Recently it has been brought to my attention that lead has been found in the popular juice boxes many parents provide to their children. This is worrisome because it is well documented that lead can lead to physical and developmental problems, especially for children as their brains are not fully developed and their organs are rapidly developing.
Who found the lead? The Environmental Law Foundation (ELF) a California-based nonprofit organization based in Oakland. They work to enforce environmental laws such as Proposition 65 (Prop 65), the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986. On June 9, 2010 ELF filed Notices of Violation of California Proposition 65 Toxics Right to Know law, alleging the toxic chemical lead was found in a variety of children’s juice boxes and baby foods. The press release can be viewed at http://www.envirolaw.org/documents/FINALNewsRelease_000.pdf.
The testing was performed on 398 samples from 146 different brands. The products included apple juice, grape juice, packaged pears and peaches, and fruit cocktail. Many popular brands, including organics, exceeded the Prop 65 limit of 0.5 micrograms of lead per serving. The list of products tested can be viewed at: http://www.envirolaw.org/documents/ProductsTestedforLeadFINAL.pdf.
In July of this year the FDA tested the same products in response to the claims by ELF. Although the FDA did find lead in a range of fruit juices and canned fruit they state the levels were too low to pose a health risk. Therefore, the companies are not in violation of Prop 65. It is also interesting to note that the guidelines the FDA used were last updated two decades ago.
Where is the lead coming from? Lead is present in small amounts throughout the environment due to its natural occurrence and its release into the environment by human activities, said the FDA. These activities include decades of lead-based pesticide application, leaded gasoline (used by farm vehicles and equipment), lead paint, and burning of coal in power plants. Washing or other steps taken by food manufacturers does not remove the lead.
The American Academy of Pediatricians state that there is no safe level for lead consumption, and that the threshold is unknown. The FDA states the levels of lead tested in July 2010 would not pose an unacceptable risk to health. Something to consider is these tests were performed on a “single serving” sample, not the multiple juice boxes and fruit containers children eat on a daily basis.
OK, so what is a parent to do? I would suggest limiting juice box consumption to no more than one box per day. If using bottled juice mix it half with water to dilute the amount of lead, if present. It’s also a good thing to teach children at a young age to enjoy non-sweet beverages, such as water and milk. Let children eat the real fruit, which provides complex carbohydrates and fiber to their diet. You may also want to take some action and write to your State Representative and ask them to advocate for cleaner food and more comprehensive environmental health policies. As a parent we all want to do the best for our children, staying informed helps us make better choices.