children are more vulnerable to the dangers of arsenic exposure and many experts are become increasingly concerned about the cumulative effects of low-level, chronic exposure.

These concerns prompted the Dr. Oz Show as well as Consumer Reports to conduct laboratory tests of arsenic levels in several juice samples. The Dr. Oz Show tested 3 dozen samples from five different brands of apple juice and compared the levels of arsenic to the acceptable standard for water. (The EPA limits arsenic in drinking water to no more than 10 parts per billion-but currently there is no official limit for arsenic in apple juice.) Ten of the samples they tested contained more arsenic than is thought to be safe in drinking water (more than 10 ppb).

An investigation conducted by Consumer Reports a few months later revealed more bad news. In November 2011, Consumer Reports tested 88 samples of apple and grape. Ten percent of those samples had total arsenic levels exceeding federal drinking water standards of 10 ppb. Most of the arsenic detected was the inorganic type which is a human carcinogen.


Because children are big juice drinkers and their body size is small, they consume a larger per-body-weight dose of arsenic than an adult who drinks the same amount. And therein lies the problem according to experts like Robert Wright, MD, PhD, associate professor of pediatrics and environmental health at Harvard University. Wright and others believe there is a link between low-level, chronic exposure and these life-threatening diseases.

"The issue isn't that you'd have to drink 5 or 6 gallons of apple juice to get acutely ill. Over time, the little bit of damage accumulates so if you drink a cup of arsenic every day for 20 years, it could start to add up and cause diseases," Wright explains. "The truth is we simply don't know how low-level, chronic exposure plays out over the long-term."

What's Arsenic Doing in Our Apple Juice?

According to Wright, apples and/or apple juice should not contain arsenic but the naturally occurring element still finds its way into our water and food supply in a variety of ways.

Arsenic has been around for ages, perhaps most notoriously as a poison to kill people. It was also an effective rat poison, an insecticide (banned in the 1980s), and a preservative in pressure-treated lumber for decks and playground equipment. Though these uses are no longer permitted in the US, arsenic may still be present in the soil. Additionally it is still used-without regulation-in other countries (including China, Turkey, and many South American nations) so drinking juice made entirely from American-grown apples doesn't guarantee its safety.

More recently, organic arsenic in US agricultural products has also been a cause for concern. One company suspended the manufacturing of a poultry-feed additive because it was found to contain an organic form of arsenic that once inside the chicken could convert into inorganic arsenic, potentially contaminating the meat. Or, it could get into the soil via chicken droppings.

Apple juice isn't just the beverage of choice for the preschool crowd. Big kids and grown ups ingest it too often unknowingly, since apple juice concentrate is a popular refined sugar substitute used to sweeten candy, cereal, snack bars, and more.

Finally, the process of manufacturing today's US apple juice is likely contributing to the problem since it's not unusual for manufacturers to blend water with apple-juice concentrate from multiple sources (up to seven) The Dr. Oz Show claims 60 percent of apples in our country's apple juice are not grown in this country and for the past decade, most concentrate originates in China.

Still, Wright believes it would be unfair to lay all the blame on China's doorstep since juice is a mixture of components from places all over the world-places where arsenic use is sanctioned. "Steps should be taken to address the problem since there really is no reason for arsenic to be in apple juice," says the metals expert who advocates companies do a better job of monitoring the substances in the products so consumers can make an informed choice.

"Somewhere along the line, there is contamination going on. We need to find the source and eliminate it," says Wright. "There's no need for panic but it's a problem that shouldn't be ignored."

What You Can Do

The good news is that in late 2011, the FDA announced it was considering setting guidelines for permissible levels of inorganic arsenic in apple juice. The agency is currently in the process of gathering data to determine what those guidelines should be.

In the meantime, Jerome Paulson, MD, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Council on Environmental Health reminds parents that children do not need juice in their diets. "No kid needs to drink juice. It's not an important part of a balanced diet," says Paulson. " Juice is basically sweet water that really isn't much different than soda."


In addition to limiting your child's consumption of juice, you can have your water tested for arsenic and lead. To find a certified lab, contact your local health department or call the federal Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 800-426-4791.

Finally, your child's pediatrician can perform a urine test to determine arsenic levels.



Interview with Robert Wright, MD, MPH
Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Enviro. Health
Harvard Medical School

Interview with Jerome Paulson, MD, chair of the AAP Council on Environmental Health

The Food and Drug Administration

The Environmental Protection Agency