Is There Arsenic in Your Apple Juice?

Photo: FaNat124/Flickr.

Apple juice certainly sounds healthy, doesn't it? It's a popular choice for many parents who serve it up as a healthy alternative to sugary drinks and sodas. But new research released by Florida's St. Petersburg Times newspaper suggests that apple juice may not be as healthy as we think. The paper commissioned independent testing on the most popular brands of apple juice sold nationwide and found that many brands contain levels of arsenic that have raised concerns for health experts and parents.

In 2006, the federal government lowered the limit for arsenic in drinking water from 50 ppb to 10 ppb. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established no such limit for fruit juices, but has told companies that it views 23 ppb as a "level of concern." According to the newspaper's investigation, more than a quarter of the 18 samples tested contained between 25 and 35 parts per billion of arsenic — amounts that surpass the FDA's "level of concern" for heavy metals in juices.

The investigators tested two samples from several popular national brands. Samples from three brands — Motts, Apple & Eve Organics, and Walmart's Great Value label — contained between 25 and 35 ppb of arsenic, above the FDA's level of concern. The brands Nestle's Juicy Juice, Minute Maid, Tree Top and Target's Market Pantry contained between 12 and 24 ppb. One sample of Walmart's juice contained no arsenic, and one Nestle's sample tested at nearly undetectable levels. These results confirmed findings of another recent study performed at the University of Arizona in which nine out of 10 samples of apple and grape juice contained 10 to 47 ppb of arsenic.

So where is all of this arsenic coming from? And should we, as parents, be concerned?

Arsenic is a naturally occurring substance, and experts say it can't be entirely avoided in the food and water supply. It is also found in pesticides that are applied to apple orchards. Arsenic has been linked to cancer when consumed at high doses in drinking water over a lifetime, and has been linked at lower dosages to diabetes, organ damage and hormone system changes.

Federal officials said they have found no reason for parents to worry.

"We don't have any evidence at this point to say that we feel there's a risk issue that you need to be mindful of," said P. Michael Bolger, the FDA's chief of chemical hazards assessment. Health experts and environmental advocates don't agree.

"Really, there's no safe level of arsenic exposure for a kid," said Richard Wiles, senior vice president for policy at the Environmental Working Group. "And it certainly shouldn't be in these juices."

Personally, we don't drink a lot of apple juice in my house. When we do drink it, we usually buy the Apple & Eve Organics brand that was cited as containing high levels of arsenic. So much to my kids' dismay, this gives me just one more reason to skip the juice altogether and stick with organic milk and plain water for beverages.