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Are Your Kids Slurping Up Lead-ed Juice (and Does it Matter)?

By KJ Dell'Antonia |

Yep, Earth's Best too.

Yesterday, SD blogger Carolyn Castiglia reported that a California environmental group (ELF, the Environmental Law Foundation) tested a number of kids’ juice and fruit products and found lead contamination “above the daily limit for young kids.” The FDA sets a tolerable lead intake level at 6 micrograms daily; California’s Prop 65 puts it at .5 micrograms. The American Academy of Pediatrics says there’s no safe level of exposure.

Of course you’re going to pull these juice boxes out of the fridge (a full list of the offending products follows)–but do these constant recalls and lawsuits about small amounts of chemicals really matter, or is it all, as an anonymous commenter said yesterday, “much ado about nothing?” And why do the alerts come from anonymous tipsters (Shrek glasses) and organizations like ELF?

Last week it was Shrek glasses with miniscule amounts of cadmium in their outer coloring. This week, small amounts of lead in the juice we might put in the glasses. Other than a recipe for a semi-toxic kiddie cocktail, do all these warnings about small amounts of chemicals in food and other products add up to much? I’d say the answer is both yes and no. On an individual level, unless you’re extraordinarily unlucky, effects may certainly add up over time, but are unlikely to have an immediate effect. The long-term effects can be dramatic, but it’s very difficult to link things like increased rates of lupus, reproductive difficulties or rheumatoid arthritis (all hypothesized to be  associated with exposure to environmental contaminants) directly to a specific cause. The result is a lot of confusion about how much to worry about exposure to manufactured chemicals.

But on a larger level, these recalls and accusations and tests achieve results that we can’t hope for on our own. When ELF, in an effort similar to this one, tested hundreds of bottled waters and found arsenic contamination in 25% of brands, the hue and cry that resulted meant that “every company cleaned up their act.” Individual consumers pulling bottles off of their shelves doesn’t change much, but manufacturers reacting does. We can toss these products (and we will) but our real power comes from forwarding the links and increasing the pressure.

But for now, here’s a partial list of juices you may want to avoid in the weeks to come:

Apple Juices Tested that exceeded the Prop 65 lead limit:

Beech Nut 100% Apple Juice
Earth’s Best Organics Apple Juice
First Street 100% Apple Cider from concentrate
First Street Apple Juice from concentrate 100% juice
Full Circle Organic Apple Juice
Gerber 100% Juice Apple Juice
Great Value 100% No Sugar Added Apple Juice
Hansen’s Natural Apple Juice
Kroger 100% Juice Apple Juice
Langers Apple Juice 100% Juice
Minute Maid Juice Apple – 100% Apple Juice
Motts 100% Apple Juice
O Organics Organic Unfiltered Apple Juice Not From Concentrate
Old Orchard 100% Apple Juice
Parade 100% Juice Apple
Raley’s Premium 100% Apple Juice not from Concentrate
Safeway 100% Juice Apple Cider
Safeway 100% Juice Apple Juice
Stater Bros. 100% Juice Apple Juice
Sunny Select 100% Apple Juice
Trader Joe’s Certified Organic Apple Juice, pasteurized
Tree Top 100% Juice Apple Cider
Walgreens Apple Juice from concentrate 100% juice
Walnut Grove Market 100% Apple Juice

Grape Juices That Exceeded Prop 65 Lead Limits:

365 Everyday Value Organic 100% Juice Concord Grapes
First Street Grape Juice from concentrate 100% juice
Gerber 100% Juice – White Grape Juice
Great Value 100% Grape Juice
Kedem Concord Grape Juice 100% pure grape juice
Kroger Grape Juice 100% Juice
Langers Grape Juice (Concord)
Langers Red Grape Juice
O Organics Organic Grape Juice from concentrate
R.W. Knudsen Just Concord Grape Juice
R.W. Knudsen Organic Just Concord
Raley’s 100% Grape Juice
Safeway 100% Juice Grape Juice
Safeway Organic Grape Juice
Santa Cruz Organic Concord Grape Juice
Stater Bros. 100% Juice Grape Juice
Stater Bros. 100% Juice White Grape Juice
Sunny Select 100% Grape Juice
Trader Joe’s Concord Grape Juice made from fresh pressed organic concord grapes
Tree Top 100% Juice, Grape
Valu Time Grape Drink from Concentrate
Walgreens Grape Juice from concentrate 100% juice
Walnut Acres Organic Concord Grape
Walnut Grove Market Grape Juice
Welch’s 100% Grape Juice (from Welch’s Concord Grapes)
Welch’s 100% Red Grape Juice from Concentrate

Thanks to Safe Mama for the reformatted list of accused juices. Peaches, pears and Fruit Cocktails that the ELF says exceeded California Prop 65 lead levels can be found here, plus, for the truly cautious, a list of products tested and found NOT to exceed limits.

You’d think these alerts would come from the Federal Food and Drug Administration, but even in the big cases–e coli, contaminated drugs–they rarely do. The FDA tends to issue an alert or a recall only after something has already gone wrong with a product, or after being notified by a company that it’s found an issue or a labeling error . With limited staff and resources, it can’t test everything, and it doesn’t try. The Obama administration has increased the budget of the FDA with the goal of allowing it to improve inspections and surveillance in order to prevent foodborne illness–but that’s not likely to result in governmental testing of every McDonald’s promotional glass. The only real preventative would be to stop buying any manufactured products at all, and good luck making your own toilet paper. We live in a world where some chemical exposure is nearly inevitable–minimizing what’s known, and trying not to worry about the rest, is probably the only way to stay sane.

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About KJ Dell'Antonia

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KJ Dell'Antonia

KJ Dell'Antonia is a regular contributor to Slate's DoubleX, a contributing editor for Kiwi Magazine and the co-author of Reading with Babies, Toddlers and Twos. She lives in New Hampshire with four kids, two dogs, one husband and a bad coffee habit and blogs about family bonds, balance, and blend at RaisingDevils.com.

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7 thoughts on “Are Your Kids Slurping Up Lead-ed Juice (and Does it Matter)?

  1. Heather says:

    we drink either juicy juice or Wegmans branded juice (a local grocery store) I also don’t buy juice boxes or fruit cups if I can help it, they tend to be too expensive for me. So hopefully we are safe, but in the grander scheme of things, I probably wouldn’t worry too much.

  2. anon says:

    the problem is, collectively, with the hundreds and thousands of exposures people may have to these different things over a lifetime, it is likely a health issue, however, some trace cadmium or lead in packaging is probably not really a health issue…so it’s actually kind of hard to regulate

  3. jennifer says:

    The two issues I see in drawing awareness to these issues as a whole (since we are bombarded with chemicals from the air we breathe, food we eat, and mattresses we sleep on) is that 1) people trust the government too much. Thank you for pointing out that the FDA is not some super power that tests everything we come in contact with. It’s been estimated that there are 80,000 chemicals in household products that have not been tested for health effects on humans. But, sadly, a lot of people figure if it is sold in a store, particularly in the case of food, that it is 100% safe and regulated by a governing body. Not true. 2) The chemicals do not cause immediate health effects, so it assumed a little bit won’t hurt you. It’s not like kids are getting sick right away from drinking the juice, so it is easy to think it is not making an impact. Lead exposure in particular is very harsh on developing nervous systems (hence the zero tolerance). Even if a kid tested high for lead, they would most likely suspect exposure in the home, versus food or playing near contaminated soil. I was sweating bullets until my son’s lead test came back (thankfully negative).

    This stuff is a really big deal to me. When you look at cancer risks for exposure to independent chemicals/agents, the numbers are always really high, like 1:4,000. Seems benign enough. Then why is it that within our circle of friends, family, and co-workers it seems 1:10 people we know have cancer? Collectively, this stuff is killing us. It’s also not enough to take a big sigh of relief that you use different brands or, in relation to other studies, that you buy organic (though interesting that organics were just as bad in this case). Again, a majority of the population either doesn’t know about health risks in their food, or can’t afford to buy an alternative, so over-arching changes need to be made to protect all food for all people. As this study mentions, the next step should be to contact the suppliers to find out why certain areas produce less lead-laden food.

  4. bob says:

    This is the kind of thing government was invented for. Even if the FDA can’t test everything, their could be regulations in place that actually punish companies that release products containing unsafe levels of regulated compounds. They could actually go so far as to prevent a company from selling juice on the American market, if they wanted to be serious about this.

    Of course, it requires overcoming business lobbies and they money they pump in to the system, so that the well-being of our children can be given some consideration.

  5. anon says:

    FDA is kind of in league with industry, though. They are partners. Make no mistake.

  6. Megg says:

    The fact that in America a chemical has to be proven bad for your health before it’s not used in our food, toys and other products means that this will always be a problem. It’s scandalous that it should be this way. In other countries it’s the other way around – only chemicals which have been proved safe can be used in products, such as in sunscreen etc. I find it a sickeningly cavalier attitude towards the health of the population over a profit. But there you have it.

  7. CJA says:

    The issues I see with this list is it does not include which packaging and size the sample came from. Nor does it show the testing procedures. I would also like to see the lead content in all of the beverages we purchase such as milk, water, soda, tea, etc. It is frightening that one group that has not published its methods and comparison with other drinks, including well water and public drinking water publishes a report that defiles the juice industry.

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