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University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Publish Date: 07/25/13
Media Contact: AHC Public Relations, (513) 558-4553
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HEALTH LINE: Proposed Limits Put Focus on Arsenic in Juice

CINCINNATI—Arsenic has been in the news lately, with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration  (FDA) proposing a limit, or "action level,” for inorganic arsenic in apple juice.

Given inorganic arsenic’s reputation as a toxic substance, some parents might have been alarmed to learn that it exists at all in a drink so popular with young children. But an expert from the University of Cincinnati (UC) Department of Environmental Health points out that arsenic is a common element widely present in the environment.

"People are exposed to arsenic every day through natural—and in some cases, unnatural—sources,” says Kim Dietrich, PhD, a professor and director of the department’s division of epidemiology and biostatistics whose research focuses on environmental toxicants. "The principal source of exposure to arsenic is from groundwater, particularly deepwater wells where arsenic from natural sources in the Earth’s crust gets into the water.”

Dietrich notes that there are two types of arsenic, organic and inorganic, and that inorganic arsenic is the more dangerous type. It is a known carcinogen and has also been associated with skin lesions, developmental effects cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity and diabetes, according to the FDA.

Formerly used as a wood preservative, inorganic arsenic is no longer used in most processes in the United States. Deepwater wells affected by inorganic arsenic are more common in the north central, west and particularly southwest United States, Dietrich says. (Organic arsenic, commonly found in seafood, does not pose a health threat and is usually excreted rapidly through the kidneys.)

So which type is found in apple juice?

"It’s going to be a combination, but largely the inorganic type,” says Dietrich, because of its presence in groundwater and use in some pesticides.

The FDA’s proposed action level is 10 parts of inorganic arsenic per billion, the same level set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for drinking water. The FDA said it has been monitoring the level of inorganic arsenic in apple juice for 20 years and called it "very low,” adding that it was establishing the threshold to provide guidance to industry. 

"The agency takes the action level into account when considering an enforcement action, if it finds a food product exceeds the threshold,” the FDA said.

"I’m sympathetic to the idea that these products should be carefully monitored,” says Dietrich. "Infants and children consume different foods than adults do, including more fruits and fruit juices.”

The FDA is accepting public comments on the proposed action level. For more information, go to

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