Ways to Reduce your Family’s Exposure to Arsenic and Lead
In 2010 the Environmental Law Foundation (“E.L.F.”) filed Notices of Violation of California Proposition 65 Toxics Right to Know law, alleging the toxic chemical lead was found in a variety of children’s and baby foods. The specific food categories included apple juice, grape juice, packaged pears and peaches (including baby food), and fruit cocktail. I wrote an article back then providing a list of affected products. You can find it here: Lead Found in Kid’s Fruit Juices and Foods.
Then in January of 2012, Consumer Reports published test results on arsenic and lead levels in 88 samples of apple and grape juices. Approximately 10 percent of the sampled juices contained arsenic levels that exceeded federal drinking-water standards. Consumer Reports also found that about 25 percent of the samples contained lead levels higher than the federal standards for bottled water (source: Consumer Union). Most of the arsenic found in the testing was inorganic which is a known carcinogen.
According to Consumer Reports, the following brands had at least one sample of apple juice that exceeded 10 ppb: Apple & Eve, Great Value (Walmart), and Mott’s. For grape juice, at least one sample from Walgreens and Welch’s exceeded that threshold. And these brands had one or more samples of apple juice that exceeded 5 ppb of lead: America’s Choice (A&P), Gerber, Gold Emblem (CVS), Great Value, Joe’s Kids (Trader Joe’s), Minute Maid, Seneca, and Walgreens.
Considering that thirty-five percent of children 5 and younger drink juice in quantities exceeding pediatricians’ recommendations, according to a recent poll, this is a serious issue that has received very little media attention.
Consumer Reports also wanted to know whether people who drink juice end up being exposed to more arsenic than those who don’t. Their analysis was led by Richard Stahlhut, M.D., M.P.H., an environmental health researcher at the University of Rochester. The resulting analysis of almost 3,000 study participants found that those reporting apple-juice consumption had on average 19 percent greater levels of total urinary arsenic than those subjects who did not, and those who reported drinking grape juice had 20 percent higher levels.
Based on these test results, Consumers Union has called on the federal government to set formal standards to limit the amount of arsenic and lead in fruit juices. Currently the Agency has standards limiting these toxins for bottled water, but not fruit juices.
A House bill introduced two days ago aims to limit levels of arsenic and lead in fruit juices. The proposed Apple-Juice Act of 2012 was introduced by Congressman Frank Pallone Jr., (D-NJ) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), and calls on the Food and Drug Administration to establish standards for arsenic and lead in fruit juices in two years time.
In addition to juice, foods including chicken, rice, and even baby food have been found to contain arsenic—sometimes at higher levels than the amounts found in juice.
A United Kingdom study published in 2008 (PDF) found that infant formula fed babies had higher hair arsenic contents than breast-fed counterparts due to earlier introduction to weaning, with rice cereals being the most elevated source of arsenic in weaning diets. Rice has higher grain arsenic levels than other investigated cereals (wheat and barley) as it is much more efficient in accumulating arsenic from the soil.
“People sometimes say, ‘If arsenic exposure is so bad, why don’t you see more people sick or dying from it?’ But the many diseases likely to be increased by exposure even at relatively low levels are so common already that its effects are overlooked simply because no one has looked carefully for the connection,” says Joshua Hamilton, Ph.D., a toxicologist specializing in arsenic research and the chief academic and scientific officer at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass.
So what can parents do before the proposed Apple-Juice Act of 2012 becomes a federal law?
How to reduce your family’s risk
- Have your kids drink less juice ~ Children up to 6 years old should consume no more than four to six ounces a day and older children, no more than 8 to 12 ounces a day. Infants younger than 6 months shouldn’t drink juice.
- Dilute juice with distilled or purified water.
- Make your own juice from organically grown fruit, ideally locally produced and grown in soil where arsenical insecticides were not used (and then dilute it with water).
- Buying organic juice doesn’t mean you’ll avoid arsenic ~ organic juices still may contain arsenic if they’re made from fruit grown in soil where arsenical insecticides were used.
- Buy certified organic chicken ~organic standards don’t allow the use of chicken feed containing arsenic. Latest news: “FDA admits supermarket chickens test positive for arsenic“
- Consider alternatives to rice cereals and other rise-based products ~ The scientists from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland have calculated that babies eating several 20g portions of baby rice a day could equate to a young child taking in three to four times the recommended maximum arsenic consumption. Beyond rice, babies often eat other rice-based products in the form of crackers, biscuits, puffed cereals, pasta, noodles and puddings — which could further drive up the exposure. The authors suggest that manufacturers could reduce their products’ arsenic levels by buying rice from less polluted areas of the world, such as parts of the Indian subcontinent, California or from Cádiz and Seville in Spain. The authors say parents who are concerned should consider switching to other grain crops such as oat, barley, maize and wheat. (source: Source Environmental Pollution, Volume 152, Issue 3, April 2008, Pages 746-749)
- If your home isn’t on a public water system, have the home’s water tested for arsenic and lead.
- If you’re concerned, ask your doctor for a urine test for you or your child to determine arsenic levels.
- Sign the petition to tell the FDA, the EU and the Rise Industry to reduce arsenic exposure in rice!!!