Archive for the ‘food contaminants’ Category

Arsenic: it’s in juices too, along with lead

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Any arsenic or lead here?

In September of 2011 Dr. Oz, the Columbia University cardiothoracic surgeon turned TV personality, reported on a problem with apple juice. His show is often on one of the six screens in front of our health club’s exercise bikes. I didn’t know much about him and routinely read a book on the recumbent bike I ride for an hour, so I paid little attention…then.

His comments applied only to apple juice. He had commissioned an independent lab to check the arsenic level in five brands of  juice. They  found 10 of the 36 samples had arsenic levels higher than the EPA’s drinking water standard of 10 parts per billion (ppb).

The FDA called his publicizing the results of his study “irresponsible and misleading,” saying drinking all brands of apple juice is safe. What he hadn’t asked the lab to do was to determine if that toxin was in its inorganic form, felt to be dangerous, or in the less dangerous organic form. The FDA said they retested the same batches of juice and found the levels of the more toxic form to be well within safe limits, “almost zero.”

Their standard for combined organic and inorganic arsenic is 23 ppb; foods or beverages measuring above that level get retested to determine how much inorganic arsenic is present.

Let’s think about that cutoff level; drinking water, to be “safe” used to have less than 50 ppb, more recently 10 ppb has been set as the upper limit. As I’ve mentioned before, the state of New Jersey now has a standard of 5 ppb.

But in at the end of November, 2011, the website, MedPage Today briefly noted the results of a confirmatory study. Consumer Reports decided to measure both arsenic and lead in apple juice and grape juice. Nine of the 88 samples they had checked exceeded the “safe” limit.

This is supposed to be safe

Then in January, 2012, Consumer Reports.org published their full report online. That article mentioned that 25% of their samples had lead levels over the FDA’s bottled-water limit of 5 ppb. And of the 10% of the samples with elevated arsenic amounts, most was the highly toxic inorganic variety.

That report is well worth reading. The Consumers Union group, an advocacy offshoot of Consumer Reports urged that new limits be set for these toxins in juice: 5 ppb for lead and 3 ppb for arsenic. Groundwater contamination with those toxins was implicated in the elevated amounts found in fruit juices. Human activities release three times as much arsenic into our environment as do natural sources

Then in early February two senior members of Congress, one from New Jersey and one from Connecticut, introduced the “Arsenic Prevention and Protection from Lead Exposure in Juice Act of 2012,” AKA the “APPLE Juice Act of 2012.” If it passes, the FDA would be required to establish standards for arsenic and lead in fruit juices in two years time.

The other issue, of course, is how much juice kids actually drink. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no juice until age 6 months, and no more than 6 ounces a day until age six. The reality is over a third of a sample of 555 children, 25% of those age two and under and 45% of kids aged from 3 to 5, exceeded those limits.

We’ve got a long ways to go, but at least we’re hearing about these threats to the health of our kids and grandkids.

 

 

 

Arsenic toxicity: Part Two: What is in your baby’s food?

Friday, February 24th, 2012

Better check how it's sweetened

As I mentioned in my previous post, I read the American Medical Association’s recent email piece titled “Study finds high levels of arsenic in some baby formulas, cereal bars” and got interested in the topic. The issue is the use of organic brown rice syrup which is used instead of high fructose corn syrup to sweeten some organic food products, baby food especially.

I found an article in Environmental Health Perspectives titled “Food Safety: U.S. Rice Serves Up Arsenic.” The background was that of arsenic-based pesticides being used for years to kill off boll weevils in the southern cotton fields. That has ceased, but apparently arsenic stays around a long time and those same fields are now being used to raise rice. An extensive study by researchers from Scotland on the results was reported in 2007 in Environmental Science & Technology.

They bought rice samples at supermarkets and ran detailed chemical tests on them, looking at arsenic levels and those of other elements found in tiny amounts (these are called “trace elements”). In all they purchased 134 samples with 80% of those from the South Central states and 20% from California. That’s about the percentages of where rice is grown in this country; almost 50% is from Arkansas. They bought many varieties of rice

The reason they tested for those other elements was to be relatively sure of where the rice was actually being grown. We sometimes purchase basmati rice from India at an Asian market nearby and can get rice from other countries at any of our supermarkets, but the researchers wanted to know if the rice they bought in Californai came from there and ditto for those samples they got at food stores in Arkansas. The background composition of the soil in different places varies, as you’d expect, so checking for the other elements could solve the issue of where the rice came from.

And where does this rice come from?

The findings were striking. Rice grown in the South Central states, on average, had more arsenic, a lot more. The standard for drinking water in the US is now 10 parts per billion. That’s tiny but for other cancer-causing materials the EPA assumes there’s no safe level at all and sets  limits that could result in anywhere from one in 10,000 to 1 in a million people exposed getting a cancer.

The current water standard for arsenic, at least according to Consumer Reports, gives an excess cancer risk of one in 500. That’s calculated on drinking a liter a day. The state of New Jersey set their water standard at 5 parts per billion. But there is no EPA standard for rice or other foods, at least not for arsenic.

And the average for rice grown in the south central areas was close to 30 parts per billion, while California rice ran around 16.

And who eats more rice?

Hispanics, Asian-Americans, many who are gluten sensitive and, most worrisomely, our babies and toddlers in the form of brown rice syrup.

 

Arsenic Toxicity: Part One, history & worldwide impact

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

It looks harmless here

I started to write a post on arsenic in baby food since there’s been a spate of recent articles on this issue appearing both in newspapers and online (the AMA Morning Rounds email I receive started me thinking of the subject). But, as usual, when I began to pursue a topic, I found there was both a long history I needed to cover and, in this case, a worldwide problem that should be discussed.

Human industrial use of arsenic dates back 5,000 years. I found the Harvard Arsenic Project has a thorough coverage of varying aspects of our utilization of this element, both beneficial and detrimental. It has been used as a poison for many centuries since it has little if any odor or taste, especially when mixed with food or wine. A Roman leader named Sulla outlawed arsenic poisoning in 82 B.C., to no avail. In Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries, the Borgias, especially Pope Alexander VI and his son, Cesare were said to have killed scores of bishops and cardinals by liberally lacing their wine with arsenic; then, by Church laws, they owned the property of their victims.

Roger Smith, a Dartmouth Medical School Emeritus Professor of Pharmacology and Toxicology has published an online discussion of the uses of the element with the gripping title, “Arsenic: A Murderous History.”

Scientifically it is classed as a “heavy metal.” Nowadays we think of that term as referring to a form of music. But from the chemistry pound of view it actually is one of a group of elements that, volume for volume, are at least five times as heavy as water. Iron, lead and mercury are in that group, but so is arsenic.

If you were to ingest arsenic, diluted in wine or water, at an incredibly small level, 60 parts per million, you would develop belly pain, nausea, diarrhea and then die. Until a few years ago the US drinking water limit was 50 parts per billion. Then in 2000 the EPA proposed all 54,000 community water systems in this country should cut their arsenic levels to no more than 10 parts per billion.

but it's a a plague here

Our local water lab just told me our Fort Collins levels are less than 1 part per billion. That’s clearly not true elsewhere in the world. Over 137 million people in 70 countries are exposed to toxic levels in their drinking water. Bangladesh has the most well-known problem. When more than eight million deeper wells were dug in the 1970s and beyond, as an attempt to lower the infant death rate from ineffective water purification, arsenic  replaced infectious diseases as a major threat. The drinking water for more than 30 million people had levels over 50 parts per billion.

So they potentially could develop chronic arsenic effects include skin, lung, kidney, liver or bladder cancers and perhaps a variety of cardiovascular and respiratory diseases.

We’ve a long, long ways to go before we solve the issues raised by arsenic.