We tested juice from bottles, cans, and juice boxes that we
bought in three states.
We went shopping in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York in
August and September, buying 28 apple juices and three grape juices. Our
samples came from ready-to-drink bottles, juice boxes, and cans of concentrate.
For most juices, we bought three different lot numbers to assess variability.
(For some juices, we couldn’t find three lots, so we tested one or two.) In
all, we tested 88 samples.
Five samples of apple juice and four of grape juice had
total arsenic levels exceeding the 10 ppb federal limit for bottled and
drinking water. Levels in the apple juices ranged from 1.1 to 13.9 ppb, and
grape-juice levels were even higher, 5.9 to 24.7 ppb. Most of the total arsenic
in our samples was inorganic, our tests showed.
As for lead, about one fourth of all juice samples had
levels at or above the 5-ppb limit for bottled water. The top lead level for
apple juice was 13.6 ppb; for grape juice, 15.9 ppb.
The following brands had at least one sample of apple juice
that exceeded 10 ppb:
Apple & Eve
Great Value (Walmart)
And these brands had one or more samples of apple juice that
exceeded 5 ppb of lead:
America’s Choice (A&P)
Gold Emblem (CVS)
Joe’s Kids (Trader Joe’s)
For grape juice, at least one sample from Walgreens and Welch’s exceeded 10 ppb. At least one sample of grape juice
exceeding 5 ppb of lead came from:
Gold Emblem (CVS)
Our findings provide a spot check of a number of local juice
aisles, but they can’t be used to draw general conclusions about arsenic or
lead levels in any particular brand. Even within a single tested brand, levels
of arsenic and lead sometimes varied widely.
Arsenic-tainted soil in U.S. orchards is a likely source of
contamination for apples, and finding lead with arsenic in juices that we
tested is not surprising. Even with a ban on lead-arsenate insecticides, “we
are finding problems with some Washington state apples, not because of
irresponsible farming practices now but because lead-arsenate pesticides that
were used here decades ago remain in the soil,” says Denise Wilson, Ph.D., an
associate professor at the University of Washington who has tested apple juices
and discovered elevated arsenic levels even in brands labeled organic.
Over the years, a shift has occurred in how juice sold in
America is produced. To make apple juice, manufacturers often blend water with
apple-juice concentrate from multiple sources. For the past decade, most
concentrate has come from China. Concerns have been raised about the
possible continuing use of arsenical pesticides there, and several Chinese
provinces that are primary apple-growing regions are known to have high arsenic
concentrations in groundwater.
A much bigger test than ours would be needed to establish
any correlation between elevated arsenic or lead levels and the juice
concentrate’s country of origin. Samples we tested included some made from
concentrate from multiple countries including Argentina, China, New Zealand,
South Africa, and Turkey; others came from a single country. A few samples
solely from the United States had elevated levels of lead or arsenic, and
others did not. The same was true for samples containing only Chinese
The FDA has been collecting its own data to see whether it
should set guidelines to continue to ensure the safety of apple juice, a
spokeswoman told us.
The Juice Products Association said, “We are committed to
providing nutritious and safe fruit juices to consumers and will comply with
limits established by the agency.”