FDA Disclosure on Arsenic Too Little Too Late


Reuters reports that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed limiting the amount of inorganic arsenic in apple juice.  This decision comes after decades of consideration of the issue. The FDA had already done far more than “consider” the amount of arsenic in apple juice in recent years.  Its knowledge of the danger and failure to act until now is an example of too little, too late.

On Friday the FDA proposed a limit of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for inorganic arsenic in apple juice, which is the same level set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for arsenic in drinking water.

However, an FDA “Total Diet Study” conducted from 1991 to 2009 revealed that a quarter of the juice samples tested contained 10 ppb of arsenic or higher.

In 2012, the FDA tested 94 samples of arsenic in apple juice and found that all were below the 10 ppb threshold for inorganic arsenic. But it set 10 ppb as the benchmark.

The FDA has apparently waited until now to go public with its findings.

Reports from Dr. Joseph Mercola’s on his web site, mercola.com, have highlighted the further vacillation of the agency in the face of its own evidence of arsenic contamination.

In a hazard assessment by the FDA in 2008, it found that 23 ppb of inorganic arsenic would represent “a potential health risk.” It already had data on arsenic in fruit juice, since it had been sampling juices for several years.

A 2004 study conducted by FDA scientists in Cincinnati found arsenic levels as high as 24 ppb in baby food containing sweet potatoes, carrots, green beans, and peaches.

So is this recent disclosure simply too little, too late?

The FDA has also not been listening to other organizations that track health hazards in fruit juices and other products.

A recent investigation into arsenic and lead levels in apple and grape juice prompted Consumer Reports to call for government standards for limiting consumer exposure.  Ten percent of the 88 juice samples tested by Consumer Reports had arsenic levels exceeding the U.S. federal drinking-water standard. A quarter of them also had lead levels higher than the 5 ppb limit set for bottled water. Consumer Reports had also conducted an analysis of the National Center for Health Statistics’ National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) database from 2003 to 2008. It conducted interviews with physicians and authors of peer-reviewed studies and found abundant scientific evidence suggesting that chronic exposure to arsenic and lead, even at levels below federal standards for water, can result in serious health problems, especially for those who are exposed to it in the womb or during early childhood.

In a study conducted in 2008, the U.K. found levels of inorganic arsenic ranging from 60 to 160 ppb in 20-ounce packets of infant rice cereals.

The Consumers Union (the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports) has proposed that the FDA set the limits for arsenic at three ppb.

The FDA responded to a 2012 letter from the Consumers Union, indicating its willingness to develop guidance for the permissible level of arsenic in apple juice.  It apparently has not decided to do so yet.  In its letter, the FDA asserted that its monitoring had indicated that total arsenic levels in apple juice were “typically low.”

The Reuters report says that the presence of arsenic in juice may be ascribed to the use of pesticides tainted with arsenic.

GreenFacts relates that arsenic is produced commercially from arsenic trioxide, which is a by-product of metal smelting operations. About 70% of the world production of arsenic comes from timber treatment, 22% from agricultural chemicals, and the remainder from glass, pharmaceuticals and metallic alloys.

Reuters notes the association of inorganic arsenic with skin lesions, developmental effects, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity and diabetes.

In fact there are more health risks, such as gastrointestinal problems, hyperkeratosis and chronic fatigue syndrome.  Chronic long-term exposure also increases the risk of various cancers and reproductive problems.

The Reuters report says that the source of arsenic in food might be its presence in the environment as a naturally occurring mineral.

It is true that an abundant natural source of arsenic is the crust of the Earth.  It is present in more than 200 different minerals.  Volcanic action is the most significant natural source, the second most common source being vapor generated by solid or liquid forms of arsenic salts. About one-third of the arsenic in the Earth’s atmosphere is of natural origin.

This is apparently used by the FDA as an excuse for its inaction.

Dr. Oz discussed this issue on his show in September of 2012, claiming that he had tested 50 different brands of apple juice, and found they all contained high levels of arsenic. The FDA contested Dr. Oz’s findings, asserting that his testing was inaccurate because he tested for both inorganic and organic arsenic.

The FDA has timidly released its accounting to the world as to one of the myriad toxins in our food, in our water and in the air.  But it has known about these hazards for over ten years.  Its newest proclamation cannot be regarded as anything but too little, too late.


By:  Tom Ukinski

5 Responses to "FDA Disclosure on Arsenic Too Little Too Late"

  1. Jeanne   August 10, 2014 at 4:53 am

    I’ve been hoping for improved legislation to protect us, but unfortunately we are left to our own defenses. Here is an article describing how hamstrung our agencies are: http://www.psr.org/environment-and-health/confronting-toxics/blog/increasing-health-risks.html

  2. John D Farr   July 14, 2013 at 5:03 am

    This is space filler. Much of the west has arsenic naturally and in an arid climate it is in our water historically. The Rio Grande has about 40 parts per billion normally. And that region has many of the longest living people in America!

  3. Jesse   July 14, 2013 at 4:54 am

    This article could do with a disclosure that it is an opinion piece and that the author is not speaking from a scientific standpoint.

  4. Trey   July 14, 2013 at 4:18 am

    While I agree with the author’s conclusion, Guardian Express would do well to more clearly label this an opinion rather than a news article. A proper journalist writing a proper new article allows the reader to draw his or her own conclusions from the facts.

  5. Andy Cutler   July 14, 2013 at 2:16 am

    Mr. Ukinski needs a bit of remedial education. The pesticide of choice for over 100 years (before DDT was invented) was lead arsenate. This was bought by the pound or in quantity and dusted over foodstuffs in orchards and farms. Truly vast quantities of lead and arsenic were spread about farmland still in use today. The half life of arsenic in soil is about 9,000 years.

    The problem isn’t industrial pollution now, it is intentional distribution of lead and arsenic on farms that happened long ago. No records exist now and nobody bothers to do any testing because they don’t want to find anything!

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